Your local leaders are on hand each day to bridge connections with the locals, give you an insight into each country’s rich history and take you to the best bazaars and cafes, making your adventures in these intriguing countries a breeze.. Stroll the ancient streets of Ephesus, uncover the secrets of Sagalassos, explore the former city of Persepolis, visit the legendary ruins of Troy and discover Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and the Million.. Experience the joys of Persian and Turkish cuisine with welcome dinners of local specialties, dinners in the homes of local families in Taft and Cappadocia, a visit to a traditional sweet shop in Yazd and a freshly prepared lunch on board a boat cruise in Kas.. Step into a fairy tale at Cappadocia’s enchanting Splendid Cave Hotel, where you’ll enjoy elegantly decorated rooms carved from stone and priceless views of the ethereal landscape.
Explore Iran and Turkey on a 27-day Premium adventure, encompassing the best of these historically and culturally rich countries. Go behind the headlines and uncover the true Iran, a welcoming country of open-hearted people. 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 land of infinite variety 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.
Welcome to Iran! Your adventure begins in Tehran, the country’s exciting and chaotic capital. You will be collected from the airport and transferred to your hotel, where you will meet your leader and fellow travellers for an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive with time to spare, you may like to pay a visit to the Treasury of National Jewels – be sure to time your visit, as it is closed on some days of the week. After your meeting, join your leader and small group for a welcome dinner. As you won’t visit northern Iran on this tour, your taste buds will take a trip there when you dine at a restaurant serving regional Gilani specialities. Perhaps try some Mirza Ghassemi, a tasty smoked aubergine dish, or Baqala Qatoq, a flavoursome stew. Follow the local’s lead and make an event out of a meal, relishing good company and wonderful food.
Today you will get acquainted with Tehran during a full-day tour with your knowledgeable leader. Begin your explorations at the World Heritage-listed Golestan Palace – an opulent masterpiece of the Qajar era embodying early Persian design. Continue with a stroll through the Tehran Old Bazaar – still the economical heart of the country, your leader will help you navigate the mystifying maze of stalls selling everything from copper to carpets. Then, make a visit to 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 Tabatabaei Historical 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. Gain a special insight into Iranian life and hear about their brave and unconventional career paths – one of your hosts is a female tour guide in this very religious city. After a wonderful evening sharing food and stories, retire for the evening at your accommodation – a traditional Iranian-style house.
After breakfast, depart for the ancient desert city of Yazd, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major stop on so-called caravan routes to Central Asia and India during the Silk Road period. Stop en route in Ardestan, a small village that charms with its old clay houses. Continue to Aqda, a lesser-known and delightful village, where you’ll enjoy a Persian lunch in a beautiful restaurant that has been lovingly converted from an old house. Relax on the fabulous rooftop and enjoy a meal celebrating the pomegranate orchards of the region. Arrive in Yazd in the late afternoon and indulge 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. The next two evenings will be spent in the Dad Hotel, your feature stay accommodation. A celebration of Iranian architecture, this historical building has been stunning visitors since 1928. Large rooms flaunt traditional décor – Persian carpets and colourful tiles are paired with modern amenities. The grand courtyard garden is the hotel’s gorgeous centrepiece, and accommodating staff and swish service will make you feel at home.
This morning your leader will introduce you to the old part of the city. Begin at the Amir Chakhmaq complex then follow your leader through narrow lanes, past courtyards and mud-brick buildings, hearing the city’s tales and legends along the way. Your leader will point out Yazd’s badgirs, which are windcatchers that blow cool breezes into the buildings below as an ancient form of 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. This evening, head to the tiny village of Taft where you will be welcomed into the home of a Zoroastrian family for a home cooked dinner. After spending the afternoon learning about the history of Zoroastrianism, you’ll have the unique opportunity to speak to your hosts about how the religion plays into their modern lives. Learn how to make a special Zoroastrian bread then sit back and enjoy a traditional meal among the house’s pomegranate and tamarind trees.
This morning, travel from Yazd to Shiraz. On the way, stop at the ice houses of Abarkooh. These ancient domed structures were used to store ice and food for thousands of years, keeping produce fresh in the days before refrigeration. Your leader will explain how their clever design combats Iran’s sweltering summer heat. The Abarkooh Cypress tree is the focal point of this village and is believed to be 4500 years old – a popular symbol of 'life and beauty'. Take a moment to stand in its shade as your leader tells you how this miraculous tree is thought to be the oldest living organism in Iran. Continue to Shiraz, arriving in the late afternoon.
This morning is dedicated to exploring Shiraz on a walking tour with your leader. 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. Iranians will opt for a post-lunch nap to avoid the midday sun, so do as the locals do then regroup in the afternoon for further explorations. Drive out to the vast complex of Bagh-e Eram, known as the Garden of Paradise and wander through its majestic grounds. Afterwards, visit the tombs of literary and folk heroes Hafez and Saadi where your leader will regale you with stories of their lives. 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 a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site – the remains of Persepolis. Once the centre of the Persian Empire, it is considered 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, your leader will bring the city’s history to life and make it easy to imagine what it looked like in its glory days. This evening, you have the option to participate in a highly recommended hands-on cooking class. The class is held in a local home with all directions and recipes provided in English. You may also choose to explore the town and enjoy an Iranian meal in a restaurant. Speak to your leader about your options so they can help tailor a great evening.
Depart from Shiraz and head towards the city of Esfahan. Along the way, stop for a guided tour of Pasargadae – an ancient city built by Cyrus the Great that precedes Persepolis. It may not be as well preserved as Persepolis, but your leader will point out the architectural genius of the Achaemenids with its beauty of simplicity and balance. Arrive in Esfahan in the afternoon and take some time to settle in, then in the evening, head 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 Naqsh-e Jahan Square (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 and bustling Qeysarie Bazaar – your leader will share information on their backstories and significance. 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. Your leader will explain how 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 to explore this beautiful city at your leisure. Perhaps peruse the jumbled stalls of the Grand Bazaar, or settle into one of the city’s cosy teahouses and watch the world go by.
After breakfast this morning, begin the journey back to Tehran, stopping in Iran's second holiest city, Qom, for the opportunity to visit the Shrine of Fatima Masumeh. The lavish golden-domed building is the final resting place of Imam Reza’s sister, and thousands of Shi’i Muslims make the pilgrimage here each year to ask for Fatima’s blessings. Arrive in Tehran and check in to your hotel, then head to the Tabiat Nature Bridge for the afternoon. You may like to 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. This evening, enjoy a final Iranian feast during a farewell dinner with your group and leader at a fantastic local restaurant.