AND IRAN, IRAN SO FAR AWAY

When you’re near­ing the end of your bucket list, there’s another hot spot to add

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATIO­N | IRAN - IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER

Fol­low­ing decades of iso­la­tion, Iran is once again open for busi­ness and rolling out the red car­pet for tourists. Here are 18 rea­sons to see it now. 1 WORLD HER­ITAGE BO­NANZA Iran is home to some of world’s most im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal sites and is home to a re­mark­able 19 UNESCO World Her­itage-Listed sites based on cul­tural qual­i­fi­ca­tions – more than any other coun­try in Asia af­ter China. Two sites were added to the list only last year: the 6000-yearold Susa arche­o­log­i­cal mounds and Mey­mand, a vil­lage of troglodyte­s or cave dwellers who live in homes that were hand-dug into rocks 3000 years ago.

SEE UNESCO.ORG. 2 BIZARRE BAZAARS

From the cap­i­tal Tehran, to the oases of the cen­tral deserts, to the re­sorts of the Caspian Sea, ev­ery town and city in Iran is cen­tred around a bazaar – cen­turies-old pavil­ions criss­crossed with labyrinth al­ley­ways where you’ll find shops and stalls sell­ing just about ev­ery con­sumer item imag­in­able. Iran’s larger bazaars also house mosques, restau­rants, tea­houses, bath­houses, banks, schools and gar­dens. 3 SEE HALF THE WORLD IN A DAY At its height, the for­mer Per­sian

cap­i­tal of Is­fa­han in cen­tral Iran was larger than Lon­don, more cos­mopoli­tan than Paris and grander than Is­tan­bul. “Is­fa­han is half the world,” says the 16th-cen­tury proverb of the city’s re­splen­dent palaces, colos­sal quad­ran­gles, botan­i­cal gar­dens, or­na­men­tal bridges and blue mosques with hun­dreds of domes and minarets.

SEE TOURISM.ISFAHANCHT.IR. 4 SLEEP AT ONE OF THE WORLD’S OLD­EST HO­TELS

For more than 300 years, traders and pil­grims visit­ing Is­fa­han took shel­ter at the Madar-Shah “car­a­vanserai” – a court­yard-style inn en­cir­cled by two lev­els of bed cham­bers. In the 1950s it was re­branded as the Ab­basi Ho­tel, a five-star ac­com­mo­da­tion prop­erty that blends the grace and grandeur of Is­fa­han’s golden age with mod­ern con­ve­niences.

SEE ABBASIHOTE­L.IR. 5 THE RED VIL­LAGE

Abyaneh is a vil­lage in cen­tral Iran where ev­ery sin­gle house and mosque is red. The colour is de­rived from a min­eral called ochre found in the clay from which ev­ery­thing has been built for more than 2500 years. Abyaneh is also clas­si­fied as a Liv­ing Mu­seum of Iran for its res­i­dents’ stead­fast­ness in pre­serv­ing the cus­toms, cos­tumes and di­alects of their an­ces­tors. 6 GO GLACIER HUNT­ING On the high plains of the Za­gros Moun­tains in west­ern Iran are a num­ber of glaciers – the only ones found in the sub­trop­ics out­side of the Hi­malayas and Amer­i­cas. Farshid Zandi is among a hand­ful of guides who knows ex­actly where to find them, along with an even rarer ice cave. “Most peo­ple who come to Iran think Iran is all desert, but when they see this place, they com­pletely change their minds,” he says.

SEE IRANTRAVEL­ERS.ORG. 7 CHILL OUT IN A TEA­HOUSE You won’t find any pubs or night­clubs in Iran as al­co­hol is pro­hib­ited. But you will find plenty of at­mo­spheric tea­houses where lo­cals lounge around on cush­ions and

niches in the wall sip­ping on glasses of sweet chai tea, puff­ing on wa­ter pipes and snack­ing on pas­tries and desserts. 8 THE SHRINE OF FA­TIMA

Ris­ing like a phoenix high above the holy city of Qom, the Shrine of Fa­tima Ma­sumeh hon­ours a 9th­cen­tury saint who was poi­soned and died here. Fa­tima’s cof­fin is set in­side an ex­tra­or­di­nary cham­ber of mir­rors capped with a golden-coloured onion­shaped dome. Qom is also fa­mous for a brit­tle tof­fee called “so­han”. 9 LOW-COST FLIGHTS

In June, AirAsia launched a new route from Aus­tralia to Iran via Kuala Lumpur with fares that un­der­cut those of ex­ist­ing air­lines by up to 30 per cent. “With the re­cent re­forms, we thought it would be an ideal op­por­tu­nity to give more peo­ple the chance to ex­plore Iran,” says AirAsia’s head of com­mer­cial Arik De.

SEE AIRASIA.COM 10 SCALE THE HIGH­EST MOUN­TAIN IN THE MID­DLE EAST Shaped like Mt Fuji, Mt Da­ma­vand is a 5670m-high snow­capped strata vol­cano that’s both the tallest moun­tain in the Mid­dle East and the high­est vol­cano in Asia. Scal­ing its peak takes three days and re­quires the as­sis­tance of knowl­edge­able lo­cal guides.

SEE DAMAWAND.DE.

11 KABABIS The French have patis­series. In Mex­ico there are taque­rias. In Iran its all about “kababis”, small fam­ily-run eater­ies that spe­cialise in the na­tion’s na­tional dish. How­ever, cast aside all pre­con­cep­tions of greasy doner ke­babs wrapped in butcher pa­per. Ira­nian ke­babs com­prise skew­ers of lean lamb mince dusted with Ara­bic spices flame-grilled to per­fec­tion and served with tra­di­tional flat­bread, roasted toma­toes, raw onion and yogurt. 12 TAKE A STROLL THROUGH AN­CIENT PER­SIA

The ru­ins of a mas­sive palace near the city of Shi­raz, Perse­po­lis (City of Per­sia) is Iran’s most im­por­tant arche­o­log­i­cal site: a sprawl­ing com­plex of grand stair­cases, gi­ant stone bulls with ea­gle wings and hu­man heads, rock-cut tombs, Ro­manesque col­umns and 18m-high ram­part walls. Ex­plore it on your own or with Ali Reza, who at 11 years of age is Iran’s youngest ac­cred­ited tour guide.

CON­TACT ALIREZATOU­RGUIDE@GMAIL.COM. 13 NEST OF SPIES

In 1979, the for­mer US Em­bassy in Tehran made global head­lines when it was stormed by rev­o­lu­tion­ary stu­dents who held diplo­mats hostage for 444 days. To­day, it’s a mu­seum known as the Den of Spies. Ac­cess is limited to the

THE FOR­MER PER­SIAN CAP­I­TAL ... WAS LARGER THAN LON­DON, MORE COS­MOPOLI­TAN THAN PARIS AND GRANDER THAN IS­TAN­BUL

whims of the guards at the front gate, but just see­ing the gar­ish an­tiAmer­i­can mu­rals on the outer walls makes a visit worth­while. 14 SKI FOR PEANUTS

Ski­ing in Iran – who would’ve fig­ured? There are a a dozen­odd ski re­sorts in the coun­try, many of them world class. And with lift passes start­ing at $20, Iran is also one of the most af­ford­able ski des­ti­na­tions on the planet. The ski sea­son in Iran runs from De­cem­ber to May.

SEE IRANSKITOU­RS.IR. 15 CAS­TLE OF THE AS­SAS­SINS

Perched on a steep cliff in the foothills of the Al­borz Moun­tains north­west of Tehran are the ru­ins of a medieval fortress known as the Cas­tle of the As­sas­sins that fea­tures in the video game se­ries As­sas­sin’s Creed. The name orig­i­nates from a rad­i­cal 12th-cen­tury sect that dis­patched ex­pertly trained killers to as­sas­si­nate po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious lead­ers in the re­gion. 16 FOL­LOW IN MARCO POLO’S FOOT­STEPS

For nearly 2000 years, the desert city of Yazd was a key trad­ing route for car­a­vans trav­el­ling be­tween Cen­tral Asia and In­dia. Yazd is “a very fine and splen­did city” wrote ex­plorer Marco Polo in the 13th cen­tury. To­day, Yazd is the best-pre­served con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited old city in Iran and a fas­ci­nat­ing place to spend a day or two ex­plor­ing al­ley­ways. 17 AN­CIENT SPORT

It’s not weightlift­ing nor wrestling nor en­ter­tain­ment nor dance: it’s “zoorkhaneh” or House of Strength, an an­cient mar­tial art set to pul­sat­ing mu­sic that com­bines all of the above. It takes place in spe­cially built oc­tag­o­nal gyms with sunken pits for the ath­letes around which spec­ta­tors sit. En­try to any zoorkhaneh tour­na­ment re­quires a cash donation. 18 WORLD-CLASS HOS­PI­TAL­ITY

“Wel­come to Iran! Where do you come from? Did you see Iran play Aus­tralia in the World Cup?” De­spite what some may be­lieve, Ira­ni­ans are ex­tremely hos­pitable and ea­ger to learn more about our life­styles and be­liefs. “We are very pa­tri­otic and proud of our coun­try,” says Ra­sool of the Ar­mani Car­pet shop in Is­fa­han. “But at the same time we love to wel­come for­eign­ers, too.”

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK

Mo­saic dec­o­ra­tion made of tiles in­side the Sheikh Lot­fol­lah Mosque in Is­fa­han (main); the moun­tain vil­lage of Abyaneh in cen­tral Iran (right); and a shop owner sits in the mid­dle of the an­tiques and paint­ings of his shop in­side the Im­pe­rial Bazaar in...

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