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Baku has seen an explosion of luxury hotels in the last few years with international luxury hotel chains like Fairmont, Marriott and Four Seasons opening properties in the city within the space of a couple of years. However, there are very few, if any, hotel reviews online beyond the realm of TripAdvisor, so it is hard to make a decision on the best luxury hotel in Baku to stay at. My review of the Fairmont Baku Flame Towers provides a detailed overview of the luxury hotel’s accommodation, service and facilities, although I cannot compare it to others luxury hotels in Baku with the same level of detail. I stayed at the Fairmont Baku Flame Towers for five nights. For a guide to the best luxury hotels in Azerbaijan, you can read this article. For the best food and restaurants in Azerbaijan, you’ll want to read this. And for my comprehensive Guide to Azerbaijan and Baku, click this link.
Arrival and check in at the Fairmont Baku Flame Towers
This was the worst part of our stay by far and completely tainted the rest of our time there. We arrived on an overnight flight from Dubai which was 5h delayed. I had pre-paid the room via Hotels.com and had emailed the concierge in advance to tell them that we were going to arrive late, as we were originally scheduled to be there around 3am. He replied acknowledging my email and letting me know that a comment had been placed in the booking. I was confident that, despite the further delay and actual landing at 8am with no sleep, we would at least be able to check-in the room and shower, especially since we had already paid for the room. How wrong I was.
When we arrived, we were told our room was not ready as it had been marked as no show and given to someone else. I was beyond surprised, but since we were assured that it would be ready in 20min, we waited. We were offered a coffee for the wait. One hour went by, and there was no sign of our room, nor was there any further communication. I went back again to the reception and was told that the room was almost ready. Eventually, at 1.5h delay I lost my patience and asked to speak to the Manager, to which the reception staff suddenly responded offering me a room to shower and get changed. How this was not offered in the first place is beyond me. We took it and at least managed to shower and get ready to go out and explore Baku.
The room was ready about 3h after we had arrived, at around noon, so we paid for a night that we never used. No refund, no apology, nothing at all. After hundreds of hotel nights and 12 years of travel, I cannot remember a poorer check-in to a luxury hotel. The staff were kind and friendly, but they should have better processes for dealing with these situations, especially since this was no fault of ours as I had averted the concierge in advance. Later in the day, our belongings were transferred to the new room and when we returned in the evening we got the new key. However, the issues did not end there, because they did not transfer the credit card details to the new room, so we were unable to charge anything to the room without another trip to the reception, not even breakfast.
Aside from the check-in procedures, the hotel’s location is both a blessing and a curse. It is high on a hill that is hard to reach on foot. Not just because it requires quite a steep climb on foot, but because the streets leading up to it snake up and are thought out for cars and not pedestrians, so it is a mission to get there. At night, the streets are not lit and you will find yourself trying to cross streets without any pedestrian crossings. It is advisable to get taxis back to the hotel, not a major issue per se, as taxis in Baku are incredibly cheap and Uber works very well, but something to consider. On the flip side, there is a short cable car that goes from Chinar, down by the promenade, to the hotel in a few minutes and if you have time, it is worth it to stroll down via the stairs in the park further away from town which can be seen from the hotel. The stairs are not efficient either, as they are spread across the park, but they are a pleasant walk and offer great views of the hotel and the bay below. Worth doing it at least once.
The rooms at the Fairmont Baku Flame Towers
This is the best part of the hotel. The rooms at the Fairmont Baku Flame Towers are spacious enough and have great views. This is not uncommon of other luxury hotels in Baku, a few of the top end ones have great views over the Boulevard and the Caspian Sea, but the Fairmont is a notch above the rest because it is up on a hill so the views are panoramic. Thankfully, we got a room with sea views as the rooms at the back miss out on the great views (the room we first used to get changed in faced the back). Inside, expect the usual international decor in pale colors and the amenities you’ve come to see in luxury hotels including an espresso machine, tea facilities, shower and bath, a walk-in closet area, desk, multi-purpose plugs (a pet peeve of mine) and a TV with some international channels. Internet is provided throughout the hotel and the signal is strong enough so no complaints there.
We got a room for three people with an extra roll-away bed and that made the room very crowded, so beware if you are looking to travel with a child and want a third bed.
The only downside of the room is that every time they serviced it we missed something, mostly towels. From the beginning, they set the room up for three people but there were towels only for two. Then every time the room was serviced there were some towels missing, like the face towels were gone, or the hand towels were not replaced, or we were missing some shower towels. It was comical, but slightly annoying as we had to call every time.
If you want to splurge, the higher level rooms come with large spaces including offices, living areas and bathrooms with free standing bathtubs with views over the Caspian Sea.
Photo from the Fairmont’s hotel site
The common areas of the hotel looked colourful and inviting. The Fairmont is the only hotel in Baku with a decent outdoor swimming pool, so that is certainly a differentiating factor. The common area on the roof between the three towers is large, with a few pools of varying sizes and depth and lounges, sofas and tables scattered. You definitely can relax and unwind, or freshen up in the hot summer days. There is also a Moet Chandon bar with cocktails and bubbly and a few waterfalls. The longest bit of the pool is long enough for a proper swim. But even this part has its downsides, mostly in the cleanliness level, not so much of the pool area, but of the windows which encase it. They looked like they had never been cleaned since the hotel opened and were simply white from the dust accumulated over months. Perhaps this is beyond the hotel’s control, as they are the glass windows that are part of the complex of the Flame Towers, but it is absolutely unpleasant. Not only does the dirty glass prevent you from enjoying the partial view of the sea between the buildings in front of the Flame Towers, but it also portrays a poor attention to detail. Anybody spending any time by the pool will immediately see the dirty glass, not acceptable of a luxury hotel.
The hotel also has an inviting indoor pool, common at other luxury hotels in Baku, which is designed to play on the reflections of the building on the water. This pool is rectangular and perfect for morning laps all year round. The gym is also well equipped and would probably be enough for most travelers. The spa is at the same level as the pool, fully equipped and has a quaint cafe with great views of the sea.
The most useful services the hotel offers were the concierge and the tour company, external to the Fairmont, that had a stand in the lobby and which booked our tours around Baku and Azerbaijan. The concierge was helpful to provide recommendations on where to eat but the service was as erratic as our check in. We asked for recommendations on a place to watch the sunset, he recommended Chinar, which is secluded behind a building on a back street and has no views of any kind. I thought there was a miscommunication there. We also requested dinner reservations, only to get back in the evening for the booking not to be made, so had to ask again the new concierge and wait there for the call to be made. The lunch recommendations were good, but they were not an insider’s point of view, he suggested the well known local places every tourist goes to.
The tour company in the lobby was manned by a friendly girl who helped us book all the tours. She had adequate materials and knowledge and booked us all the excursions to visit the mud volcanos, Ateshgah, Yanar Dag and Qabala. She did however miss to tell our guide that the whole purpose of going to Qabala was to see Ancient Qabala and it was only at the end of the day when the check list of places he wanted to show us was over that we mentioned we wanted to see Qabala. By that point it was very late, so we had to rush to make it on time before closing. Another break in communication, but at least the guide was kind enough to make an effort, to which we gave a very generous tip.
Given the location of the hotel, there is a free shuttle bus service to town during the lunch and dinner hours so you can go and come back easily, a nice idea to help you explore different dining options since there is only one at the hotel.
For a hotel this size, the dining options are quite limited. There is a buffet restaurant, Le Bistro, at the ground level where breakfast is served. A lounge style cafe, Nur Lounge, in the lobby for drinks and snacks that has a pianist in the evenings playing live. The H2O Bar by the pool serves light meals and drinks but unless you are in your swimming suit and ready for the pool, there is no shaded area to enjoy the pool. The small and cozy ESPA cafe also offers a light menu to enjoy with the views. The hotel mentions a new Jazz Club but it was not opened yet during my visit. I found it strange that a hotel in such iconic towers with such great views did not offer any bar or restaurant at the top. When we inquired we were told only the Fairmont Lounge offered that, and you had to be a Gold member or be part of the premium rooms to use it. This seemed like a shame, as I am sure the evening views from the top are stunning.
We only tried Nur Lounge and the breakfast buffet at Le Bistro. I had booked a room without breakfast because I wanted to go out and eat what locals eat but on a couple of days we had early morning tours so we chose to eat at the hotel. I am glad we did not pay for breakfast because it was probably not worth the money for two reasons.
Firstly, I found the service inexistent. Your room number was taken upon arrival by the staff at a counter outside the restaurant who did not escort guests to the tables. You had to find your own seat. Once seated, nobody would come ask for coffee or tea, or welcome you in, and every time we wanted to get the attention of the servers they seemed to intentionally avoid eye contact. The breakfast area was quite busy on one of the days, with three quarters of the tables occupied, and the staff seemed to not be able to cope, rushing across the dining area. The food kept running out without being replaced, the pancakes and waffles were not replenished and the queue for the one-man egg station was long.
Secondly, the food spread was limited for a five star hotel and did not showcase any of the local specialties. The traditional bread Azeris eat for breakfast was not available and the fruit juices were from a Tetra Pak, not even the orange juice was fresh. On the positive side, the restaurant has a nice outdoor terrace which is a pleasant place to enjoy breakfast away from the busy inside area.
I have talked about our check in experience, the interactions with the concierge and the several room service issues. It is fair to say that the service level at the hotel overall needs improving. The staff is friendly, very nice and pleasant and they all spoke proper English. There just seems to be a lack of proper Senior Management attention and processes that should be expected of a 5* luxury hotel. The issues we experienced should not happen at a premium hotel of these characteristics.
The rates and facilities are aligned, the service is a big let down and seems to be getting worse, judging by the TripAdvisor comments. Lots of other guests mention similar issues to mine, so you would think that management has enough feedback to address the situation. All of the issues we experienced seem to be the same as other guests. Rooms not being ready on time is a common theme, as is the erratic room servicing and cleaning. These are basic fundamentals of a luxury hotel that one should not even have to pay any attention to when staying at a five star property. Sadly, they are all I can remember even a month after my stay, because they left a bad impression in what should otherwise have been a hotel I would rave about. If you are planning to visit, do check out TripAdvisor reviews first and see if there continue to be comments on this regard.
Review of the Fairmont Baku Flame Towers – The verdict
Sadly, if I have a friend visiting Baku or if I return, I will be trying the JW Marriott and will not return to the Fairmont. I believe the Four Seasons is probably the grandest of all the luxury hotels in Baku, but I am not sure their more than double price tag is justified and, at risk of wasting my money and feeling disappointed, I prefer to opt for the JW Marriott.
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