Iran is a country that has occupied the western imagination for years, an enigmatic land with traditions and cultures very different from our own. Its position on the Silk Road meant that it was conquered, fought over and settled by many different civilizations, and the resulting cultural heritage finds few equals. This two week tour delves into the almost mystical heart of this spectacular country. We visit the stunning city of Shiraz with its beautiful shrines and gardens and visit Persepolis and other ancient sites dating back to before the time of Christ. We explore the desert city of Yazd with its unique architecture and stay in a carefully restored caravanserai, oozing with the history of the ancient trade routes. We spend time in the mountains with villagers and nomads to get a fascinating insight into a different side of Iran, and take in the truly breathtaking sights of Isfahan – surely one of the most stunning cities to be found anywhere. Iran is a truly awe-inspiring destination, and deserves the attention of every serious traveler.
Day 1: Tehran. Arrive in Tehran and transfer to your hotel. Depending on your time of arrival, there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Mashad Hotel or similar.
Tehran: Established as the capital of Persia just over 200 years ago, this huge, modern and heavily populated city, does not have the romance nor the ancient sites which attract visitors to many other parts of Iran, but it is the place to find the country's best museums, restaurants and shopping. Tehran is vast and can be daunting, yet this giant capital was only a village until the end of the 18th century. Although it is not an ancient city like Shiraz or Isfahan, Tehran offers something else – foreboding murals of Ayatollah Khomeini gaze down at you from high rise buildings and it is of course home to the American Embassy, now known as the ‘den of espionage’ in which numerous diplomats and other US citizens were held during the infamous hostage crisis.
Day 2: Tehran. A day of sightseeing in Tehran. We visit the National Museum with its collection of artifacts dating back through Persian history, as well as the National Jewels Treasury. Later we explore the bazaar area. Overnight Mashad Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 3: Tehran - Shiraz. After the morning in Tehran we fly to Shiraz, a beautiful city known for the shrines of its famous poets and its pretty gardens. On arrival there should be time to explore Shiraz’s stunning sites. Overnight Arg Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Shiraz: This city encapsulates the image of ancient Persia - exotic gardens, lavish mansions, rich red wine, silky woolen rugs, philosophy and poetry. Shiraz has also always been a renowned center of learning, boasting many of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country. Known as Iran's "Poetic Capital", it was also home to two of Persia's most famous poets of the 13th and 14th centuries, Saadi and Hafez, whose mausoleums are here in Shiraz. Free time in Shiraz can be spent exploring at your own pace. Wander the maze of narrow streets and alleyways of the old city filled with traditional handicraft workshops and local markets. For avid sightseers the splendid mansion of Ghavam Orangery, the sumptuous Garden of Paradise, and the impressive intricately decorated Karim Khan Citadel are each worthy of a visit.
Day 4: Shiraz. A full day exploring the many sites of Shiraz. We visit the tombs of the famous Persian poets Hafiz and Sa’di, the Naranjestan – a traditional and well preserved Persian house, the mosque of Nasir al Mulk and the Khan Madrassa among other spectacular monuments. Overnight Arg Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 5: Persepolis – Pasargadae - Zagros Mountains. Visit Persepolis, one of the greatest cities of the ancient world and one of the highlights of a visit to Iran. We spend time exploring this magnificent site before heading to Naqsh-e Rustam and Naqsh-e Rajab, sites dating back to the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods. We then stop at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pasargadae to visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great and its other impressive monuments. After visiting these ancient sites we head into the Zagros Mountains where we stay in a small village as guests of a local family. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Persepolis: Persepolis is one of Iran’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and rightly so. Building of this extraordinary site began under the Achaemenid king Darius the Great in 515 BC, and was continued under his successors before being destroyed when the armies of Alexander swept through the region two hundred years later. What remains though is spectacular – ruins of enormous buildings decorated with elaborate and well preserved relief carvings or warriors, horses and chariots. Several places contain numerous pillars and staircases, and the site is a joy to explore.
Day 6: Zagros Mountains. We spend time exploring the mountains, walking through forests, valleys and villages where we get to meet local families and learn about their lifestyle and traditions. Tonight is spent either camping with local nomads or staying in a village house. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Nomads of Iran: The distinctive goat hair tents of Iran's one million nomads can be seen scattered throughout the countryside – a clear indication that this age old wandering lifestyle is very much alive in Iran. Nomads represent over 100 different tribal groups and sub cultures within the country, each with their own customs, dwelling places, dialects, and dress. Our journey through southern and central Iran takes us through areas which are the summer domain of various nomadic tribes who migrate from lowland pastures in winter to the mountains in the summer. They survive on animal husbandry and farming, but can also be seen in local village markets trading their traditional handicrafts. We have the opportunity to meet some of these genuinely hospitable people, and learn more about their extraordinary way of life, completely dictated by the elements.
Day 7: Zeinodin. Drive to Zeinodin, where we stay in a beautifully restored caravanserai, one of the ancient inns of the Silk Road dating back to the Safavid era and a real highlight of this trip. Overnight Zeinodin Caravanserai. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Days 8-9: Yazd. Two days exploring the desert city of Yazd, long a stronghold for Zoroastrianism and with some superb and very unique architecture. We visit the Zoroastrian fire temple, the ‘towers of silence’, the wind towers and the Jame Mosque amongst other sites. There is also plenty of free time to explore this exciting city on your own. Overnight Caravanserai-e Moshir or similar. Includes: (B).
Yazd: The ancient desert city of Yazd is unique for its intriguing architecture, which has been perfectly adapted to the harsh weather conditions of the desert. The famous wind towers, a feature of most buildings in the old city, are designed to trap even the smallest of droughts and direct them into the dwellings below for cooling. It is a fascinating place to wander around and there are 12 different bazaars dotted around the city which make for some wonderful exploring. Yazd is also Iran's center of Zoroastrians - one of the world's oldest religions, and the state religion in Persia until the advent of Islam. It is possible to visit Artashkadeh, the fire temple of the Zoroastrian community and to see a flame that the Zoroastrians claim has been burning for more than 1,500 years. Outside the city are the fascinating Towers of Silence, an old Zoroastrian burial ground where the dead bodies of the believers were left to be devoured by vultures before burying the remaining bones. It is a poignant place to visit.
Day 10: Nain - Isfahan. Drive to the spectacular city of Isfahan, visiting Nain on the way where we see the Jame Mosque and the ethnological museum. Overnight Safir Hotel or similar. Includes: 9B), (L).
Isfahan: This is without doubt Iran’s most enchanting city. The magnificent capital of Safavid King Shah Abbas I(1587-1629) on the banks of the Zayandeh Rud River, was often described by the words: "Esfahan nesf-e Jahan" (Esfahan is half the world) and has long attracted travellers from all over the world. It is here where one can really appreciate the true grace and beauty of Persian heritage.
Imam Square: Built in 1612 as a royal polo ground, and situated in the heart of the Safavid Capital, Imam Square is one of the largest and finest public spaces in the world. Historically a hive of activity - filled with entertainers, storytellers, preachers and silk route caravans, it has entranced travelers throughout the generations.
The Bazaar: The atmospheric bazaar captures the ambiance of ancient Persia. It's easy to spend many hours strolling here. The pungent scent of exotic spices, clang of copper smiths at work, cries of merchants selling gold, carpets and handicrafts, all fill the series of long alleys radiating from Imam Square.
Forty Column Palace: There are only twenty elegant columns at the front of Shah Abbas' royal reception hall, but their reflection in the pool gives the inspiration for the name. Inside the visitor is treated to a superb display of frescoes and paintings, which cover the walls and depict scenes from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Armenian Quarter: While Iran is for all intents and purposes, an Islamic nation, there are various other religious minorities free to practice their faith. Vank Cathedral in Esfahan's Armenian Quarter is a testament to the fact that Muslims and Christians have lived together peacefully here for centuries. While the exterior of the cathedral observes traditional Christian designs, the interior decorations are a curious combination of time honoured Christian images and ancient Persian art.
Imam Mosque and Sheik Lotfullah Mosque: Built between 1612 and 1638 these majestic structures, lavishly adorned with exquisite tile work in hues of blue, turquoise and green, represent the culmination of over 1,000 years of Islamic art and architecture. The former was built as Esfahan's central place of worship and Islamic learning. The latter, named in honour of the great Lebanese Sheikh Lotfullah, was the private place of prayer and meditation for Shah Abbas.
Ali Qapu Palace: Literally called "the sublime gate" in Farsi, this seven-storey palace, situated on the western side of Imam Square, was principally the center of government during the Safavid Period. The interior is wonderfully decorated with fine carvings, murals and mosaics and the main balcony gave the Shah and his family a commanding view of the polo matches held in the square and daily life in the city.
Days 11-12: Isfahan. A World Heritage site, Esfahan is perhaps the most beautiful of all the cities in Iran with an abundance of traditional Islamic architecture, ancient mosques, shrines and palaces. We have two full days to explore this enigmatic place. Overnight Safir Hotel or similar. Includes: Day 11 – (B), (L); Day 12 - (B).
Day 13: Natanz - Abyaneh. We continue to the village of Abyaneh, stopping on the way to visit the Jame Mosque and the shrine of Imamzadeh Abdolsamaad in Natanz; a significant example of traditional Persian architecture. Abyaneh is one of the oldest settlements in Iran, and its historic importance has recently been recognized by UNESCO. Overnight local guesthouse. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 14: Kashan - Qom - Tehran. Leaving Abyaneh we drive to Kashan where we visit the Bagh-e Fin gardens and the Borujerdiyah house, a 29th century building that once belonged to a local merchant. We then head to the holy city of Qom, home to the 17th century shrine of Fatima as well as other monuments. We then continue to Tehran for our final night in Iran. Overnight Mashad Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 15: Tehran. Transfer to the airport for your flight home. Includes: (B).
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