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Destination at a glance: Iran

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Destination at a glance: Iran

All is not what it seems in Iran, the simple stereotype is of an oil-addled desert land flush with scowling peoples and anti-Western feeling. Oh, and nice carpets. Don’t be fooled! The reality is far more complex and far more diverse. Iran boasts a sophisticated culture where poetry is valued over dogma and hospitality trumps austerity. Visitors are more likely to be welcomed by men cycling the wrong way down four-lane highways than they are to encounter suspicion or slogans.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: April to June and September to November

Islam retains an important place but is not overwhelming, and the Iranians, despite the trials of a long history and modern politics, are upbeat and genuinely interested in meeting travellers. Like those famous carpets, Iran is textured, subtle and richly coloured.

destination at a glance iran

TOP THINGS TO SEE

  • The arched market arcades and beautiful mosques of Imam Square in Esfahan
  • Winding lanes and wind towers in the mud-brick old town of Yazd
  • The tea terraces and hills surrounding Masuleh on the Caspian Sea littoral
  • Magnificent Persepolis, now in ruins, but an awe-inspiring reminder of the might of the ancient Persian Empire
  • The domes and minarets of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad

imam reza shrine mashhad

TOP THINGS TO DO

  • Settle in for an afternoon of banter, bluffing and tea while haggling for a carpet
  • Listen to the silence amid the date palms of Garmeh oasis
  • Accept an invitation to someone’s home for dinner – you are sure to receive one – to experience first-hand Iranian hospitality
  • Escape the smog and rumble of Tehran on the walking trails of Darband in the foothills of the Alborz Mountains

top things to do in iran

GETTING UNDER THE SKIN

  • Read The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier, a rollicking tale of a 1950s road trip; and Mirrors of the Unseen by Jason Elliot, an observation of modern Iran
  • Listen to the sombre melodies of Persian epic poetry sung to traditional accompaniment
  • Watch Gabbeh, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a colourful evocation of nomadic life; or the Lizard, by Kamal Tabrizi, a comedy box-office smash, dont forget the Separation or many other that won several Oscar recently
  • Eat mouthwatering mirza ghasemi (mashed aubergine with garlic, egg and tomato); or kababs in all sorts of varieties
  • Drink chay (tea) at a chaykhane (traditional teahouse)

RANDOM FACT

  • Iranians use Arabic script, but their language, Persian, entirely unrelated to Arabic, is related to European languages

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