Discover an Iran beyond the media portrayals of a repressive and dour regime – this is a country full of warm, lively and friendly people.. Explore the rich history told in the ancient ruins that lie across the country, many of which sit in remote and isolated landscapes that only add to their magic.. Experience the wondrous remains of the ancient capital of Persepolis – the scale and grandeur will leave you in no doubt that this was once the centre of the known world.. Immerse yourself in rural nomadic life with a remote homestay with the Qashqai people in Fars Province, enjoying meals, stories and songs.
Conservative and unconventional, deeply religious and deeply surprising, Iran doesn’t fit into any easy pigeonhole. Spend two weeks following the ancient Silk Road through this under-touristed country to discover refined Islamic cities, colourful bazaars, ancient ruins, fascinating nomadic cultures and shimmering deserts. Whether you’re relaxing in a teahouse in Tehran, enjoying guided tours of ancient cultural sites, or breaking bread with locals on the harsh Iranian plateau, the warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people is endearing, and the profound beauty of their land is mesmerising.
Welcome to Tehran! Iran's capital is exciting, noisy and chaotic. Home to 15 million people, Tehran is the country's beating heart and where its true national identity is found. Expect to see women wearing full-length chadors competing for space with young and hip girls in figure-hugging manteau and headscarves. You will be met on arrival at Tehran International Airport and transferred to your hotel. There will be a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. After the meeting, your leader can give you advice on where to go for good Iranian cuisine like dizi (soup stew mashed into a paste). Most traditional restaurants will also feature a live band playing classic Iranian tunes.
Discover Tehran on a walking tour with your local leader. Visit the World Heritage-listed Golestan Palace, an opulent masterpiece of the Qajar era that is decorated with beautifully painted tiles and set around an elegant garden and the National Museum. Check out the labyrinthian Tehran Grand Bazaar before heading to the train station in the afternoon. Remember to grab some snacks before you go so you’ve got something to munch on for dinner on board your train journey this evening.
Welcome to Yazd! This ancient desert city was a major stop on the caravan routes to central Asia and India during the Silk Road period – Marco Polo even visited the city on his way to China – and it retains a rustic feel to this day. Hit the streets on a walking tour, visit the Amir Chakmaq complex, then walk through the narrow kuches (lanes) past simple courtyards and the ornate doors of local mud brick buildings.
One of the most distinctive features of Yazd are the badgirs (wind towers) that capture even the softest of breezes before sending them to the buildings below, cooling them off as a forerunner of modern air-con. Learn how underground water channels kept the city hydrated with H2O from the mountains with a visit to the Water Museum. Finally, stop in at the local Fire Temple and Towers of Silence, both vestiges of the city’s Zoroastrian past. In Zoroastrianism, fire and water are agents of ritual purity, and the fire in the Fire Temple is said to have been continuously burning since AD 470.
This morning join an excursion outside of Yazd, including stops at the abandoned Kharanak mud-brick village, a hike to the mountaintop Chak Chak fire temple, you will also explore the valley and nearby mountains with their ancient irrigation system and water ducts.
In the afternoon, continue to Zein-o-din Caravanserai. Set in the Dasht-e Lut salt desert, this classic desert inn was built during the 16th century. A night's stay in a caravanserai is a wonderful chance to step into the shoes of a Silk Road merchant, as most of the rooms remain unchanged from days gone by, with carpets covering raised wooden floors and heavy curtains separating rooms from the hallway. Like Silk Road travellers before you, experience a rich red sunset while the night sky fills with stars.
After breakfast, begin the 6-hour journey to Shiraz, with a stop en route at Abarkooh. Spend a little time checking out Abarkooh’s ancient icehouse (a passive refrigerator), and a 4000-year-old cypress tree. Continue to Shiraz, arriving in the late afternoon. A city of poets and gardens, Shiraz has been considered the centre of Persian culture for thousands of years. Get your bearings on a walking tour with your leader.
Rise and shine for a day of exploring this artistic city. First thing this morning we visit the colourfully decorated Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, where sunlight streaming through stain glass windows fills the interior with kaleidoscopic colours, best enjoyed in the early morning light. Take to streets on a walking tour and discover the Karim Khan citadel before strolling the alleys and lanes of one of Iran's most loved Bazaars Vakil, a great spot to sit and chat and enjoy a glass of orange blossom tea. The highlight of the tour today may be your guided visit of Shahcheragh. This glittering mosque and funerary monument is a popular pilgrimage site, sure to impress even non-believers with its beauty and grandeur. We finish our tour today at Bagh e Eram Gardens arguably one of the most famous and beautiful Persian gardens in all of Iran. Later perhaps get your leader to take you to the Tomb of Hafez see his intricately carved tomb, where Iranians come to pay their respects and place flowers, your local Leader just may recite some poetry for you.
Settle in this evening for a home-cooked meal with some locals. A city of artists and dreamers, the perfect introduction to Shiraz is through its people.
Persepolis / Fars Province homestay
Just 1 hour from Shiraz lies the ancient city of Persepolis. Once the centre of the Persian Empire and one of the great cities of the ancient world, Persepolis was constructed during the reign of Darius I and took 150 years to complete. The imposing gateways, exquisite relief carvings and towering columns still impress today. Enjoy a guided tour of this splendid and somewhat mysterious ancient city. In the afternoon, journey into Fars Province. Your hosts this evening are Qashqai, Turkic speaking pastoral nomads who winter near the Persian Gulf and summer on the central Iranian Plateau. For many, migration is still a way of life, though some traditionally nomadic communities are now settled in villages scattered throughout the region. Spend the evening with a family in one such local village, sharing a meal, stories and songs.
Spend the morning baking bread with your host family, before saying goodbye and hitting the road for the 4-hour drive to Izadkhast. On arrival settle into your eco-lodge and get to know your hosts. Izadkhast is a relatively small city with a population of around 10,000, primarily known for the unique ancient buildings that lie within the city boundary. Your night here is a great opportunity to experience more of local life in Fars Province.
After breakfast explore the Complex of Izadkhast with your leader. Many aspects of the ancient city remain, such as the caravanserai where Silk Road travellers would have stopped to rest hundreds of years ago. You’ll also explore a bridge from the Safavid era and go inside the city’s eponymous castle to wander through alleyways and rooms built, like all structures here, from earthen materials. But perhaps the most poignant structures in this ancient city are the small homes where it’s easy to imagine common folk living over 1500 years ago. Continue to Esfahan (2 hours), which a 16th-century rhyme described as 'half the world'. After spending a few days here, you might be inclined to agree. On arrival head out for an orientation walk with your leader, making your way to Khaju Bridge. Join the locals, who gather to talk, drink tea and sing folk songs in the evening.
Soak up the atmosphere of Esfahan during a half-day tour of the city. Your leader will give you some insight into life under the rule of Shah Abbas, also called Abbas the Great, who came to power in the 16th century and moved the kingdom’s capital to Esfahan. Begin the tour at the immense Imam Square (formerly Naqsh-e Jahan Square), which covers an area of 82,500 square metres and is surrounded by Iranian master architecture like the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Qeysarieh Portal and the Imam Mosque. Continue to Ali Qapu, a grand 17th-century palace with six floors that can only be accessed by a spiral staircase. Next up is the local bazaar, where you can walk the covered lanes and browse for fabrics, jewellery and other treasures with the locals. After the tour, the rest of the day is free for you to do as you please.
Set out on a morning walking tour of the Christian-Armenian quarter of Esfahan with your leader. This area of the city, known New Jolfa, was established the early 17th century. Abbas the Great transported over 150,000 Armenians here and offered them an oasis of religious freedom in exchange for their contribution to the economy and culture of Esfahan. After exploring a little with your leader, you are free to check out Esfahan at your own pace. The Vank Cathedral is worth a look if you’re impressed by frescos (even if you’re not, these are particularly stunning), as are the famous Manar Jomban (Shaking Minarets). The Chehel Sotun Palace, with its garden and pools, is a serene place to while away an hour. Your leader is there to help you get the most out of your free time, so don’t forget to ask their advice on which sites to prioritise.
This morning drive 2 hours to Kashan, a merchant town known for its high-quality ceramics, silks, carpets and fine houses. Spend time at the fascinating Tabataei House, built in the 1840s for the affluent Tabatabaei family, exceptional attention was paid to every architectural details of this building as dictated by the geographical and climatic conditions of the area. Enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure in Kashan, perhaps relaxing in your accommodation. In the evening, travel to a local family’s home to share dinner and enjoy some classic Iranian hospitality.