Explore one of the greatest cities of antiquity, Persepolis. The relief carvings and towering columns will leave you in no doubt that this was once the centre of the known world. Once a major stop on the Silk Road, visit Yazd and discover the role religion plays in the city, from the impressive Jameh Mosque to the Zoroastrian towers and temples. Spend two nights at our ‘feature stay’ hotel in Yazd; an old renovated caravanserai that dates back to nearly a century ago. Soak up the sights and atmosphere of the jewel in the crown of Persia, the beautiful town of Esfahan.
Explore two of the most historically and culturally rich countries in the world, places where numerous empires, conquerors and civilisations have left their mark. Go behind the headlines and uncover the true Iran, a welcoming country of open-hearted people redefining the word ‘hospitality’. From breath-taking mosques to stepped hillside villages, Ancient Persepolis and Zoroastrian towers, the beauty of the Iranian landscape is a reflection of its inhabitants. Journey to Turkey, a tantalisingly exotic country that mixes the cosmopolitan delights of Istanbul with ancient cities and natural wonders. Visit a dazzling architectural world, from the Blue Mosque and Ephesus, to the bizarre rock-landscape of Cappadocia. Come on a rewarding adventure that takes in one of the world’s least-visited countries.
Breakfast Included: 25 Lunches Included: 2 Dinner Included: 3
Welcome to Iran! You will be met at Tehran Airport by a local driver for a transfer to your hotel (approximately 1 hour). You may arrive in Tehran at any time today, with hotel rooms are generally available after 12 pm (midday) and an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. Until then, the rest of your day is free to explore your surroundings. Home to 15 million people, Tehran is exciting, noisy and chaotic – it’s the country's beating heart. Highly recommended today is to visit the Treasury of National Jewels – be sure to time your visit, as it is closed on some days. In the evening, you could take a seat at a coffee shop or find a local restaurant for dinner – be sure to ask your group leader for their recommendations.
Continue discovering of Tehran with a full-day tour, beginning at the World Heritage-listed Golestan Palace – an opulent masterpiece of the Qajar era embodying early Persian design. Continue with a stroll through Tehran's bustling bazaar before visiting the National Museum. While it may not look as inspiring as other city buildings from the outside, inside is a treasure trove of Iran's rich history. Keep your eye out for the Salt Man from Zanjan – preserved in salt for centuries.
Drive to Kashan in the morning – a merchant town known for its high-quality ceramics, silks, carpets and fine houses. Visit the lush Bagh-e Tarikhi-ye Fin (Fin Garden), a classical Persian garden that contains Kashan's Fin Bath. This is where Amir Kabir – the Qajarid chancellor and a nationalist hero – was murdered under the orders of King Nadir al-Din in 1852. Spend time at the fascinating Tabataei House. Built in the 1840s for the affluent Tabatabaei family, exceptional attention was paid to every architectural detail of this building as dictated by the geography and climate of the area. Spend the evening in Kashan and experience Iranian hospitality as your group shares an evening meal with a local family, before spending the night in a traditional Iranian-style house.
After breakfast, depart for the ancient desert city of Yazd. Once a major stop on so-called caravan routes to Central Asia and India during the Silk Road period, it's also known as the heart of the Zoroastrian religion. Stop en route in the quiet town of Ardestan, located on the edge of the central deserts. This small village has retained a lot of its charm – it’s full of old clay houses sitting on top of underground aqueducts which draw water from the mountains to the plains. Continue to Aqda to enjoy a Persian lunch in a beautifully restored house. Relax over lunch and maybe take a walk through the village. Arriving in Yazd in the late afternoon, indulging your sweet tooth with a visit to a renowned confectionery maker at Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar. Taste generations of expertise at the oldest and most well-known sweet shop in the city, where treats are made with traditional techniques. Spend the evening in a classic hotel in Yazd.
Explore the old part of the city in the morning, heading to the Amir Chakmaq complex, and walking through the narrow kuches (lanes), past courtyards, ornate doors and mud-brick buildings. One of the most distinctive features of Yazd is the badgirs (wind towers) that capture even the softest of breezes before sending them to the buildings below. It’s an ancient air conditioning! Afterwards, visit two vestiges of Yazd’s Zoroastrian heritage on a trip to the Fire Temple and the Towers of Silence. Zoroastrianism, dating back over 4000 years, was the state religion of Iran before the arrival of Islam. In Zoroastrian, fire and water are agents of ritual purity, and the fire in the Atashkadeh Fire Temple is said to have been continuously burning since AD470. Tonight, enjoy a special dinner experience, travelling to the village of Taft to the house of Nartitee. Here, every corner of this small village home tells a story. Among the house’s pomegranate and tamarind trees, experience remnants of a 2500-year-old culture as you enjoy a simple meal.
This morning, travel from Yazd to Shiraz (approximately 6 hours). On the way, stop at the ice houses of Abarkuh. Ice houses were known in Iran as early as the 17th century BC and used as recently as 50 years ago. The Abarkuh Cyprus is the focal point of this village and is believed to be 4500 years old – a popular symbol of 'life and beauty'. Relax a while and gaze on the beauty of this tree – said to be the oldest living organism in Iran. Continue to Shiraz, arriving in the late afternoon.
Today is dedicated to exploring Shiraz. Many of the local ruins date from around AD260 where Valerian, the only Roman emperor to have ever been a prisoner of war, lived out his last days in captivity. Rise early this morning to catch the first rays of the sun as it seeps in through the stained glass of the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque. Continue to the Vakil Bazaar and the Khan citadel. Bazaar-e Vakil is regarded as one of the best markets in the country, specialising in fine carpets, handicrafts, textiles and spices. This afternoon, visit the vast complex of Bagh-e Eram, known as the Garden of Paradise. Wander the grounds where artificial rivers run through the cypress trees before pooling in front of a colourful palace. Afterwards, visit the tombs of literary and folk hero Hafez and Sa'di. Nearby is the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh – one of the holiest sites in Shiraz. The structure serves as a mausoleum to one of Imam Reza’s brothers and the forecourt is often packed with Shiite pilgrims. The rest of the day is free for your own discoveries.
Begin the day with a drive to the remains of Persepolis (approximately 1 hour) – once the centre of the Persian Empire and considered as one of the great cities of the ancient world. The Takhte Jamshid complex of palaces was known as the historic marvel of the country, constructed over 150 years as the ceremonial capital of Darius I’s Achaemenid Empire. Continue on to Naqsh-e-Rajab – the site of four limestone rock face inscriptions and bas-reliefs that date to early Sassanid times. While today only small ruins remain from those once-magnificent structures, the site is still impressive. This evening, you have the option to participate in a highly recommended hands-on cooking class. The class is held in a local home and runs for approximately 3-4 hours, with all directions and recipes provided in English. You may also choose to explore the town and enjoy an Iranian meal in a restaurant.
Depart from Shiraz and head towards Esfahan (approximately a 6-hour drive). Along the way, stop for a guided tour of Pasargadae – an ancient city built by Cyrus the Great that precedes Persepolis. It’s may not be as well preserved as Persepolis, but still reflects the architectural genius of the Achaemenids, its beauty of simplicity and balance. This afternoon, arrive in Esfahan, and in the evening, take a stroll down to the Zayandeh River and witness the historic bridges arching over the water. The stunning Si-o-Seh Pol (bridge of 33 arches) lights up at night, best viewed either on the banks of the river or at a local teahouse. While away some time in this magical location, truly one of the most atmospheric that Iran has to offer.
There’s plenty of time to soak up the sights and atmosphere of Esfahan, often considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Esfahan reached its peak during the reign of Shah Abbas I in 1587 when it was declared the capital of Persia, yet much of its past glory still remains despite the country’s capital later being shifted to Shiraz and then Tehran. Begin today’s adventure through Esfahan with a guided walk through the Imam Square. Covering an area of 82,500 square meters, it’s the second-largest in the world. There are many grand buildings in the surrounding area such as the Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Qeysarieh Portal and the majestic Imam Mosque. Otherwise, the rest of the day is free for more independent exploring of the city.
Continue discovering Esfahan with a guided visit to the Vank Cathedral, located in the Armenian quarter of the city. The striking interior of this building boasts gilded ceilings, intricate wall architecture and eye-catching paintings. The artwork of the dome depicts the Biblical story of Genesis, from the creation of man to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The church also plays home to a museum, full of historic manuscripts. Originally, Armenian Christians were brought to the cathedral by Shah Abbas I who placed great value in their skills as artists and merchants. They have been allowed to practice their religion in peace but are confined to this single area of the city. The rest of the afternoon is free. Why not visit the city bazaar – an easy place to get lost among its appealing colours and aromas.
After breakfast this morning, begin the journey back to Tehran, stopping in Iran's second holiest city for the opportunity to visit the Shirne of Fatima Masumeh. On arrival back in Tehran, and after checking in to the hotel, head to the Tabiat Nature Bridge for the afternoon. Spend some time relaxing over a light meal at one of the many restaurants by Ports Park, situated on one side of the bridge. On the other, the rolling trees of Taleghani Park offer a great opportunity for a stroll.