Naftalan, Azerbaijan

Naftalan Travel Guide

Often dubbed Azerbaijan's wellness retreat, the town of Naftalan owes its fame to a one-of-a-kind natural resource: Naftalan oil. Unlike conventional oil, this unique substance doesn't burn, making it unsuitable as fuel but incredibly valuable for its healing properties. Legend has it that a traveling merchant discovered the oil's restorative power when he noticed that his ailing camels regained their strength after lying in pools filled with the viscous black liquid.

People flock to Naftalan seeking both relaxation and rejuvenation. The town is peppered with health resorts and medical centers offering Naftalan oil baths and a range of therapeutic treatments. With 18 wells supplying this special oil, you're never far from an opportunity to soak up its healing benefits. This guide will cover where to stay, what to do in your downtime, how to delve into the town's history, and the best ways to get here.

Miraculous Properties of Naftalan’s Oil

Naftalan oil is Azerbaijan's pride and joy, known for its broad-spectrum healing abilities. The oil is employed in various medical fields, including orthopedics, neurology, gynecology, surgery, urology, dermatology, and even dentistry. Its numerous health benefits include relief from chronic joint pain, anti-inflammatory properties, hormone regulation, and combatting skin and fungal diseases. The oil also enhances blood circulation, boosts metabolism, and offers sun protection.

Though the Naftalan oil baths are the star attraction, the oil is also an active ingredient in ointments, creams, and solutions, boasting 65 different medicinal formulas. In a more unconventional application, specialized tampons are used to treat the mucous membranes in the nose and throat. Plus, Naftalan oil is even employed in inhalation therapies.

So whether you're coming for the fabled oil treatments or simply looking for a tranquil getaway, Naftalan offers a unique blend of relaxation and healing you won't find anywhere else.

Naftalan History

The area that's now Naftalan has been known for ages. Back in the Middle Ages, it was a pitstop on the Great Silk Road, complete with caravanserais and designated areas for travelers to rest. Nizami Ganjavi, a 12th-century Azerbaijani poet, even mentioned Naftalan's unique oil in his writings. Marco Polo, the renowned Italian explorer, also stopped by Naftalan on his way to China and recorded the extraordinary health benefits of bathing in the local oil pools.

At first, the oil, known as Naphthalan, was extracted by hand without any specialized equipment. But that all changed in 1890 when an industrialist named E. I. Yeger drilled the first well in the area. He initially thought that the local oil would be good for fuel and refining. But, much to his surprise, the oil was so pure it wouldn't even catch fire. Fortunately, he soon discovered the oil's therapeutic qualities and seized the opportunity to build Naftalan's first sanatorium.

Over time, the number of health resorts and wellness centers in the area multiplied. People started flocking to these rejuvenating oil springs from every corner of the Russian Empire and later from all over the Soviet Union. It became a go-to destination for those seeking the healing properties of this unique "black gold."

Landmarks and Attractions in Naftalan

In addition to its renowned therapeutic resorts and sanatoriums, Naftalan offers a variety of attractions to enhance your stay and deepen your understanding of the town's history. There are several picturesque parks and a handful of fascinating museums showcasing some truly unique artifacts.

A must-visit is the Museum of Crutches, a place that leaves a lasting impression on those who travel to Naftalan for musculoskeletal treatments. The exhibit features real crutches and canes left behind by former patients who arrived needing aid but left completely healed. This speaks volumes about the healing powers of Naftalan oil, which is known to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and speed up the healing process.

Another key landmark is the Red Bridge, a 17th-century construction that spans the Khrami River, marking the natural boundary between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Historians suggest an even older bridge existed at the site, possibly dating back to the 12th century. The modern bridge is a sight to behold, with grand arches that stretch 175 meters across the river. It's particularly striking when viewed from the nearby hills. Fun fact: the Red Bridge was once a hub for a local market, where predominantly Georgian residents of Azerbaijan would sell goods ranging from firewood to fresh produce. The bridge was an essential route for transportation between Ganja and Tbilisi until a newer, wider bridge was constructed nearby.

For a unique experience, check out the Tea House or Samovar House, a three-story building ingeniously designed to resemble a samovar—a traditional tea urn. Supported by "legs," the structure features balconies that act as "handles," and a peculiar tower on top mimics a teapot lid with a burner. Inside this whimsical building, you'll find a cozy restaurant serving delicious Azerbaijani black tea and local cuisine.

For a relaxed day out, head to Nariman Narimanov Park, a lush green oasis perfect for strolling or taking the kids. The park offers a range of playground equipment like swings and merry-go-rounds, and there are plenty of options for snacks, ice cream, and drinks in nearby cafes.

Last but not least, the Naftalan Museum of Local History is worth a visit to delve deeper into the spa town's rich history, the healing properties of its famed oil, and the cultural heritage of the area. The museum features traditional Azerbaijani clothing, domestic tools, jewelry, and ceramics. Given Naftalan's historical significance as a stop along the Great Silk Road, the artifacts here are particularly invaluable.

Naftalan Resorts and Sanatoriums

The city of Naftalan is a haven for those seeking restorative treatments and relaxation, offering a range of accommodations and services to suit various budgets and preferences. From cutting-edge spa hotels to vintage health resorts that have stood the test of time since the Soviet era, you can expect comprehensive treatments that often blend modern techniques with traditional remedies like naphthalan oil, UV light therapy, and iodobromic baths. Before undergoing any treatments, each guest consults with a specialized doctor, and the resorts are well-equipped with diagnostic rooms and clinical labs.

Chinar Hotel & Spa Naftalan is a five-star establishment that earned a spot on the list of the top 11 sanatoriums in the CIS in 2017. This hotel offers deluxe rooms and opulent dining options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Amenities include mothball and iodobromine baths, fitness classes, a spacious pool, and access to a spa, sauna, and hammam. A complimentary shuttle service from Ganja is available, along with an Azerbaijani restaurant and a 24-hour bar named Firuza.

Gashalti Resort Hotel is another luxurious five-star option boasting multiple swimming pools, a bowling alley, billiards room, movie theater, sauna, gym, and business meeting facilities. Accommodations range from cozy single or double rooms to lavish 360-square-meter villas. The stay includes a medical consultation, naphthalan oil treatments, fitness classes, physiotherapy, and a transfer service from Ganja, along with three buffet meals a day.

Tucked away amidst pine trees on the city's outskirts, Spa Hotel Nur Naftalan offers a serene setting with two three-story buildings connected by an enclosed corridor for easy guest movement. The hotel features 60 rooms, which include single, double, and suite options. The package comprises naphthalan baths, daily physiotherapy, massages, paraffin wraps, and a complimentary airport transfer from Ganja. It specializes in treating bone, musculoskeletal, and skin conditions.

Sanatorium "Beautiful Naftalan" (Gozel Naftalan Health Resort) is centrally located within a secured area of the resort town. The four-story facility offers 56 rooms of varying sizes. The rate includes three meals a day, a medical consultation, standard blood tests, ECG procedures, naphthalan oil baths, therapeutic massages, and a range of other treatments like magnetotherapy and inhalation therapy.

Naftalan Sanatorium is a renowned health resort that originally operated during the Soviet era and reopened in 2005 after renovations. It offers budget-friendly accommodations in modest yet comfortable rooms, which can house up to four people. The price includes thrice-daily meals, medical evaluations, physiotherapy, massages, naphthalan treatments, and guided fitness activities.

Sanatorium Kepez rounds out the list as a four-star hotel featuring single, double, and family rooms, all equipped with TVs. Guests can engage in physiotherapy sessions, guided fitness activities, soothing massages, and, of course, signature baths with naphthalan oil.

What to bring from Naftalan?

One of the must-buy souvenirs from Naftalan is its range of skincare and wellness products, all featuring the area's famed natural oil. Visitors often pick up shampoos, shower gels, both liquid and bar soaps, bath balms, body creams and oils, toothpaste, and more. These items are available individually or in gift sets at local pharmacies and stores.

When it comes to therapeutic options, some standout products include "Sustavlan" and "Borelan" creams for pain relief, a naphthalan cream designed to treat psoriasis, and "Venotonic," a balm specifically for leg issues.

How to Get There?

The most straightforward way to reach Naftalan is via the neighboring city of Ganja, which has an international airport receiving flights primarily from Russia. Ganja also has a railway station. The journey between the two cities takes roughly an hour by taxi or rental car.

If you're coming from the capital city of Baku, you have a few travel options:

  • A taxi ride will take you about 4 hours.
  • The train journey also takes approximately 4 hours. Check the train schedule at the ticket office before departing. You'll arrive at Göran station, and from there, a 20-minute taxi ride will get you to your hotel or sanatorium.
  • Buses are another option. Purchase a ticket to Göran station at Baku's central bus station. Upon arrival, you can take a taxi for the last leg of the trip.