21 Feb 2019
One of the oldest civilisations on the planet and known as Persia until 1935, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a land of opulent mosques and palaces, crumbling ancient ruins, a thriving art and craft scene and locals eager to make your acquaintance. Be welcomed by curious locals as they show you their country, their customs and their gastronomy, so often punctuated by fragrant pomegranate, saffron and sumac.
Hugging the lower slopes of the magnificent, snowcapped Alborz Mountains, the dynamic capital is Iran’s most secular and liberal city and start point for all visitors exploring this fabled land. Including a bazaar of grand proportion, towering monuments and a museum dedicated to priceless Persian carpets, two major highlights include the glittering palaces - Golestan and Sa’dabad. Golestan Palace comprises several palaces, halls and museums. Used as a royal summer residence during the Pahlavi period (from 1925-1979), before the Shah and monarchy were overthrown in the Revolution, the sprawling Sa’ dabad Palace and Museum is a 104-hectare complex comprising 18 palaces, most of them converted into museums. Sa’dabad offers a fascinating glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Shah, a ruler credited with modernizing Iran, but renowned for his excesses. From the Shah’s immoderations and Western influences, Iran’s pendulum swung completely the other way, with today’s ideals built on fundamentalism.
On a flat plain ringed by mountains, the ancient, rustic desert city of Yazd was a major stop on the caravan routes during the Silk Road period. It’s also known as the beating heart of the Zoroastrian religion, which dates back over 4,000 years and was the state religion before the arrival of Islam. In the UNESCO-listed Old City, visitors will be charmed by the Dolat Abad Garden and the atmospheric kuches (lanes). Two vestiges of Yazd’s Zoroastrian heritage include the Fire Temple and the Towers of Silence. The intriguing Towers of Silence are part of the Zoroastrian tradition of raised circular structures where practice once dictated the dead were laid out to be picked clean by scavenger birds.
Heartland of Persian culture for over 2000 years and set in a fertile valley once famed for its vineyards, Shiraz is home to the tombs of literary juggernauts Hafez and Sa’di, the vast complex of Eram Garden, the Khan Citadel and Nasir-al-Mulk, better known to visitors as the Pink Mosque. You’ll be enveloped in the city’s strong culture. The gardens, mansions and tombs are laced with intricate details of remarkable history. Explore the beauty of the 11th century Vakil Bazaar with its courtyards, bath houses and old shops. Here you’ll find freshly roasted pistachios, Persian rugs, sweets and antiquities.
Built on the slopes of Mt Rahmat, UNESCO-listed Persepolis was intended as a showcase of the Achaemenid empire, designed to awe visitors with its scale and beauty. By the 4th century BC Persepolis was an elaborate project of palaces, treasuries and necropolis, illustrating unsurpassed artistic excellence. Inevitably, the city attracted the envy of powerful rivals and in 330 BC it was all but razed to the ground by the armies of Alexander the Great.
Known as the jewel in Persia’s crown, erstwhile capital Esfahan is a visual feast. Offering a profusion of tree-lined boulevards, Persian gardens and important Islamic buildings giving it stunning visual appeal, visitors are never disappointed. In the gargantuan UNESCO-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square is the 17th-century Imam (Shah) Mosque, whose dome and minarets are covered with mosaic tiles. In the Armenian quarter of the city, where disciples are still allowed to practice their religion in peace, visitors will find Vank Cathedral. The many artisans working in Esfahan underpin its reputation as a living museum of traditional culture.
Arrival - Imam Khomeini International Airport is the main gateway into Iran.
Tourist Visa - required for entry into the Islamic Republic. Procurement takes around 8 weeks, and Phil Hoffmann Travel offers a complete service.
Safety & Sanctions - Whilst international sanctions remain in place, black gold remains the major revenue generator for Iran’s economy. Despite sanctions, there is very little impact on the tourism sector, with visitors enjoying an uneventful and amazing time in Iran.
Food – Iranian or Persian cuisine is as varied as the country’s geography and culture. Many coveted ingredients are native to Iran, including pistachios, almonds, walnuts, saffron, mint, oranges, pomegranates and grapes. Typical dishes include rich stews, kebabs, roasted meats, jeweled rice, herb and cheese plates and the ubiquitous flat bread. Visitors should remember that Iran is a Muslim country and pork is not consumed here.
Shopping – It’s got to be a Persian rug! Live by the mantra ‘Caveat Emptor’ or ‘let the buyer beware’! Iran is also known for its intricate and beautiful metal work and wood carving, which can be found at affordable prices.