Hikers and copper aficionados will feel right at home in Lahic, one of Azerbaijan’s oldest mountain settlements. Caroline Davies treads the cobbles
Where is it?
North-east Azerbaijan on the southern side of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. The track to the village, just off the main route connecting the bigger cities of Shamakha and Ismayili, winds for 19km between mudslide-prone slopes until you reach the flagstone road at the start of the village.
What’s it like?
Azerbaijan’s version of a French artisan village without the medieval-branded cafes. The village of Lahic was founded more than a millennium ago and is almost untouched by the 21st century. Stone walls with layers of wood between the bricks – an old method of earthquake protection – line the cobbled paths, and are dotted with polished wooden doors that lead to hidden courtyards. Shepherds can be seen trotting through the streets on their horses or donkeys with colourful saddle rugs. On a night-time walk your path will be lit by a vast sky full of twinkling stars and the warm glow of the gaslights that hang above every doorway.
Mornings in Lahic are best spent browsing the street stalls that sell dried herbs and jams claiming to cure any ailment, from a liver condition to a receding hairline. Keep an eye out for lemon or mint thyme, which grows rampantly in the region. Pounding metal on metal can be heard echoing down every alleyway; Lahic’s main trade is copper. Head to Kablei’s workshop for bespoke creations. His family has been in the town since 1725 and Kablei himself has been pumping the bellows since he was five. His workshop is full of 120-year-old urns, plov warmers, wedding platters and, bizarrely, a mummified cat that was discovered in an attic. It isn’t for sale, but ornate copper bracelets are easier to get through customs anyway.
The village’s museum, formerly a mosque, houses some intriguing antiquities – including rusting 18th-century gun barrels, pots dating back to 2000 BC, and portraits of legendary heroes who stare down from the walls with righteous determination.
Mikail’s, on the edge of a gorge overlooking the valleys and rivers, is regarded as the best restaurant in town. Lahic is perfectly positioned for hiking and most evenings the tables are filled with ravenous walkers, tucking into plates of fish, lamb and thick flat bread. Mikail is known for his generous helpings and for holding court about the old days, switching between Azerbaijani, Russian and English.
Just across the road from Mikail’s is the Evim hotel, where the owners take great pride in its upkeep. Although homestays are available, it is a particularly popular place to stay. With its fragrant gardens and staircases decorated with swirling copper balustrades, it has the feel of an old Swiss chalet. Like Lahic, the charm of the hotel is that it’s rustic and unfussy. Breakfast is simple; fresh honey, milk and bread, overlooking the river as it surges down from the peaks.
Photography Emil Khalilov
This story appeared in the Autumn 2014 issue of Baku magazine.