Almaty, its biggest city, may have ceded capital status to its flashy young rival, Astana, but it remains the country’s cultural and financial centre, and custodian of the Kazakh soul. Spectacularly set beneath the snow-capped peaks of the imperious Zailysky-Alatau mountains, it’s a relaxed, pleasantly green city of fancy malls and fountains, black-windowed SUVs and broad, busy boulevards. It’s the sophisticated, modern hub of a booming petro-economy for sure, but one with enough surprises to make Almaty a highlight of any visit to Kazakhstan.