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Silk Road Tours offer tailor made holidays through Central Asia, The Caucasus, Middle East and North Africa
This 9 day tour through the heartland of Iran starts in Tehran and continues to explore Isfahan, Yazd, Shiraz and the important sites in between. A comprehensive cultural tour of some of Iran’s most important sites.
Located in a quiet suburb of Isfahan about 15 minute’s drive from the centre the Atigh Hotel is set in a stunning 200 year old building from the Qajar era. The traditional courtyard house retains many of its original features with the 20 air conditioned, en suite rooms set around the two central courtyards. The hotel also features a restaurant, café and tea bar. The Atigh Hotel makes for a truly characterful stay though it can seem a little isolated from the centre.
Iran stands at the crossroads between Central Asia, India, the Middle East and the West and for millennia has benefited from this strategic position. The country has been the birthplace of some of the great civilisations of human history. The Achaemenid Empire stretched as far as the Balkans in the west and perhaps as far as the Tien Shian mountains in the East. This was the period of Cyrus The Great, the remains of whose palace can be found at Pasargadae, and also Darius The Great whose monumental palace complex at Persepolis was sacked by Alexander The Great. It was said that Alexander required 10,000 mules to cart away the loot and viewing the treasures in the Jewelry Museum in Tehran this would seem to be no ancient exaggeration. Later came the great dynasties of the Parthians and Sasanids, who the Romans never quite got to grips with and countless legions were lost in the border conflicts. After the Arab invasions, Iran became a Muslim country and then suffered invasions by the Mongols and Tamerlane. Another golden period for Iran was the Safavid dynasty which saw the great building projects at Isfahan such as Imam Square as great wealth poured into the country through trade. Since the revolution in 1979 Iran has been an Islamic Republic with a supreme spiritual leader.
Tehran is the gateway for most visitors to Iran and despite is relatively young age (it only became the capital around 200 years ago) it certainly warrants spending some time there if only to see the UNESCO World Heritage listed Golestan Palace. Travelling out of Tehran perhaps one of the main highlights for many visitors is Isfahan which can easily require two days to take all of the sights in – the ensemble surrounding Imam Square requiring at least half a day. Travelling out into the desert the city of Yazd has the Bagdirs or wind towers which acted air conditioning during the baking summers. Yazd was centre for Zoroastrianism and the main temple has had a fire burning continuously for at least 1500 years. The city also has a very well preserved old town with maze of alleys which are delight to explore. Carrying on from Yazd, Shiraz – or the City of Roses – is many peoples’ favourite Iranian city. Though the sights within the city itself are limited it has a wealth of places to visit in the surrounding area. Persepolis, Pasargadae and Naqsh-i Rostam are ‘must sees’ for most visitors but also worthy of note are Bishapur which was built by captured Roman soldiers and the Sassanid city of Firouzabad. The Azerbaijan province of Iran is perhaps less visited but has many sites worthy of note. Tabriz is home to a UNESCO World Heritage listed bazaar and close by in the Ardebil the Sheikh Safi al-din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble offers a rare example of medieval Islamic architecture. Further to the North West there are examples of Armenian churches, also UNESCO listed, that give represent Iran’s extensive Armenian population which is particularly evident in Isfahan where they brought to in order to utilise their skills in silk trading.
Iran is the 18th largest country in the world and shares its borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iraq. Large parts of the country are desert with no major river systems and water has been a constant issue throughout its history. This led to the construction of Qhanats or underground water channels that brought water from the mountains to the settlements – many of these date back centuries. In evidence particularly around Yazd are underground ice houses where ice in winter would be stored for use during the long, hot summers – due to its relative altitude about two thirds of Iran receives snow fall each year. The North West Azerbaijan province stands in contrast in its climate where its mountainous nature means a climate more similar to that of Switzerland. With its continental climate of cold winters and hot summers the best times of year to visit are Spring and Autumn.
Persian cuisine is rightly regarded as amongst the finest in the world. Rice is a staple with many dishes and the most highly prized type is an aromatic version grown in Northern Iran which many Iranians will tell you is the best rice in the world! Grilled meats are common with Koobideh or grilled minced lamb being a staple or equivalent to British Fish and Chips. Also worthy of note are a range of delicious stews or Khoresht many of which are vegetarian. Each region also has its own salads, particularly delicious being the Shirazi salad and it would be true to say that Iranians have a sweet tooth which each region producing its own speciality of sweets. It would be possible to write a whole book on the variety of Persian cuisine!
Time Zone – GMT + 3
Best Times to Visit – May to June, September and October
Visas – UK passport holders, obtain before travel, Visa authorisation number required before travel.
Currency – Iranian Rial (IRR) obtainable on arrival
Silk Road Tours' tailor made trips can visit many places including: