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Kazakhstan: make benefit funky cities

By Adrian Bridge, The Telegraph, 22 September, 2007

New direct flights and a stylish guide book are set to heighten interest in Kazakhstan, reports Adrian Bridge.

Category: Other News
Posted by: admin

When it comes to hedonistic hotspots, the central Asian cities of Astana and Almaty do not readily come to mind.

Both received a bad press at the hands of Sacha Baron Cohen in his 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The locals were depicted as bigots, rapists and anti-Semites, while Astana was seen as a backward-looking place boasting a "Funworld" where wives could be left in cages for the day.

Despite Cohen's grotesque caricatures, travel companies did report some new interest in the former Soviet republic following the film. And now both Astana and Almaty - Kazakhstan's current and past capitals - are to be featured as hip destinations in a new guide. From the end of next month, curious visitors will be able to fly from Heathrow to Almaty directly with Bmi.

"Things are changing very quickly in Kazakhstan: there are now a lot of very good five-star hotels and funky clubs," said Lucy Kelaart, co-author of A Hedonist's Guide to Almaty and Astana. "In Almaty there are some wonderful old buildings; in Astana there are interesting new ones. In some of the clubs you feel you could almost be in New York or London. My favourite club in Astana is called Chocolate." Astana is enjoying a building boom on the back of revenue from the country's extensive oil and gas reserves. The city is a sea of cranes, skyscrapers and prestigious developments by architects such as Sir Norman Foster.

Tremayne Karew Pol, the founder of the "Hedonist's Guide" series, admitted the two Kazakh cities were not obvious choices. "Astana may be something of a construction site, but it is a very interesting place," he said. "In addition to more mainstream destinations for hedonists, we like to cover places that are a bit quirky." DA Hedonist's Guide to Almaty and Astana (£13.99) will be published in November (see www.hg2.com. Bmi (www.flybmi.com) begins direct flights to Almaty on October 28.