19 April – 04 May 2019
A country that delights the eye with beauty, feeds the soul with kindness and nourishes the body with delicious cuisine; a cultured and sophisticated people who are friendly and welcoming; Iran is a perfect setting for our tour.
The country’s history is ancient, ranging from the Achaemenians and Sassanians, and conquest by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, to the advent of Islam and the Mongol invasion. From the 16th century the country was ruled by the Safavid, Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties until the foundation of the Islamic Republic in the late 20th century.
Iranians are quite distinct from Arabs and speak Farsi. The majority are Shi’ite Muslims by faith. They are tolerant towards people of other religions, some of whom we will encounter, including Zoroastrians and Armenian Christians. We visit some stunning mosques, admiring the architecture and tile work, and absorbing the Iranians’ sense of colour and symmetry.
Iran is twice the size of France. Landscapes range from the coastal reaches of the Persian Gulf to vast deserts and salt pans to mighty mountains up to 5000m and the gentle Caspian Sea shores. We have included a day in the Zagros Mountains to discover the wild flowers in bloom in springtime, as well as the rose fields near Kashan.
Chahar Bagh denotes the four square plan of a Persian garden intersected by water channels lined with trees. Hidden behind high boundary walls, gardens are filled with orchards of pomegranate, citrus and almond trees, and there may be vines, roses and even a decorative brick pigeon tower in one corner. Pavilions are a feature: Used as summer homes, they are decorated with stucco and colourful tiles.
Long distances are travelled on some days, but we always stay two or three days at our base and travel by comfortable, air-conditioned coach. Our hotels have been handpicked to be of excellent quality and typical of the local Iranian style.
Throughout the trip you are accompanied by an excellent, knowledgeable local guide, Nima Fallahi, and by Susan as tour manager. We are delighted to have with us as lecturer Robin Lane Fox, garden correspondent of the Financial Times and professor of ancient history at New College, Oxford, an expert on Alexander the Great; Harriet Rix is our botanist and wild flower specialist. Harriet has a degree in Biochemistry from Oxford and has hunted for plants in the Zagros mountains from Turkey to Iraq.
We welcome you on our tour to Iran for a first-hand experience of this amazing country, so refreshingly different from how it is often portrayed in the media.
DAY ONE – SUNDAY 15 APRIL D
Meet in London Heathrow for evening departure on a direct overnight flight to Tehran. Dinner is served en route.
DAY TWO – MONDAY 16 APRIL
Early morning arrival in Tehran International Airport where we meet our local guide; breakfast in a nearby hotel. We head south towards Kashan, our base for the next two days, passing mountainous landscapes which give way to sweeping desert plains and salt pans. Late morning arrival at our hotel in Kashan, a town with a long history of carpet weaving. The hotel, a traditional house with courtyards planted with pomegranates and citrus trees, is the former family home of a rose water producer. In the afternoon we discover more traditional houses of the Borujerdi and Tabataba’i, built in the 19th century by wealthy merchants. Each has a series of inner courtyards decorated with ornate plasterwork, and gardens with trees, flower beds and central pools. The Melia azederach tree is particularly eye-catching. A refreshing drink awaits us in the courtyard and there is a short talk before we have dinner together.
DAY THREE – TUESDAY 17 APRIL
Morning visit to the gardens of Bagh-e Fin south of Kashan. Created in the 16th century in the reign of Shah Abbas I, they are well supplied with water from the mountains by the ancient qanat system of water channels leading to a cistern. Water axes, bubbling water in rills lined with blue-green tiles and pools create an atmosphere of freshness and beauty within this garden of paradise. Four hundred year-old cypress trees line a main avenue leading to the pavilion, and majestic plane trees grow along the western wall. After lunch we visit the rose fields of Ghamsar renowned for the production of the Mohammadi rose, a fragrant Damask rose thought to be indigenous to Iran. Our visit is during the early flowering season when the air is heady with scent: We discover how rose water is produced for use in cosmetics and traditional cuisine.
Return to Kashan for dinner in the hotel.
DAY FOUR – WEDNESDAY 18 APRIL
ABYANEH – NATANZ – ISFAHAN BLD
We leave for the mountains, driving to a height of over 2000m to visit the village of Abyaneh nestling below Mount Karkas. It is built of red clay, and dates back over 1500 years; the villagers’ way of life has remained pastoral. We walk down to the river below to discover small fields in cultivation and orchards. Spring arrives late up in the mountains but we may find some early wild flowers. After refreshments we continue down the valley to Natanz to visit the beautiful 14th century Friday mosque. It is claimed that the three Magi came from Natanz. We continue southwards to Isfahan, a delightful city dating back to the Sassanian period, situated between mountains and desert at an altitude of about 1575m. In the late 16th century Shah Abbas I made Isfahan the capital of Persia, ornamenting it with gardens of beauty. We check in to our hotel in town, originally a caravanserai built around an extensive courtyard garden with a long central pool, well planted with scented flowers. We enjoy an early evening walk along the tree-shaded avenues to the River Zayandeh to cross the Pol-e Khaju bridge built in about 1650.
Return to the hotel for dinner in the courtyard garden.
DAY FIVE – THURSDAY 19 APRIL
Morning visit to the royal pavilion gardens of Kakh-e Chehel Sotun originally built at the end of the 16th century. The pavilion was reconstructed in the Safavid style in 1706 following a fire. The twenty wooden pillars of the great talar (porch) are reflected in a water tank, creating the illusion of as many as forty columns. Elm trees, water rills and well-planted formal beds under the trees surround the building. The interiors have spectacular frescoes and ceramics. From here we walk to the Naqsh-e Jahan Square: Laid out in 1602, it is one of the largest squares on earth and was formerly the site of regular polo games – the original 17th century goal posts can still be seen. Symmetry dominates the richly decorated square. A light lunch is followed by a visit to the Great Imperial Bazaar. Returning to the square we visit the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque with its wonderful cream tiled dome. Built in the early 17th century, the mosque was dedicated to Shah Abbas’s father-in-law. We discover the beautiful, understated interior with its tiled ceilings and mosaics reflecting sunlight filtered through high windows.
We walk back to the hotel before dinner together in a local restaurant.
DAY SIX – FRIDAY 20 APRIL
Morning visit to the gardens of Hasht Behesht with an octagonal pavilion built in 1670 to receive guests and to entertain. These tranquil gardens feature a water tank with fountains, and elm trees to give shade. We continue to the Armenian quarter to visit the Vank Cathedral with its richly decorated interior. Armenian Christians were brought to Isfahan at the time of Shah Abbas I and subsequently in 1914 during the genocide. Their skills as artisans and merchants were appreciated, and their religious freedom is still respected. There is an optional visit to a specialist rug merchant. In the afternoon, we visit the sumptuous Imam Mosque on the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. This perfectly proportioned mosque, decorated with blue-tiled mosaics, was commissioned by Shah Abbas and features an inner courtyard with a pool for ablutions and four important iwans. Nearby, the six-storey Ali Qapu Palace, constructed in the late 16th century as a residence for the Shah, is notable for its music room – finely decorated to enhance the acoustics – and for the views from the upper floor.
Tables are booked for dinner in a courtyard garden restaurant with excellent local dishes (not included).
DAY SEVEN – SATURDAY 21 APRIL
We depart from Isfahan eastwards across high altitude desertic landscapes framed by mountains to visit the town of Meybod. We explore the brick-built Narenj Castle, thought to be 4000 years old, with breathtaking views over the roofs of the old town and towards the desert. The site of the fortified town is being restored; there is also an important renovated caravanserai with a water reservoir in the old town. We lunch here and then visit the interesting artisanal shops in the square. Travelling on, we visit the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, barren hilltops where the dead were once brought, with disused water cistern, well and guesthouses to accommodate the mourners. We continue to the Temple of Fire where Zoroastrians worship. The sacred eternal flame has been burning for 1542 years as a symbol of purity. Around the temple we find a peaceful garden shaded by trees. The day’s journey ends in Yazd, situated on the ancient Silk Route from Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf to Tehran and on to Turkey. Shah Abbas had caravanserai constructed every 60 km, equal to a two day camel ride, where merchants could rest and engage in trade.
Our hotel is in the centre of the town: We enjoy dinner on the rooftop, weather permitting.
DAY EIGHT – SUNDAY 22 APRIL
Early morning visit to the delightful gardens of Bagh-e Dolat Abad created in the 1750s around the residence of Karim Khan Zand. Pavilions are built at either end of a long water rill lined with pines, one south-facing for winter and the other north-facing for summer. The gardens have vines and orchards of pomegranates, mulberries, peaches and persimmon under-planted with wheat. In the summer pavilion we discover how the interior is efficiently cooled by a tall wind-tower designed to bring cooling air down into the rooms. At the Water Museum we see how the ancient qanat irrigated crops and supplied water to the town. After lunch we visit the beautiful Friday Mosque, built in the 12th century, and then explore the old town.
Afternoon at leisure. Dinner together in the garden of a local restaurant.
DAY NINE – MONDAY 23 APRIL
Shortly after leaving Yazd we visit the gardens of Bagh-e Pahlavanpour in Mehriz, passing an ornate brick-built tower on the way. The gardens are supplied with abundant water by the qanat flowing from the pavilion and flanked by plane trees and orchards on either side. Our journey southeast continues through regions specialising in the cultivation of pomegranates and pistachio nuts, important ingredients in Persian cuisine.
Arriving in Kerman, we enjoy tea in the hotel garden. Dinner together in the hotel.
DAY TEN – TUESDAY 24 APRIL
KERMAN – MAHAN – RAYEN BLD
We begin the day in the tranquil surroundings of the summer residence and gardens of Bagh-e Shahzadeh above the town of Mahan, southeast of Kerman. Dating from the mid-19th century, the gardens are laid out around two pavilions on a hillside in arid surroundings, with 4000m snow-capped mountains towering above. The sound of water bubbling in the mountain qanat system and the tall cypress trees lining the main water channel lend the site an enchanted air.
After refreshments in the gardens we continue to the citadel of Arg-e Rayen for a guided visit. Over a thousand years old, the citadel lay abandoned until restoration work began recently. It is fortified, with fifteen towers and thick outer walls of clay; within, the Governor’s complex has traditional small courtyards with fruit trees and roses. The views from the ramparts are breathtaking. Returning to Kerman, we visit the lively Bazaar and perhaps purchase some spices before having tea in the old Bathhouse (hammam).
We return to the hotel and have dinner together in the restaurant.
DAY ELEVEN – WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL
KERMAN TO SHIRAZ BPicnicD
A long journey west through contrasting landscapes of mountains with their gorges and remarkable geology, and lush agricultural land planted with figs, almonds and pomegranates around Neyriz. We visit an extraordinary stone garden south of Sirjan. Created in the early 1960s by a farmer affected by land reforms, it features bare trees hung with stones in arid surroundings.
We picnic among the wild flowers and arrive in Shiraz in the early evening.
Dinner together in the hotel restaurant.
DAY TWELVE – THURSDAY 26 APRIL
A city of renowned poets and beautiful gardens, Shiraz has a special microclimate and vineyards planted with Syrah grapes that are now harvested for dried fruit. We spend the day visiting two memorable gardens. First, the University Botanic Garden, Bagh-e Eram, with its water channels, reflecting pools and topiary birds, well planted with judas trees, pomegranates, lilacs and fragrant stocks. Then, Naranjestan, where water gardens and orange groves surround an attractively decorated house built for the Qavam family in the 19th century. We enjoy a typical Persian lunch and then discover the vibrant Vakil Complex and the 19th century Nasir al Mulk Rose Mosque.
Dinner together in the hotel.
DAY THIRTEEN – FRIDAY 27 APRIL
SHIRAZ – SEPIDAN (good walking footwear required) BPicnicD
A full day’s visit to the majestic Zagros Mountains to search for wild flowers. The snow-capped mountains to the northwest of Shiraz rise to 2500m. We pass through forested areas with Quercus brantii, an indigenous oak. The striking Crown Imperial lily, Fritillaria imperialis, should be in flower along with gagea, muscari, iris, poppies and many more species.
We enjoy a picnic near the lake. Observing mountain life is fascinating, with shepherds tending their goats and sheep, transport by donkey and houses huddled together.
By late afternoon we return to Shiraz. Dinner together in the hotel restaurant.
DAY FOURTEEN – SATURDAY 28 APRIL
SHIRAZ – PASARGADAE – PERSEPOLIS BLD
A special day spent discovering the history of the Achaemenid kings, Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae, and Darius I, whose magnificent citadel at Persepolis was later destroyed by Alexander the Great.
In the 6th century BC Cyrus the Great laid out the garden at Pasargadae to be admired from an elevated portico in front of the palace, abutted by two open pavilions. There was a sophisticated series of water rills, surrounded by quadrants probably planted with fruit trees such as pomegranate, almond and cherry; cypress and white poplar were planted for shade. The nearby tomb of Cyrus is surrounded by wild flowers, which also now cover the original garden.
We have lunch in the village near the garden and travel on to Persepolis. A stupendous site, Persepolis was built later in the 6th century by Darius I on the slopes of Mount Rahmat. Here, people came from far and wide to pay homage to their king at No Ruz (New Year) – the ceremonies are recorded in the bas-reliefs of the Apadana Palace staircase. Lotus flowers, palm trees and cypress feature extensively in the carvings. Sacked by Alexander the Great in 330BC and then lost under the Persian sands for centuries, Persepolis was rediscovered in the 1930s.
We return to Shiraz through the countryside. In the early evening we visit the walled gardens at the tomb of the revered 14th century poet Hafez, shaded by cypress trees, their pools lined with blue tiles, and filled with scented orange trees and terracotta pots with plumbago, petunias and geraniums:
In the Garden of Paradise vainly thou’lt seek the lip of the fountain
of Roknabad and the bowers of Musalla where the roses twine.
We return to the hotel for dinner in the restaurant.
DAY FIFTEEN – SUNDAY 29 APRIL
We take an internal flight from Shiraz to Tehran. On arrival we travel on to the National Botanic Gardens. Covering an area of 150 hectares and well maintained, it was established in the 1970s with advice from Eskander Firouz, Edward Hyams, and Will Ingersen for the rock garden area, while Ann Ala gave great input for the collection of wild bulbs. Our guide, a professor from the Gardens, shows us indigenous trees and plants from across Iran.
We check in to our hotel at the airport and enjoy dinner together.
DAY SIXTEEN – MONDAY 30 APRIL
TEHRAN TO LONDON BLight refreshments on flight
Early morning breakfast before checking in at Tehran International Airport for the direct flight to London Heathrow arriving at 11:20.
£4,855 per person sharing
Single supplement £650
All flights and land transport, accommodation in hotels b&b, all meals except on Day Six (dinner), all entrances to gardens and cultural visits, local guide, tips except for the local guide.
Drinks apart from those served with meals (no alcohol permitted), guide tip, items of a personal nature, full travel insurance, entry Visa.
In preparation for your tour, you may wish to enjoy a little armchair exploration of the fascinating history and gardens of Iran. We suggest:
Iran Empire of the Mind – Michael Axworthy
Gardens of Persia – Penelope Hobhouse
Climate: Warm during the day (25C up to 30C), with pleasant evenings. Cooler on the mountain day (warm layers required and good walking footwear). A waterproof jacket is suggested in case of rain.
Housekeeping: Meals are shown as B (breakfast), L (lunch), and D (dinner)
Communications: Wifi is usually available in the hotels but is sometimes not effective. Some websites are not available, e.g. BBC, CNN
Safety: This is not a problem, the local people are very friendly. The Foreign Office (FCO) website is monitored by us. If for any reason the FCO recommends not to visit Iran, we will reluctantly cancel the tour. Please watch for motorbike and car drivers when crossing the road.
Language: Farsi is spoken but most people speak a little English and are welcoming and open to visitors. They often approach us in the street to make us feel welcome.
Clothing: Iran has specific dress codes. Women should keep their heads covered at all times in public from leaving the aircraft to appearing in any public space including hotel restaurants. The headscarf need only be loosely draped over the head, neck and shoulders. Arms and legs must be covered and we recommend long-sleeved blouses and full-length trousers or dress. Men should wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers. No sandals without socks for men or women. A fleece or jacket is recommended for the mountains along with suitable footwear (see above).
Activity level: A reasonable level of fitness is required to walk well in the cities, gardens and archaeological sites. If in doubt, please contact us.
Travelling: We have a modern, comfortable coach with air conditioning. Water is supplied on board. Some journeys are quite long, but there are regular stops or site visits en route. Please note that toilets are usually “squat” type, except in the hotels.
Meals: Water, coffee and tea are served with all meals. No alcoholic drinks are available (forbidden). No alcoholic drinks can be brought into the country in your luggage. All meals are included except for dinner on Day Six when we reserve tables in a garden restaurant and you are free to choose from the excellent menu and settle the bill yourselves (in rials). Iranian cuisine is delicious: Dishes are moderately spiced and usually served accompanied by tasty rice that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Chicken, lamb and beef are the main ingredients in kebabs and casseroles – fish is rarely served. The salad buffet, often including cooked vegetables, offers a good choice. To round off meals there are delicious desserts or fresh seasonal fruit.
Money: Nearly all expenses are included. It is simple to change money at exchange shops. Euros and US$ are acceptable, but £ sterling is not always accepted. No debit or credit card can be used to withdraw cash or to make purchases; however, some carpet stores and jewellery shops accept card payments via Dubai. Each hotel has a room safe.
BRITISH AIRWAYS –
London Heathrow terminal 5
15 April 2018 – Depart 21.10 – Arrive Tehran Imam Khomeini International 06.25
BA152 Tehran Iman Khomeini airport
30 April 2018 – Depart 08.35 – Arrive London Heathrow Terminal 5 at 11.20
Flight upgrades can be arranged: World Traveller Plus or Business Class
You will require a Visa for entry. The following procedure has to be followed – it is not complicated for British or European Union passports:
- When you confirm your booking, you must send us by post or scanned email a copy of your passport showing the page with the photo only; and an up-to-date passport photo.
- On submitting the passport page and photo, we obtain from the authorities in Iran a code to apply for a Visa.
- Apply for a Visa in your passport: complete a Visa application form, arrange to visit the Iranian Consulate in London (Kensington) with your passport and to provide fingerprints. This will cost £165 per person for a UK passport (7 day service).
- Those not residing in the UK or with a non-UK passport must contact the relevant Iranian Embassy in the country of residence.
- Those who have visited Israel are not likely to be accepted for a Visa.
- From January 2016 those travelling to or through the US must apply for a US Visa (not an ESTA) if they have travelled to Iran since March 2011. It is quite straightforward.