Sea Breeze Resort, Hotel and Residence, Nardaran, AZ 1137 Tel.: (012) 310 2222
A good twenty years ago, during a cold and rainy spell in London, a girlfriend and I decided that we just wanted to jet off to somewhere, anywhere, and lie by a pool in the sun, read and sleep a lot and do nothing much else. We were both pretty broke at the time but as luck would have it, we found a very good last minute deal, you know the type, something like £125, for one week in Formentera, including return flight, hotel accommodation and breakfast, so we packed our bikinis and off we went. When we arrived on this Balearic island, we were collected from the airport by bus and dropped off, group after group, at various hotels, which appeared to get successively more down market as time wore on. After what seemed like forever on the bus, the two of us realised that we’d be the last. We arrived at a concrete block with windows on a deserted stretch of beach in the middle of nowhere. Left and right were building sites. In front was a simple blue tiled pool. Our small room was basic but clean with a perfectly adequate ensuite bathroom, a south facing balcony with an obscured sea view but no furniture, and a kettle. It had little to offer but it suited us just fine. During the day, we’d lie on our towels on the balcony, smothered in Hawaiian Tropic, listening to the Australian group Crowded House on our cassette recorder, tanning and reading. To this day when I hear the lyrics ‘There’s a small boat made of china going nowhere on the mantlepiece…’, I see us both roasting under the Spanish sun. Then in the evenings, we’d put on our dresses and heels and totter 25 minutes along the unlit, rocky road to the nearest little town where we’d eat a few tapas and drink a glass of vino tinto or two or three, before tottering all the way back again, with another bottle under our arm for later. It was a wonderful holiday and we returned to a grey London tanned and refreshed.
The moral of this story is this: When you don’t expect much, you make the simplest things work for you. I mention this because I disliked Sea Breeze Beach Resort the minute I spread my towel on the sun lounger. The lovely husband thinks I am being harsh in my assessment. It’s perfectly possible, therefore, that my view of this beach club is coloured by my expectations of it. I was expecting a Baku version of St. Tropez’ glamorous Nikki Beach or Club 55 but I found a slightly upgraded replica of my Formentera hotel.
After 40 minutes in the car (AZN50 return), we arrive at a smart looking modern building with cute looking beach huts visible on the beach, we enter the attractive foyer and pay AZN20 each for our sky blue club entry bracelet. So far, so good. Through the restaurant, very nice and inviting looking that is too, and on to the pool area. Hmmm. A bit concrete-y, basic and unloved looking and the pool is a bit on the old-fashioned side. On the upside, the white vented Moet & Chandon sun umbrellas look promising and the loungers are just about fine too, although some funky mattresses would improve the look and comfort. There’s a cool looking bar but hardly any staff to serve you while you are lying poolside. Okay, maybe we’re a bit early and the place hasn’t got going yet; it’s only midday, after all. The changing rooms and lavatory have filthy floors, there’s no loo paper and all the bins are overflowing with rubbish. We take a dip in the pool which has quite a lot of sand sediment at the bottom. In fact the jacuzzi beside it is completely full of sand, murky, and doesn’t work at all. Beyond it is the beach. It’s far from golden, more of a dirty brown. On it and on terraces beside it, are rows and rows of sun loungers, gazillions of them right down to the water’s edge, all of them empty. They seem to have sockets for sun umbrellas but none are up and the place looks like a tanning enforcement camp. Not a palm tree in sight, nor tables, nor anything else to break the monotony.
Wait, there are those lovely brochure friendly beach huts with their conical thatched roofs. We peer inside: grubby white sofas and chipped coffee tables. Which bright spark decided to get white, non weather resistant canvas coverings, I wonder. Somebody should have told Mr. Sea Breeze that stripy deckchair canvas would look better and be more practical! Then again, if the place gets going when it’s dark, nobody is going to notice, I guess.
By now, I’ve reached complete deflation level but hey, there’s nothing that a good lunch can’t sort out! We sit on the restaurant terrace which looks so pretty with it’s sky blue and white colour scheme overlooking the sea in the distance. This is the business! The menu comes and it’s all in Cyrillic Russian. I’m not so arrogant as to I think that only because I can read menus in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch and, if I try really hard, in the Scandinavian languages (and I hasten to add, it’s not because I’m an amazing linguist but only because I’m greedy!), everyone, everywhere has to pander to me but you’d think that with a substantial expat target audience so close by, someone might have made the tiny effort to just run off a translated menu on the word processor, especially in a restaurant called ‘Shore House’ and not ‘Domik na Plyazhe’. As it is, the waiter, bless him, tries to translate. All I hear is ‘tomato and cucumber’, ‘fish’, ‘salad’, ‘meat’ and I’m not amused. Or tempted to order on spec. Or, in fact, anything other than full on sulky. But we’re starving, so we order a cheese plate and a Caesar Salad with fish. Soon after, a plate of white cheeses with six grapes, two dried apricots and a limp sprig of mint arrives. It’s quite nice. Then the salad: a big mound of lettuce leaves, one chopped tomato, five black olives, one small (quail’s?) egg, garlicky croutons and three slices of smoked salmon, all copiously covered with grated (not shaved) parmesan. Fish and parmesan? It’s a new one to me. Meanwhile, the place has livened up a little and the chill out sounds are booming out. Any conversation is impossible. How about a dessert? Yes, please! Cheesecake is on the menu, so we order that. The coffee comes but no cheesecake. We wait. We ask. Yes, cheesecake is coming soon. We wait some more. Eventually, after about 20 minutes, the waiter shows up with a chocolate sponge kind of cakey thing with a ball of ice-cream that has already half melted and tells us that there is no cheesecake but that this is our dessert. We don’t want it. He insists that we must have it. We really don’t want it and ask him to take it away. Reluctantly he removes it and brings the bill. AZN49. That seems a lot and it’s in Russian, so we ask him to elaborate. Guess what, they’ve billed us for the cheesecake (AZN10!). We’re told that we must pay for it because, after all, we were offered a substitute, no matter that we didn’t order it and anyway, it’s just as good as the cheesecake and if we didn’t want to eat it, well, that’s our lookout. This is where I go into one of my famous and rather unbecoming hissyfits. We deduct the cheesecake and leave AZN40, the lovely husband cringeing as I flounce off.
I’m out of there and don’t feel inclined to ever go back. Sea Breeze can blow away as far as I’m concerned. Our little day trip to the seaside has cost the two of us AZN130. I can think of many better ways to spend that sort of money and have a lot more fun in the process! My main gripe with the place is not so much the little hiccoughs or the relative unattractiveness of the beach and pool but the general air of carelessness in terms of detail and execution as well as the cost, aim and pretence of being something a bit special when it is clearly not.
It’s possible that perhaps we went at the wrong time or that either Sea Breeze or I were having a bad day, or both. Please leave your comments about your experience here. I hope it was a better one than I had!
STOP PRESS! STOP PRESS! I have now edited out my comments regarding the chef at Shore House. In fact, I had been erroneously informed that a big Baku name was cooking there but please note that this is entirely untrue. My profuse apologies for not checking my facts properly!