- 10 million
Sip on lemon tea at dusk and watch the mountainside burn. Azerbaijan, known as The Land of Fire, is home to many natural gas outlets that have been firing up unabated along the Absheron Peninsula for some for centuries. In the 1700s this natural wonder attracted the attention of Zoroastrians, who built temples around the flames and worshipped the fire for its cleansing properties. In more recent times, the Yanardag mountainside was lit when, rumour has it, an unsuspecting shepherd discarded his cigarette.
And if there’s a burning feeling inside your chest from too much of the local mutton stew – rather than the flaming countryside – take respite in Naftalan where the local oil is said to cure more than 70 ailments, including indigestion.
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Naftalan was an elite tourist hotspot where wealthy Russians would go to soak in oil baths and plot cinema gold – two of the empire’s most famous movies, The Diamond Arm (1969) and Amphibian Man (1962), were filmed in Azerbaijan and sold more than 70 million tickets each. But Azerbaijan isn’t just a USSR relic; it’s a country on the move and one devoted to reclaiming its tourism industry. The country was host to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and the 2015 European Games, which saw a rise in infrastructure and accessibility. The Armenian borders are still sketchy, but the Land of Fire is open and ready to blow.