Trans Eurasia travel

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The small, stone-built village of Ilisu is set in the beautiful Qaracay Valley, nicknamed Qax's 'mini-Switzerland'. It is located amid dense woods at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, under Mt. Ahvay, not far from the border with Dagestan (Russian Federation). The road itself is very scenic both for the landscape and for a 16th century bridge 2km out of the village itself. Ilisu is a small place, built around a single street who still remembers its glory days when it was the capital of an autonomous short-lived 18th century Khanate coveted by Russia.

Two modest castle tower ruins bear testament and there's an unusual mosque. The village is a fascinating place to wander and makes a great base for hikes towards the nearby mountains and waterfalls of the Ilisu Nature Reserve. Don't go too far, however, as the reserve is a closed zone and the peaks behind form the sensitive Russian border.

The old stone houses have stood the test of time and are nice to wander among. However, being set off the "main" street, one can found Ilisu surprisingly noisy. Clearly, there is new construction going on here. It is a favourite getaway for locals trying to escape the heat in Qax.

There are several restaurants advertising real Ilisu food, although one couldn't tell the difference. The end of town does open up into a sprawling valley, supporting a trickling river. It is common for locals to bathe here. Further up valley a 4X4 tour could bring you to SariBash (a smaller village) or 'Hamam istisu' a natural "hot spring".

Clustered around a 17th-century bridge 3km south of Ilisu village are three bungalow resorts, including the cheap but ropey Ulu Korpu and the shamelessly overpriced Green Park (Yashil Park). Better located and better value is the new Uludag Istirahat Markazi at the village's northernmost end.

Minibuses from Qax (20 minutes) leave at 7.30am, 10.30am, noon, 2pm and 5pm.