Pages 32-36

by Fiona Maclachlan

Mention lemons in Azerbaijan and the response will be Lenkoran, the name of a town in the southern semi-tropical region of Azerbaijan. Lenkoran is the home of Azerbaijan’s lemon growing industry. It’s also the home of Azerbaijan’s wonderful Lenkoran tea, which grows in plantations near the town. Flamingoes? Yes, they are here too, in the Gizil Agac Reserve. Beaches, ancient ironwood forests and the glorious Talysh mountain scenery also beckon, making Lenkoran a popular retreat from Baku.

People also go to enjoy the legendary Talysh hospitality, which includes the tea drinking and also feasting on local treats including the renowned lavangi – chicken or fish with a nutty stuffing.
Lenkoran is at its best between May and October, but you can go all year round. There are some brilliant places to stay including the all-new, seaside Qafqaz Sahil Resort Hotel where you will be cosy in winter or cool in summer. The upstairs rooms are huge (suites), but the downstairs ground floor rooms are perfect for couples and have the advantage of patio doors opening out onto a terrace - lovely in summer. The resort’s cottages are amongst the very best of the new family accommodation options springing up in Azerbaijan. They are attractive, smart and very clean and I happily recommend them. You can eat in the hotel restaurant, or the staff will bring food to your cottage. In season the resort’s beach area offers beach pavilions and fun games and attractions, as well as the turquoise Caspian Sea, all accessed directly from the hotel via a purpose-built railway bridge.

Trains here are a slow, infrequent business and I’ve captured a few on camera over the years, perfect for Thomas the Tank Engine fans, and the train station in town is photogenic too. Military tanks are no stranger to Lenkoran (Hazi Aslanov from Lenkoran was a famous Tank Commander in Soviet times) but these days you’re unlikely to see one, although a military presence gives the town an almost inexplicably traditional and orderly feel, or maybe that’s due to the town planning, with its wide streets. An-other form of transport you might spot is an occasional aeroplane - the local airport is now open and there are regular flights to Baku and Moscow.

Bizarre and bazaar

Look out for Lenkoran’s Mayak – the landmark round white tower, which is actually a lighthouse. It is in the centre of the town as a result of the changing levels of the Caspian Sea. Initially a strategic defence tower, the Mayak has also been a prison and was once a home to the Communist Government
Halay song and danceHalay song and dance
Party. Find its (red brick) twin on the outskirts of Lenkoran – the two towers are connected by a secret underground passageway, supposedly used by Stalin. Only the white Mayak has a lighthouse on top. Luckily most of Lenkoran is still low level, no Baku style high rise buildings here, and so the lighthouse is still visible to ships.

only the top quality fruit and vegetables but I also enjoy browsing the everyday kitchenalia. Here you’ll fi nd attractive, newly- made metal Azerbaij ani trays, serving dishes and pots and pans and so on which make interesting and useful souvenirs. Get them home and they look wonderful - no regrets. I like the home of the last Talysh Khan’s son, currently a local museum. The first multi-storied house here, it had a French architect and is very pleasant inside with some pretty coloured windows. Look out for some off -beat exhibits – see if you can spot the oak megaphone which a child would sing into and then use to gather money. The paintings here depict local life, which in the case of Lenkoran is all about growing and harvesting, especially tea and lemons.
Fish sellers near LenkaranFish sellers near Lenkaran

Fish and fruits

Citrus fruits abound, together with the less well known, but delicious, feijoa, and grapes from the many vineyards; in fact the list seems endless when it comes to what grows well here. Fish are plentiful too, of course, with the region being on a river and at the seaside. When driving to Lenkoran you can’t miss the cheery roadside sellers with their old cast-iron bathfuls of baliq (fish) lining the roads anywhere near the sea or rivers. Look out also for the colourful sunflower fields and for the jigsaw picturesque scenes of horses assisting with the potato harvest.

Some gigantic glass houses are extending the growing season and providing a much needed source of tomatoes and cucumbers throughout the winter months. All organic, in case you want to know. You can’t miss the big new football stadium, impressive and shiny, home to the Khazar team, and indicative that Lenkoran is a happening place. Listen out for ‘Halay’ - the town’s famous group of Grandmother singers!

Lenkoran’s many parks are trim and tidy but for real nature visit nearby Hirkan National Park and Xanbulan Lake. You might not see the Caucasian Leopard, but
Flamingoes in Gizilagach nature reserveFlamingoes in Gizilagach nature reserve
it’s exciting to know it’s there.

Other trips include a drive up to the village of Lerik in the Talysh mountains. The mountain and forest scenery on the journey is stunning and this area is home to some of the world’s oldest people. Gosh, it’s so beautiful here that if this was your home you would be happy to have a long life too.

Water to bathe and burn

Closer to Lenkoran you can benefit from the undoubted pleasures of hot water springs. Close to town and charmingly rustic, a couple of ‘isti –su’ sites offer private bathing facilities where you can magic your health problems away, improve your fertility (one couple were blessed with 5 sons and 2 daughters), and also become young, beautiful and fabulous. OK so I added in the last bit. You drink the water too (for the ultimate in internal cleansing, I was told) but it tasted a bit salty to me.

Yanar Bulag, The Burning Spring, is another tourist attraction within easy reach, on the road south towards the town of Astara. Still used by locals who gather their drinking
Roadside stall near LenkaranRoadside stall near Lenkaran
water here; have a go at lighting the water and watch the flames flicker. The best drink in Lenkoran, however, is undoubtedly the tea anywhere. Recent supplies of Lenkoran tea have been erratic and have become increasingly expensive because of a lack of investment in new plantations. However this is now changing because new investment is increasing the area of land devoted to the much loved tea and because there is a brand new shiny tea factory which will hopefully ensure a delicious cuppa for me (and hopefully for you), and also a decent living for the tea farmers. You can’t wish for more.

Well maybe just one more thing. The next time I go to Lenkoran I would like to see the flamingoes. Who wants to come with me?