Other than its barrage of CNN advertisements, you don’t hear too much about Azerbaijan. When you do, it is usually a story encouraging investment by heralding the country’s favorable interest rates and stable government or perhaps a blurb on the continuing tension with Armenia. But there is another layer to Azerbaijan that you have to see to believe—the charming capital city of Baku hosts an array of restaurants, shopping, and attractions. The former Soviet Republic has shed much of its Cold War era Russianness and now boasts a unique culture of its own. Many western companies have moved and set up shop, including Park Hyatt.
My arrival from Istanbul was delayed by a day for reasons beyond my control, but thankfully a quick e-mail to the hotel moved my two-night stay back a day. When you are within the non-cancellation period for a hotel and your travel plans change, I find it best to contact the hotel directly rather than calling the reservations call center. Both may be empowered to help you out, but the hotel most certainly is. Complimentary changes may depend on a number of factors including hotel loyalty status, occupancy rates, and day of the week, but do not resign yourself to losing out on a night if you ever find your arrival is delayed (or even cancelled).
The hotel is located in the northern heart of the city and is part of a Hyatt complex housing the Park Hyatt, a Hyatt Regency, a fitness club and spa, and a housing compound that is also managed by Hyatt geared toward extended stays.
Here’s what struck me most about this hotel—they knew my name. As I pulled to the hotel in a taxi late on a Saturday evening, the bellman opened the door and welcomed me to the hotel by name. The hotel did not appear all that crowded and they knew an American-looking guy traveling alone would be arriving late in the day, but I was still impressed. Even at the Park Hyatt Tokyo I first had to identify myself before the staff learned my name.
Inside the small but well-appointed lobby, an agent behind the desk again welcomed me by name and quickly checked me in, asking me how my flight was. The bellman took my key and escorted me up to my room, wheeling my lone bag for me. A picture of Heydar Aliyev graced the lobby.
The check-in agent failed to mention I had been upgraded to a Park Executive Suite, a very nice surprise as I opened the door to my room (I figured I had been upgraded when I saw the room had double doors, but did not expect to find a huge living room, work area, guest bathroom, bedroom, and bathroom). Diamond status has its benefits. The room was 200 AZN (about $255USD) per night and I thought that was better value than using 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points. Turns out there was a VAT of about $46USD, so using points may not have been a bad idea.
Usually I take pictures immediately after I arrive in a hotel room so that I can relax and not worry about the keeping the room pristine thereafter. But the pictures of the living room were not looking great in the low-light environment, so I just took some pictures of the bedroom and master bath before photographing the rest of the room the following morning.
I had been in transit for more than 24 hours and the food on my Azerbaijan Airlines flight from Istanbul to Baku had left much to be desired. In other words, I was hungry and it was now approaching 22:30. So I did something I very rarely do principally because I find it too hard to justify the expense—I ordered room service dinner.
And it did hurt to pay about $26 for a hamburger, French fries, and salad and another $12 for a slice of cake, but comfort food sure does hit the spot when you are hungry. The food took 30 minutes to arrive and the deliveryman meticulously arranged the meal on my table. I dove in and quickly polished off the food. The salad—more like a cole slaw—left much to be desired, but the rest of the meal was excellent.
I slept well and awoke refreshed—although I had slept very well on the plane trip over, there is still nothing like being in a real bed. Take a look at the rest of the suite in daylight—
The kumquats on the table were a perfect treat and the Madelines served as my breakfast two days later while enroute from Baku to Tbilisi by train.
The first morning, I had breakfast at Mezzo restaurant in the Park side of the property. I think I would have felt too odd if the staff in the restaurant knew my name off the bat and they did not. Instead, they asked for my room number but from that point on (and throughout my stay) addressed me by name.
And it wasn’t just me who was always called by last name—there was a German guy sitting next to me and he was repeatedly referred to by his surname.
The breakfast buffet is elaborate and features a variety of hot and cold items. Chances are, if you do not see it, the chef can make it.
I really appreciated the intricate attention to detail at this property. I mentioned the arrangement of the room service the previous night and every time I stood up to return to the buffet during breakfast, my napkin was carefully folded and returned to its proper position on the table. My teacup and juice glass never dipped below the halfway mark, as the team artfully yet also unobtrusively watched over me and the other guests in the restaurant.
Sadly, work does not stop when I travel and I spent the remainder of the morning in my room on the phone with various airlines. Thrilling fun, especially with US Airways. Internet speed was lighting fast in the bedroom (a bit slower but still adequate in the living room) and I was able to get my day’s work done by 1pm, when I treated myself to something special.
I have a confession to make: the only time I get spa treatments are when I have access to the Royal Orchid Spa when flying in Thai Airways First Class. That means I enjoy a spa treatment once a year. But what is the point of making money if you never enjoy it? Well, this trip I decided to splurge. Room service? Check. Spa treatment? Check.
The Armaiti spa is located across the courtyard (pictured below) from the Park Hyatt. In addition to a mammoth workout center as well as and indoor and outdoor pool, Armaiti offers a full service spa and I was craving a full body oil massage. I arrived a few minutes early to my appointment and a receptionist welcomed me to the spa and confirmed I would be having a 60-minute “Spark of Purity” Oriental Detox (“The combination of manual pressure point stimulation with soothing bergamot, geranium and lavender oils works to detoxify the body and release tension”). Cost was 90AZN ($115). The spa manager entered and offered me a cup of tea prior to my treatment, which I declined.
I was introduced to my massage therapist and led into my treatment room, where music was softly playing and the shades were drawn. The masseuse excused herself while I changed and got under the blanket and then returned, inquiring whether I wanted a “rough” or “soft” massage.
I chose rough and she wasn’t kidding…it was a great massage and the bed was heated to a high temperature, aiding the detox process. The massage was not as relaxing as a soft massage would have been, but it was refreshing nonetheless and exactly what I needed—my neck and back muscles were very tense and she helped to alleviate that.
Back from Armaiti, I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Baku. When I returned, I found my kumquats cleared form the coffee table and a large bowl of strawberries and an iced bottle of champagne sitting in its place. Oddly, my bottle of red wine from the dining area had been taken away…I was a little bummed to be honest as I much prefer red wine to champagne. Perhaps the hotel felt I did not like it because I did not drink any the first night? But the strawberries were great.
The following morning, I ventured over to the Hyatt Regency property for breakfast at The Grill. The two hotels are not physically connected, but are only a few hundred meters from each other.
There’s a sense that Hyatt Regency hotels are your run-of-the-mill business hotels that do not offer the sort of amenities and character that higher-end chains like Park Hyatt offer. This has certainly been my experience in America, where Hyatt Regency hotels often leave me underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong—they are nice properties and perfectly adequate, but very sterile. But outside the USA, I find the Hyatt Regency chain much different. I’ve revived the Hyatt Regency hotels in Thessaloniki and Kiev and this hotel looked to be of similar caliber.
A British pub in the Park Hyatt Regency Baku
Only one other person was in the restaurant so I had my pick of spots. Breakfast was similar to the Park Hyatt only there were no hot items out—they were included in the breakfast price (free for Diamonds) and could be ordered off the menu. The dining room at the Grill was even nicer than Mezzo on the Park Hyatt side and service was equally good. After providing my room number, I was immediately addressed by name for the duration of my breakfast. Food was outstanding, particularly the waffles and I left well sated once again.
On my way back to my room, the bell boy who had opened the taxi door for me a couple days earlier walked by and cheerfully said, “Good morning Mr. Klint!” That exchange left the biggest imprint on me of the stay–these employees really did care.
I had a lot of work to do again, working for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, breaking only to head downstairs for lunch at Mezzo. Mezzo offers a buffet-style lunch (brunch on Sundays) and I wanted to give it a try.
With a train to Tbilisi departing at 20:40, a 19:00 checkout had been granted to me and I used every moment of it. Having Hyatt status helped, no doubt, and it was a quiet week at the hotel, but I was gratified and thankful that everyone at the hotel bent over backwards to treat me and the few other guests I observed like a king. The free upgrade was a wonderful surprise and I can do nothing less than give this hotel my full recommendation.
Read the rest of my trip report to the Caucasus!
Thrown Off a United Airlines Flight for Taking Pictures!
Washington Dulles to Kuwait City in United Airlines BusinessFirst
Six Hours in Kuwait City
Pearl Lounge – Kuwait International Airport
Kuwait City to Istanbul in Turkish Airlines Economy Class
Istanbul to Baku in Azerbaijan Airlines Economy Class
Baku – A City of Illusions?
Review: Park Hyatt Baku
Baku Metro (Pictures)
Overnight Train from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia
Pictures: One Day in Tbilisi, Georgia
Overnight Train from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia
Feeling at Home in Yerevan
Yerevan to Istanbul in Armavia Economy Class
The Flight Home from Istanbul…