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Top Destinations 2016: Iran

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Iran is opening up to visitors in 2016, and with good reason - because if you step off the beaten track and travel here you'll probably find yourself experiencing one of the most extraordinarily beautiful and exotic destinations you’ll ever encounter.

Being a nation made up of a variety of ethnic groups, Iranians are extremely welcoming to outsiders. The British Government has also declared almost the entire country safe for travel (aside from a couple of border locations near Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) so there should be little concern as to that aspect as well.  

While visiting Iran, in order to enjoy it to its fullest, one must keep an open mind.  The landscapes of the Islamic Republic are meant to be admired and appreciated; with atmospheric deserts, historical temples and lively bazaars. Travelling to this country is without a doubt an adventure that will thrill, and won't soon be forgotten.

Where to Go

The capital of Iran, Tehran, is the ideal place to commence a journey through Iran, just because it is known for being quite different than the rest of the country. The most liberal and worldly city in Iran, it is full of remarkable museums, international restaurants, cafes and teahouses.  

The Treasury of National Jewels is housed here, one of the biggest attractions in the city, with its extensive collection of ancient and priceless jewellery. Here you can admire items such as the 182-carat, pink diamond Darya-ye-Nur (Sea of Light), known to be the largest uncut diamond in the world. The Golestan Palace (Palace of Flowers) is also worth a visit, the oldest of historical monuments  in Tehran, made up of majestic buildings and gardens and containing collections of Iranian crafts and European presents from the 18th and 19th century.

Golestan Palace

Once the modern city has been fully enjoyed and exhausted, Persepolis is naturally the next location. Steeped in the history of an ancient empire, it is definitely unlike Tehran, but it is representative of the historical magnificence that the rest of the country is made up of. Founded more than 2,500 years ago and once the richest city on Earth, Persepolis was tragically burned down, but enough is left of its ruins to marvel at what was once there. You can walk through the Famous Gate of All Nations and stroll along the long abandoned streets or check out the royal tombs here.

Ruins of Persepolis

Staying with the theme of visual history, the next destination should be Esfahan; a city that has a reputation of essentially being a living museum of traditional Iranian culture. It is a pleasant combination of the contemporary aspect of Tehran along with the historical features of Persepolis. Located here is Masjed-e Shah, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site and very well known work of art in Persian architecture, with its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.

Allahverdi Khan Bridge in Esfahan, Iran

While Iran’s cities have much to offer by way of ancient ruins, history and exceptional architecture, they also have islands to visit. Kish Island is, in essence, a resort destination, the Hawaii of Iran. Luxurious hotels and major retail complexes make this place a huge draw if you want to get away from life on the mainland for a little while.

Qeshm Island, the largest island in the Persian Gulf, is also not to be missed. A biologically diverse location, with hundreds of dolphins, birds, reptiles and turtles as well as stunning scenery.  Most of the island is being protected as part of the UNESCO recognized Qeshm Island Geopark.

Chahkooh Valley, Qeshm island

 

What to Do

Shop in a Bazaar

Iran is famous for its shopping opportunities in the form of extravagant, enclosed marketplaces, or bazaars. A trip to this country isn’t complete without having experienced these bustling, hectic staples of the culture. The Bazaar of Tabriz is one of the oldest in the Middle East and the largest covered bazaar in the world as well as yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bazaar-e Sartasari is also an amazing shopping highlight; one of the oldest trading centres in Iran.

Go skiing

Surprising as it may seem, Iran does offer the perfect mountains for a quick mountain retreat.  Dizin, near Tehran, in the Alborz Mountain range, is one of the largest Iranian ski resorts and because of the high altitude and the height of the ski lift; this spot is one of the 40 highest ski resorts in the world.  The powder skiing here is world renowned for being some of the best, so this is a can’t-miss, especially for people who are tired of the hordes of people at more famous ski locations; Dizin is just one example of Iran’s many hidden treasures.

Dizin

Experience a traditional meal

A major facet to the culture, like many others, is the food. Kebabs are widely prevalent here and come in many different shape, sizes and flavours. Lamb is the most popular choice of meat, often served with grilled tomatoes, along with a plate of rice, raw onions and flat bread. Rice is also a major facet of Iranian cuisine, usually a part of your plate in one way or another. Like in Tahchin for example, a common dish in this country; made up of rice, yogurt, saffron, egg and chicken fillet. Street snacks such as steamed and spiced fava beans, are found throughout the country, sold on corners, and there are a couple of well-liked desserts like Falooda. This consists of vermicelli noodles with a sugar and rose water syrup, basically making it old fashioned Iranian ice cream; a favourite for locals to share with visitors.

Spend the Day at a Tomb

Iranian cemeteries, tombs and memorial sites are far more picturesque than one would imagine a site like this to be. A popular one is Aramgah-e Hafez, in the city of Shiraz, the tomb of famous and revered Iranian poet Hafez.  His tombstone is placed underneath of a striking domed pavilion, in the midst of an enchanting garden with two pools. Eat at the teahouse while you wait until sunset so that you can experience the atmosphere of the floodlit tomb while poetry is sung over the public-address system. While this is happening, Iranians can be witnessed performing the faal-e Hafez, a popular ritual done in honour of the poet.

Hafez

Bathe In the Natural Waters

The city of Sareyn is known for its springs, believed to have medical healing powers, nearby an inactive volcano. Heated by the water of the Sabalan Mountain, there are nine springs with “Gavmesh Goli” being the hottest at almost 67 degrees. There are also some cold springs, like the one near the village of “Vila Dareh” which features fizzy waters. Many people also choose to hike Sabalan Mountain itself, which has a famous crater-like top containing a lake of acidic waters.

Sabalan Volcanic Lake 

Wander an Ancient Village

Iran has several small towns, practically untouched by characteristics of the 21st century, and the traditional architecture and indigenous ambience makes them worth experiencing. The village of Abeyaneh for instance, one of the oldest in Iran, was last recorded with a tiny population of less than 300 people and is known for its overall strange reddish hue. On the top of the village are the ruins of a fort from ancient Iranian civilization, and while exploring you can come across a fire temple from hundreds of years ago, an 11-century mosque, three castles and more in this quaint, remote area.




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