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Review: Classical Iran with a small group

Escorted Tour - Coach


Amazing architectural treasures and warm, friendly smiles

  • By SilverTraveller Ruth-from-Norwich

    10 reviews


  • October 2015
  • Husband

76 people found this review helpful

Why Iran? Because my husband, a veteran traveller, had wanted to go for 40 years and was able, at last, to realise the dream. When the Foreign and Commonwealth Office lifted restrictions, we researched small group tours and came up with “Classical Iran” offered by Travel the Unknown who arranged flights, visas etc. Silver Travel Advisor helped by putting us in touch with someone who’d been and could give first hand advice.

Had we heeded warnings from family and friends who used words like “scary” and “dangerous” we would never have gone: but then these were out of the mouths of people who are much happier staying put. We were well looked after by Qatar Airlines and once through passport control in Shiraz where we landed, have never felt safer.

The smiling faces of people wherever we went confirmed all we had read: they are probably the most welcoming nation to strangers from all over the world – including the West – as long as you respect their laws. Learning a few phrases of Farsi will help of course, followed by a big smile.

Surprises? Yes, lots. It is a stunning country and we only saw a fraction of it. Two weeks was long enough to get a real flavour in every sense of the word but leaves you wanting more.

We did our homework before setting off and read some history and the usual guide books. Useful but things are moving fast on the tourist front, so information is not always up to date.

It seems the French, Germans and Italians have been going for many years and lapping up the culture, sights and much more.

For Brits and Americans ( 2 in our group) this has not been the case for several years – apart from the backpackers and lone souls who will go regardless of advice.
Our 10 seasoned fellow travellers who had been to just about every country in the world – but never to Iran – were equally excited about the prospect.

For amazing archaeological treasures – Persepolis of course and many more, going back thousands of years – it rivals anywhere on the planet: then there are mud villages – Abyaneh and Karanagh – still lost in time. Now UNESCO heritage sites, some are being restored to their former glory but we were lucky to be able to amble at leisure through mazes of narrow alleyways before they are “done up”. These were my favourite places – being so unexpected and not so much featured in Travellers’ Tales.

We travelled north from Shiraz to Tehran taking in Esfahan (most popular with locals and visitors) Zoroastrian fire temples, rock tombs, mosques and minarets, museums of antiquity and of course, bazaars a-plenty with pyramids of spices, rose petals, carpets and kilims.

Dramatic chains of craggy scarred mountains traverse the country with dried up river beds and desert landscapes. The scenery is harsh and untamed with a scattering of oases and wandering tribes of nomads tending flocks of sheep and goats (refusing attempts to make them settle).

In spring when winter rains have fallen the desert quickly blooms and in October we were lucky to see swathes of the amazing purple crocus from which saffron is gathered – adding a vibrant golden orange to many dishes. Temperatures ranged from 30 degrees to a fall of snow in the higher altitudes.

We travelled in the same coach with driver and guide throughout our stay and were able to wander off the beaten track to see orchards of pomegranates and pistachios, to visit a “well cow” – actually a bull who by means of a pulley drew water from a well – but only when his owner sang lustily: we also visited a Zurkhaneh “club” where muscular men perform ritual feats of strength – another great insight into Iranian culture.
We stayed between 1 and more often 3 nights in a melange of mostly opulent hotels – one a renovated caravanserai.

No-one left disappointed except maybe about some of the food either in hotels or along the way. I had been advised that while Iranians enjoy great cuisine at home but of course travelling round a country which still has relatively few tourists (therefore not fully geared up with hotels, cafes and restaurants) you cannot expect always to eat the best local food. So we had a lot of chicken kebabs with rice: however there were enough really good experiences for us to be tolerant of some repetitive “tourist” fare. (In big cities there are fast food outlets very similar to anywhere in UK)
Culinary delights include lamb, chicken and aubergine dishes with every kind of spice – saffron, cumin, cardamom and turmeric – also dill and mint, walnuts and pomegranates. For those with a sweet tooth “baclava” is never far away – a whole array of tempting sweet cakes full of spices, honey and nuts (pistachios and almonds) served instead of desserts.

Tea is the favourite beverage and a wide variety of fruit beers and yoghurt drinks. Flat bread is “big” – sometimes the size of your bathmat, eaten at all hours of the day.
We were privileged to visit our tour guide’s family and share a meal with them.

If you feel in any way tempted, go and find out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Remember it’s cash (dollars, euros or the very confusing local currency) and ladies, take plenty of headscarves. Best go with a group or private driver as it’s difficult to read the signs and you’ll get a much better insight into the culture and customs.

It was the most remarkable of all our trips and one which will live long in the memory. Well worth a 40-year wait!

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Other Members' Thoughts - 2 Comment(s)

  • Ruth-from-Norwich
    over 5 years ago
    Pleased you read it. No problem: If you look up the Travel the Unknown website, they quote £2,995 pp with flight (Turkish Airlines probably cheapest). We flew Qatar - more expensive and a better experience but I'm sure TA is fine. This includes visas and hotels with breakfast and museum entry etc. Add to that £700+ depending on how much you want to spend on meals etc and souvenirs, tips for guide and driver (and recommended emergency money) The tour company give guidelines for all this but we didn't spend as much as they recommend you need. Most meals are £3-£4 (unless in good restaurants) No it's not a cheap holiday but very good value for money. Other tour operators offer similar trips cheaper. We like the idea of staying 3 nights in most places rather than moving on more frequently and they have a good reputation. 12 is the maximum no. in a group so you gain there too. Please let me know if there's anything else. David at the company and indeed all their staff are very helpful.
  • ESW
    over 5 years ago
    This sounds a wonderful holiday and so very different to the average perception of Iran. Isn't it great to visit somewher before it has been completely over taken by tourism.

    Can I be very cheeky and ask how much the holday cost?