THE INSIDERS EMERGING IRAN
GO: Now is the time to go to Iran. The people are friendly and welcoming to Westerners, the sights truly mystical and unique, and you see few other travellers, but the destination will soon be discovered; tourismiran.ir/en/. EAT: Persian cuisine is similar to Middle Eastern food. Kebabs are a great choice, slow-cooked lamb is a highlight, eggplant is popular and many dishes feature garlic and yoghurt. As in many countries, the best food is in small restaurants, often near bazaars. EXPLORE: Good roads, mainly four-lane highways, link major cities and Iran has an excellent rail system, so getting around is easy. While the capital, Tehran, has a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, wonderful museums and the incredible Treasury of National Jewels in the Central Bank, the centres of Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan and Yazd are the highlights. Shiraz is a garden city, dotted with palaces and a huge labyrinth of marketplaces; nearby Persepolis is a stunningly preserved archaeological site with other treasures in proximity. Isfahan is a gem; a huge maidan (giant square) is surrounded by ornate palaces, colourful mosques and gigantic marketplaces. Yazd boasts fire temples, ancient wind towers and a relaxed atmosphere. SHOP: Iran’s bazaars contain many treasures. Colourful headscarves and trench coats help female visitors meet local dresscodes. Termeh, a fabric with rich colours and golden threads, makes great bedspreads, bags or upholstery. Gold and silver jewellery, gemstones and carpets are popular choices. Bargaining is essential. DRINK: Be aware, there is no shiraz in Shiraz. Instead, pomegranate juice is popular, as is tea, Iran’s most popular tipple. Sharing a cuppa is a social event; hundreds of locals gather every evening beneath the Khaju Bridge in Isfahan to sing, socialise and sip tea, and visitors are welcome to join. Coffee is available, but is not as popular. In Shiraz, head to the Haft Khan restaurant complex near the Quran Gate for great espressos and a wide choice in several restaurants; haftkhanco.com/. STAY: Until recently the best hotels have been those that were once major Western chains, now Iranian managed and owned. In Tehran the Espinas is a stylish modern property with fine rooms and excellent facilities. However, nothing compares to the Abbasi in Isfahan, an atmospheric Persian-style hotel with symbolic arches, a wonderful open garden, many restaurants and its own rustic charm; espinashotels.com; abbasihotel.ir.
Travel expert Phil Asker founded Captain’s Choice with his wife Kaye more than 20 years ago. The company specialises in luxury travel, priding itself in offering remote and exotic destinations; captainschoice.com.au. The Federal Government’s advice on Iran is “reconsider your need to travel”, and for areas bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, “do not travel”; smartraveller.gov.au.
Graham Erbacher Graham.Erbacher@news.com.au