Once off-limits to the outside world, Iran is firmly back on the map. This former Persian empire is brimming with majestic architecture, lavish palaces, archaeological treasures, lush gardens and a history dating back many millennia. Combine this heady mix of culture and history with legendary Iranian hospitality and discover why Iran has earned its reputation as the ‘jewel of the Middle East’.
Conquered, destroyed, rebuilt and re-imagined, Iran’s evolution is complex and fascinating. Once an important trading post at the crossroads of Europe and the exotic lands of the Orient, Iran’s richly woven tapestry of culture and tradition makes it a truly beguiling and enigmatic place to visit. Iran’s capital city, Tehran, sits at the foot of the Alborz Mountains and is a bustling, cosmopolitan city trying to carve its way in the modern world. Visit the dazzling Golestan Palace and try your hand at haggling in the vast network of alleyways of the Grand Bazaar. In stark contrast with the modern face of Iran, the remains of this once great Persian Empire are no more evident than at the crumbling ruins of King Darius’s palace at Persepholis. Dating back to 515 BC, this capital of the Achaemenian kings is one of the wonders of the ancient world. The nearby city of Shiraz, ‘the city of nightingales’ is rich with ancient culture, beautiful gardens and fertile vineyards and is synonymous with Persian poetry, most famously the poet Hafez. Ancient Zoroastrian history can be found at Yazd, with its famous Towers of Silence located in the desert sands on the edge of this atmospheric city. Visit the fire temple, wander the winding alleyways and take tea at a traditional tea house. In stark contrast to the ochre sands of the desert, Esfahan is a kaleidoscope of colour, with its glittering turquoise minarets and the breath-taking beauty of the Masjed-e Jameh, Iran’s largest mosque. Rural Iran contrasts beautifully with the splendour and elegance of the bejewelled cities, peppered with pistachio farms, walnut groves and desert oases, from the fertile Bavanat Valley to the nomadic villages and ‘assassins castles’ at Alamut, close to the shores of the Caspian Sea.