It has a city built on stilts

The settlement of Neft Daşları started life as an oil rig and a couple of elevated walkways in the Caspian Sea: today, it’s an entire stilted city. It was built in 1949, and communities have cropped up around bakeries, shops, cultural areas, hostels, and hotels.

2. Its borders are complicated

In western Azerbaijan, you can cross the border into Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-declared autonomous region. However, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. It’s famed for its epic mountain ranges and the mulberry groves and vineyards that flourish in its valleys.

3. It was home to ancient man

In the lowest reaches of Azokh Cave in western Azerbaijan, archaeologists have found tools and remain to date back 1.5 million years. The six chambers of the cave complex hold a bounty of prehistoric remains, and it’s thought that the caverns were occupied for nearly two million years.

4. Its gas is plentiful

Fire Mountain (Yanar Dag) does exactly what it says on the tin: it blazes continuously, with a natural flame that feeds off the huge underground gas deposits. The mountain, not far from Baku, has entranced travelers and conquerors for centuries: in the 13th century, explorer Marco Polo wrote of the mysterious fires that burned all over the peninsula. Natural gas is a big earner for Azerbaijan: in 2013, it produced 29 billion cubic meters of fuel.

5. You can float through the capital

Baku is also home to Little Venice, a man-made waterway that flows between shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It has a number of islands, connected by bridges and walkways – but the best way to get around is by gondola.

6. Eggy smell? Blame the volcanoes

Azerbaijan has more mud volcanoes than any other country on Earth – more than 400. When its volcanoes erupt, the flames shoot up to a kilometer in the air, and when dormant they bubble and pop with noxious gases.

7. It loves pancakes

Kutabi – filled pancakes – are practically Azerbaijan’s national dish. They’re stuffed with pumpkin, veggies, meat or just a sprinkling of herbs, then flipped and toasted on a griddle. Leave your Nutella at home: Azerbaijan’s pancakes are strictly savory.

8. Azerbaijanis take tea with jam

No social occasion is complete without tea, served with myriad trimmings. It’s often sweetened with jam – and flavored with thyme, lemon, mint, or rosewater.

9. Its horses are heroes

The Karabakh horse – renowned for its effortless speed, intelligence, and endurance – is the national animal of Azerbaijan. They are endemic to the country, and one of the oldest breeds in the world. Horsemeat was once widely eaten in Azerbaijan, but now it has fallen out of favor; you’ll find lamb and beef on the menu instead.

10. They love a good carpet

Azerbaijan’s Carpet Museum opened in 2014, on Baku’s seafront, in a building that’s shaped like a giant rolled-up rug. Inside, you can browse carpets of all ages, from all over the country – a spectacle only trumped by carpet weaving demonstrations.