The Talysh Mountains are not as high nor as spectacular as the Caucasus but their attractive mix of forest, canyon and sheepmown uplands makes the area a delightful place to hike, as long as you don't stray too close to the Iranian border. The hub of the mountain region is the overgrown village of Lerik. Even in summer Lerik is refreshingly cool, so remember to bring appropriate clothing. Along the pretty Lankaran-Lerik road are many appealing teahouses and rest areas from which to take random strolls in some of Azerbaijan's most appealing mature forests.

Central Lerik is marked by a bust of Heydar Aliyev and an eerie memorial depicting the faces of the locals who gave their lives in the Karabakh conflict.

Lerik's five minutes of global fame came in 1973 when Shiralev Muslimov died aged 168. There is some doubt that he was really born in 1805 but even if he sneaked an extra decade onto his tally he remains one of the longest lived humans since the old testament. His great-great-great-grandchildren would fill a small stadium. Centenarians are still far from rare at the last count (1998) there were over 80 in Lerik region. An American dairy's advertisement tried to claim this longevity was caused by yoghurt. However, white-beards interviewed by New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer claimed they never touch the stuff. Scientists suspect that a good Lerik innings is probably down to strong genes combined with pure water and hard work. Nutntionists would shudder at the lack of vegetables in a shepherd's diet. One 123-year-old claimed it was the daily lOOg of vodka that stoked his fire.

Lerik has a beautiful setting. Behind are grassy mountains, sharp peaks and a series of very deep craggy ravines. In front are wooded valleys with agricultural hills rolling away towards Yardimli. Lerik itself, however, is not a lovely town. It sprawls fairly formlessly and few buildings are really old. Soviet planners are not entirely to blame - earthquakes have taken their toll. One on 9 July 1998 scored 6,5 on the Richter scale and damaged 4200 homes in the region. Better viewpoints and more appealing villages start a few kilometres further into the mountains along passably drivable tracks. Excursions are very rewarding and there are great opportunities for wilderness hikes if you can handle steep. Several delightful walks are possible by simply striding out of town in any direction.

If you're planning a trip to Azerbaijan you may be interested ▶ Azerbaijan highlights - For those who prefer to go unbeaten path, to explore less visited places and check national charisma of this small country in Southern Caucasus on the edge of Europe.