Last Updated on April 11, 2024

As soon as I stepped off the bus, my shoulders relaxed. I immediately felt at ease. Friendly taxi drivers offered to take me directly to my hotel, so I quickly hopped in one of the cars.

Do you know that feeling when you realize you’ve chosen the right city to visit, and it has a wonderful vibe that makes you feel so good? That is how Sheki in Azerbaijan felt for me after a long five-hour bus ride from Baku.

Sheki, now named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was an essential city for traders on the Silk Road, and it still has caravanserais, palaces, an abandoned silk factory, and old cobbled streets to wander around. Because of the convenient location of my hotel, Old Town Sheki, I could walk everywhere in less than a half hour in any direction I needed to go.

Exploring Old Town Sheki

My room at Old Town Sheki in Sheki, Azerbaijan.
My room at Old Town Sheki in Sheki, Azerbaijan. Photo by Erin Coyle

Upon entering the hotel, I was warmly greeted by the staff and immediately noticed the white piano and the hotel’s ancient stone walls. After walking through a courtyard and up a set of stairs, I found my room with two twin beds and mustard green blankets. The sea-green walls only added to the room’s appeal. The room also included a refrigerator and toiletries.

I was especially drawn to the courtyard with its white swing, potted plants, and small fountain. Guests can dine here or choose one of three enclosed private rooms. Since I was visiting in January, and it was roughly 30 degrees Fahrenheit, I chose to have appetizers inside the restaurant next to the reception.

I also noticed that some of the stone walls had round copper plates hanging on them. This lovely decor added more depth to the inviting restaurant’s atmosphere, along with its green tablecloths and pink cloth flower-shaped napkins on the plates.

Old Town Sheki Cuisine

Mangal Salad and eggplant rulet.
Mangal Salad and eggplant rulet. Photo by Erin Coyle.

For my appetizers, I chose the eggplant rulet and mangal salad. Mangal salad consists of eggplant, red pepper, tomato, and onion. The six mini eggplant rolls and appetizer salad were perfect portions.

The menu offers a variety of meals, including roasts, kebabs, fish, soups and salads.

Breakfast comes with a tray of small clay pot dishes, including olives, a hard-boiled egg, Labneh – a cross between a yogurt and sour cream with a slightly cheesy flavor – cheese similar to a mild feta, cucumber, tomatoes and salami. It was tasty, but somewhat overwhelming, so I sampled a small portion.

Warm Hotel Hospitality

Old Town Sheki Hotel is hospitable, and one afternoon, I was drinking coffee at the restaurant. Ruhiyye, an employee here, introduced herself and invited me to have tea later that evening at the hotel. We met and enjoyed some live Armenian music. A bite or two of jam with black tea is common to balance the bitterness. We had rose and cherry, and I much preferred the rose flavor.

Things to Do in Sheki

Several sights here will keep you busy, including visiting a palace, the old silk factory, a bazaar and of course, walking around the ancient streets.

Sheki Khan Palace

Sheki Khan Palace in Sheki, Azerbaijan.
Sheki Khan Palace in Sheki, Azerbaijan. Photo by Erin Coyle

This magnificent palace is about a twenty-minute walk from the hotel. The property also has a fortress, a mosque, and an arts center. This 18th-century palace was the summer residence of the Khan family.

The exterior has light blue, pink and black geometric patterns. Six rooms inside include walls with frescoes depicting various hunting and war scenes and bright red, yellow and blue-stained glass windows in different geometric shapes.

Each room was a jaw-dropping experience and I continued to find myself whispering, ‘Oh my’ and ‘incredible’ because of the bright colors and ornate decor. 

Teze Bazaar

It’s easy getting lost in this amazing market which features produce, nuts and dried fruit, and spices such as turmeric, and sweets like Halva—a sweet pastry with a thick paste of flour, oil or butter, and sugar. Some may add honey or rosewater. Vendors usually cut them into square pieces but for those who want to order something other than a full pound, they are happy to cut smaller bites of Halva.

The market is outdoors, but some nut and spice sections are located inside a covered shed as well as a clothing and fabric area. If you love nuts, I highly recommend the smoky hazelnuts.  

Old Silk Factory

Old silk factory in Sheki, Azerbaijan.
Old silk factory in Sheki, Azerbaijan. Photo by Erin Coyle

Although the outside factory gate was locked on my visit, this building deserves a visit solely because of its importance in ancient times. A faded stone lion statue is perched outside to the side of the front gate. The cobbled street has a small corner shop and five or six square houses located on the block. Even though you may see people walking around and cars parked on the street, it feels as if time has stood still.

As I peered inside the gate, trying to imagine life in ancient times, I envisioned thousands of workers getting items ready for merchants. I walked up and down the cobbled street several times because I wanted to pause for a moment and think about the stories this factory has to tell.

Caravanserai

Guests will notice the caravanseri, which is about a five-minute walk from Old Town Sheki. Merchants used these caravanserais to trade in and sleep during the Silk Road era.

The Lower Caravanserai is now a hotel and visitors can take pictures inside the rectangular property with a courtyard. However, the arch-brick rooms are locked, so non-guests are not allowed to go inside.

I enjoyed my time wandering the streets, going through the alleys, and taking photos of the traditional wooden doors and the colorful bright green and blue ones. There is something about a door that absolutely makes me gravitate toward them.

I had the chance to visit another restaurant, Ovcular Mekani, just past the hotel, for Piti. This goat meat dish consisted of pear, tail fat, sumac and chestnuts. The first step was to eat the broth with sumac spice and bread before the server mixed the meat in a clay pot, which went into the remaining broth bowl.

I stayed two nights in Old Town Sheki and the long bus ride was well worth it for the relaxation I experienced upon arrival. The friendly locals were happy to see tourists, and the laid-back, small, ski-town feel with cobbled streets and narrow alleys was an excellent place to explore and take a break from the capital.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 Comment
  • Kirsten
    April 11, 2024

    So interesting! You go to the coolest places Erin.