THE IN­SID­ERS EMERG­ING IRAN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - PHIL ASKER

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

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