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Treasures of Iran

Northwest & Caspian Tour

March 26 to April 12, 2020

Tehran • Masuleh • Anzali• Ardabil •Tabriz • Kandovan • Tabriz • Zanjan• Tehran •Kashan• Natanz • Isfahan • Meybod • Yazd • Kerman • Rayen • Mahan • Kerman Sarvestan • Shiraz • Persepolis • Pasargadae•Naghshe Rostam • Shiraz

Iran is home to a breathless mix of spectacular madrassas, exquisite mosques and some of the most wonderful examples of Islamic architecture in the world. Everywhere you look, the magnificence of 2,500 years of history lies all around you. Ancient Persia has been the seat of many civilizations and unique contributions in poetry, art, architecture, science and history. Many of Iran’s achievers have contributed to our modern world. Most of the country’s archaeological gems are well preserved and portray a rich historical heritage. Your tour will not only explore ancient ruins and colorful cities but also exotic bazaars and old baths. Marvel at ancient monuments and beautifully tiled mosques. Stroll through medieval bazaars that remain much as they were centuries ago. Stop to visit local nomadic tribes when driving across the vast country. Your journey will take you to Yazd the center of Zoroastrian culture, to Shiraz city of poets which has had major Jewish and Christian communities and the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Isfahan, and Persepolis. Come and discover Iran, a repository of grand relics and ruins.

This trip can be combined with “Treasures of Eastern Turkey April 11 - 26, 2020” as a post-tour

This abbreviated version of our itinerary does not begin to do justice to the many wonderful sights we experienced on this fabulous tour, nor to the delicious Persian cuisine. – Michael A. Rea

Per person in double occupancy (Land ONLY): $5,500.00
Single Supplement: $995.00   

Escorted by Writer/Anthropologist Elena Dak

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 14 participants

Your tour does not include

  • International round airfare from USA (or from Iran to Kabul to combine with the Afghanistan tour)

  • Iran visa (Cost is currently $201.00 - subject to change) Passport should not include any Israeli stamps.

  • Items of a personal nature (camera fees at sites, laundry, phone calls, emails, excess luggage, etc.)

  • Travel protection insurance.

  • Transfers if not arriving/departing on scheduled flights/tour dates.

  • Dayroom or overnights necessitated by changes in airline schedules.

Your tour includes

  • Deluxe and First class properties in most cities & one or two hotels superior tourist class in smaller towns for few nights.

  • All meals as specified in the itinerary:

  • All tours as per itinerary including entrance fees and qualified English speaking guide throughout the trip.

  • Transfers/transportation by large comfortable modern A/C vehicle during the whole tour.

  • A bottle of mineral water per passenger per day on touring days plus juice, coffee and tea on the bus.

  • All local taxes and service charges on included items.

  • Tipping to guide, drivers and porters.

Trip Grade:

II Active - Some hikes on uneven/unpaved terrain; slightly demanding walks at/to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some days entail long bus rides (with rest stops).

Lodging Level:

**** Luxury – Mostly large hotels, typical western standard with ample venues & full amenities. (4- 5 stars) in all cities while one hotel only is a smaller 3* property but comfortable and suitable for one night.

Trip Grade: Moderately-Rigorous Touring

We will be covering great distances by road during this journey. The roads are very good and the air-conditioned bus very comfortable. You will often be served cold water, tea and fruits along the way. We will make several rest stops (some will not be five star bathrooms and others will be in the beautiful wilderness). It is important to recognize the exhausting nature of some of the long driving days as well as some of the site visits where you might have to walk on uneven terrain. Also, it is our responsibility to inform you that despite the immense progress in standard of accommodations over the last years, you might still encounter minor annoyances, such as leaky plumbing fixtures, or hot water interruptions in hotels. This will necessitate a flexible, tolerant attitude and a sense of humor. Women will be required to wear loose, ankle-length dresses with long sleeves or pants and tunic and have their hair covered with a scarf or shawl at all times when outside their hotel rooms.

About your lecturer... Elena Dak was born in Venice in 1970 and has been working for more than 20 years for Kel12 tour Operator in Africa, Middle East and Central Asia and today is working for Spazidavventura and La forma del viaggio. She is deeply interested about nomadic peoples and often make research on them ( Touareg in Niger, Wodaabe in Tchad and Rabari in India). She is graduated from the University of Ca’ Foscari in Venice in Conservation of cultural heritage with ethnographic orientation. Now she is studying in Bicocca University to get the lmaster in cultural anthropology. She wrote 3 books: Io cammino con i nomadi" (Corbaccio editor 2016), “Sana’a e la notte" (Alpine Studio, 2012) and "La carovana del sale" (Corbaccio, 2007). She writes for Africa magazine and Erodoto108. She had a Ted Talk in Milan in October 2018.

View Tour Itinerary

Thursday, March 26
Arrive Tehran

Upon arrival, meet and transfer to Espinas or Azadi Hotel for check in and overnight. (D)

Friday, March 27

Today we will go to Anzali, stopping en route in Masuleh. See this beautiful 1,000 year-old village in the mountains of the Alborz, protected by the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization. Have a leisurely walk through the multi-layered paths of the village, with its quaint shops, and perhaps enjoy some tea. Then relax on a scenic drive back to Anzali. Overnight at Sepid Kenar hotel. (B,L,D)

Saturday, March 28

We leave the Caspian Sea to Tabriz, with a visit to Ardabil to see one of Iran’s precious jewels, the mausoleum and museum of the Shekh Safi -eddinn Ardabil, the great Sufi Leader of the 14th century and the forefather of the Sufi inspired Safavid kings, and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit includes the tomb of the Sheikh, the tomb of Shah Isma’ail, the Founder of the Safavid Dynasty, and the ‘Chini-Khaneh’ (China House), where the famous collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain, ordered by Shah Abbas for his ancestor’s tomb, is on display. The gardens, amongst the exquisite tile work, is a gathering place for both visitors and friendly local people alike. Late afternoon we’ll continue to Tabriz. Upon arrival, check in to our hotel for short rest and dinner. (B,L,D)

Sunday, March 29
Tabriz - Kandovan – Tabriz

In the morning we’ll have a chance to stroll to the Safavid summer residence of Shah Goli, a short walk from the hotel. Tabriz was the capital of the Safavid dynasty until the end of the 16th Century, when it was moved to Isfahan. There, as you will learn, half the world was to be found in the huge square, Naqsh-e Jahan. The other half was in Tabriz. Research has shown that this area, today rich in the production of nuts and fruits, might have been the site of the Garden of Eden. First we’ll see the Blue Mosque built by Shah Jahan in 1465, the small exquisite Azerbaijan Museum, and the Citadel. This afternoon we have tour of Kandovan volcanic village in Osku of the Eastern Azerbaijan Province. There we find man-made cliff dwellings, which are still inhabited. Return to your hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, March 30

Morning we will See the El Goli Safavid site and park with the beautifully renovated old building surrounded by a large pool. Then we will leave Tabriz to Zanjan, en the route we will have a visit from the archaeological site of Takht-e-Soleiman which is situated in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period as well as a temple of the Sasanian period dedicated to Anahita. The site has important symbolic significance. The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture.We will continue our route to Zanjan and upon arrival check in the Zanjan Grand hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, March 31
Zanjan – Tehran

Before leaving Zanjan we will move to see a historical public bath. Then we leave Zanjan to Tehran. En route visit the magnificent 14th century Gonbad-eSoltaniyeh, the tomb/tower of Olijaytu, the last Mongol/Il-Khanid Ruler of Iran (13041330).The monument is remarkable in many different architectural aspects, including its huge dome, which is about 167 feet high and ranks amongst the largest domes in the world. Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh is one of 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Iran. Finally check in to our Espinas Hotel/Azadi Hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, April 01

This sprawling city became Iran’s capital in the 18th century under Agha Mohammad Khan, the founder of the Qajar Dynasty. Tehran (meaning warm slope) is located south of the impressive snow-capped Alborz Mountains and the city is known for its large museums, art centers and palaces. We begin with visiting Golestan Palace - a masterpiece of the Qajar era and a UNESCO site. You’ll marvel at the mirrored entry-way and stairway (pictured on page 2) leading up to the dining rooms and ballrooms featuring Persian crafts integrated with western influences. Then move to see the National Archaeological Museum, the country’s foremost museum established in 1937. A good introduction to Iran, the museum is divided into two parts: Prehistoric and Pre-Islamic periods. See a stone capital of a winged lion from Susa and the sixth century BC audience hall relief of Darius the Great from the Treasury at Persepolis. We are then guided through the Glass and Ceramics Museum, which was once an extraordinarily beautiful private residence during the Qajar period, and later was used as the Egyptian Embassy. Here we can find glass and ceramic artifacts dating back to the second and first millennia BC. We return to the hotel for dinner. (B,L,D)

Thursday, April 02

Today we have a full-day tour of Tehran. Our first stop will be the Saadabad Palace Complex, which was founded under the Qajar Kings in the 19th century. Then move to Tajrish Bazaar and enjoy shopping. Quaint passageways rebuilt from hundreds of years ago which are home to merchants of every kind of food, clothes, gold and silver jewelry, religious artifacts, artwork and household goods, all next to each other, in no particular order, lit by a combination of incandescent and daylight sneaking in through the roof.Finally move to visit the Carpet Museum with its beautiful modern architecture and a façade resembling a carpet-weaving loom. Founded in 1978 the museum provides a historical background for the evolution of this art form. We have dinner at the Espinas Hotel and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, April 03
Tehran - Kashan – Natanz – Isfahan

Today we enjoy a leisurely coach ride from Tehran to Isfahan. En route we stop in Kashan to see the historical garden of Fin, which was fi rst planted during the Safavid period and kept alive with water from the nearby Suleymaniye Spring/Qanat. The Zand and Qajar monarchs expanded this beautiful walled Persian Garden, with many open pavilions added. A museum on the site displays artifacts from nearby Teppe Sialk, which is one of the most important archaeological sites in Iran, dating back to 4000-5000 BC. We can also see some of the many restored merchant houses in Kashan such as the Borujerdi and Taba-Tabai House, with very fine examples of the “Badgirs” or wind-catchers. Kashan city, whose name in Persian is equivalent to ceramic, has given traveling its name to ceramic in the Persian language. Kashan is the epitome of everything grand from old Persia: mosques, caravansaries, gardens and homes. Further along the way we stop at the charming town of Natanz to visit a beautiful Islamic Complex of Friday Mosque, Monastery and Tomb of Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani. We will also enjoy a tea break under the shade of a beautiful and old plane tree just outside the complex and visit a nearby traditional pottery workshop. Isfahan (Esfahan) is perhaps the most beautiful of all Iranian cities. It is located 250 miles south of Tehran at an elevation of nearly a mile. With historical buildings, bridges and eye-catching sites, Isfahan is one of the most signifi cannot tourist attractions in Iran. It dates back 2500 years and was the capital of Iran during three historical periods. The golden age of Isfahan was in the Safavid era from 1505 to 1736 and much of the art and architecture you will be seeing will be from this period. Shah Abbas I mastered one of the world’s grandest experiments in city planning in 1598. Mosques, palaces, bazaars and public parks were built over the next thirty years. Afterwards, transfer to Abbasi/Kowsar Hotel for Check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, April 04

Today’s full-day tour begins with a visit to Chehel Sotoon Palace (or Forty Pillars Palace) with its beautiful refl ecting pool and UNESCO recognized Persian Gardens. Shah Abbas II (1647 AD) built it as an offi cial court and a reception hall. Today you are guests of honor! Continue to the Armenian Quarter to visit the richly decorated Vank Cathedral. Begun in 1606 at the time of arrival of Armenian immigrants to Isfahan, it was completed between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Arch-bishop David, with the encouragement of the Safavid rulers. It is the historic focal point of the Armenian Christian Church in Iran. The dome and walls have colorful paintings representing the story of Creation. This afternoon visit a carpet workshop to see Iran’s world-famous carpets as we sip tea and have the opportunity to purchase if interested! Return to our hotel for a short rest. Before dinner, we walk to a famous Miniaturist’s art gallery to see how this world-renowned artwork is done. Dinner is at Shahrzad Restaurant this evening. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, April 05

Enjoy a full-day tour of Isfahan. Begin by visiting the first of its two UNESCO sties - Meidan Emam to see the Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotfollah and Royal Mosques. Meidan Emam or Naghsh-e Jahan (literally image of the world) complex is the central focus of Isfahan. Its royal square measures 1674 feet by 540 feet and is enclosed by doublestoried arcades. The square drew merchants and ambassadors to the Safavid court for centuries. It’s unmatched in elegance and spaciousness anywhere in the world! It is seven times the size of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and puts the grandeur of the surrounding palaces and mosques into appropriate proportions. On the north, side is the entrance to the Royal Qaysariyyeh Bazaar. On the east, side is the Lotfollah Mosque. Constructed between 1603 and 1617, it served as a private chapel for the Imperial family. You will see exquisite 17th century Persian tile work on the domed ceiling. On the west, side is the Ali Qapu Palace. To the south is the Shah or Royal Mosque, dedicated to Shah Abbas the Great. To many it is considered the most beautiful mosque in the world! Lunch at the Bastani Restaurant. If construction in the area permits, we will visit the antique Friday Mosque, or Masjed-e Jame, Isfahan’s second UNESCO Site. As it stands now, it is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 841 AD to the end of the twentieth century. Archaeological excavation has determined an Abbasid hypostyle mosque in place by the 10th century. Buyid construction lined a façade around the courtyard and added two minarets that are the earliest example of the double minaret on record. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, April 06
Isfahan - Meybod – Yazd

Depart early this morning for Yazd. While motoring in route from Isfahan, stop in Meybod to see the Ancient Narin Qaleh or castle, a 17th century Safavid caravanserai. This town is a jewel! See Zilo weaving, learn about the courier service dating back 2,500 years, see the pigeon house, and explore the oldest and largest icehouse dating from the Safavid era. Depending on our arrival time, have a city tour upon arrival of Yazd before transferring to Moshir Garden/Da’ad/Safaiyeh Hotel for check in and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, April 07
Yazd – Kerman

Today we enjoy a half-day tour of Yazd, which is dotted with badgers throughout to help cool this desert city naturally. It is the second oldest city in the world according to UNESCO, from an architectural viewpoint. We begin at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. While a majority of the population is Muslim, there is a large minority of both Jews and Zoroastrians. Bahman will explain the Zoroastrian religion, which at one time was the state creed but faded away after the Arab conquest. Zoroastrians are followers of the prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in Greek), who was born in the 7th century BC in what is now a part of Afghanistan. The religion is monotheistic and dualistic, and it influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Magi, or three wise men, which are said to have visited Jesus at his birth, are considered to be Zoroastrians. Zoroastrians revere fi re as a symbol of God and keep eternal flames burning at their temples. Today there are 400,000 Zoroastrians left in the world of which about 60,000 live in and around Yazd. Others have established a prosperous life in the Bombay (Mumbai) area of India, where they are known as Parsees (Persians). Zoroastrians morality is summed up as, “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” See the Water Museum and learn about Qanats, an advanced technology system fi rst developed about 1000 BC to bring mountain water through underground conduits to the plains. It rivals the Roman system of Aqueducts. Today there are about 22,000 qanats that provide 75% of Iran’s fresh water. Masters of power technology, in the 7th century BC, Persian engineers also developed an advanced wind-power machine, the windmill, invented by the Babylonians. In the afternoon, our scenic 5-hour drive is through some beautiful pistachio orchards. Afterwards transfer to the Pars Hotel for check in and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, April 08
Kerman – Rayen- Mahan - Kerman

Today after breakfast, we have a half-day excursion to Rayen and Mahan. Drive up into the mountains to the town of Rayen and visit one of the oldest citadels in Iran. We continue to Shahzadeh (Prince) Garden and stroll through the beautiful garden with its waterfall cascades (late 19th century Qajar period garden/mansion). Lunch today will be in the garden. In the afternoon, we visit Mahan to see the blue-tiled Mausoleum of Shah Nematollahe-Vali, the great 14th century Sufi leader. Then around 3 pm return to Kerman. Although it’s Friday we can still pay a visit to the beautiful bazaar, Ganj Ali Khan wax museum, Old Mosque and theological school dating from the 17 century. Return to your hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, April 09
Kerman - Sarvestan - Shiraz

Drive to Shiraz, the city of nightingales, historic monuments, poets and philosophers, warriors, kings and orchards. En-route visit the Sassanian Palace at Sarvestan, the 5th century AD structure is thought by many to be a hunting lodge or small palace built by Bahram V (420-440 AD). Continue to Shiraz passing through the majestic mountainous routes and seeing two large salt lakes on the way. Welcome to Shiraz, the present-day capital of the Fars Province, the heartland of Iran, which gave its name to the Persian language: Farsi. It was capital of the Zand Dynasty (1747-1779) and one of the most important cities of the medieval Islamic world. Shiraz is situated in a plain surrounded by two mountain ranges. The city is well known for its mild climate and friendly people Afterwards transfer to the Homa Hotel for check in and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, April 10

Full day city tour of Shiraz. First we pay our respects at the Garden and Tomb of the beloved poet Hafez. Have your fortune read and make a wish! Visit some of the famous gardens of this “City of Roses and Nightingales”, including Nasir-ol-Molk the pink-tiled 19th-century mosque and Qajar period Narenjestan Garden/House (or Qavam House) with its beautiful mirror work and elegant wooden features. We enjoy lunch at the famous Haft Khan Restaurant. Then move to visit Vakil Bath which built on the order of Karim Khan Zand. This bath has been built according to the most advanced principles of architecture. For example, the entrance is small and has a modest steep hallway leading to a vestibule below the ground level. The entrance to the cloakroom is angular to prevent cold air entering and heat to exit. The hot chamber is paved with stones under which there is a narrow corridor through which heat weather and steam passed to heat the bath floor. Return to your hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, April 11
Shiraz – Persepolis – Pasargadae

Get ready for a truly wonderful day! After breakfast, we’ll drive about 35 miles to Takht-e Jamshid or as the Greeks called it, Persepolis, a ruined capital of ancient Iran. It is one of the greatest artistic legacies of the ancient world and perhaps one of the most beautiful and spectacular archaeological sites surviving today. In the 6th century BC, the Achaemenian King Darius I, created Persepolis as a palatial precinct for an empire which eventually became larger and more effi ciently ruled than any other in the ancient world. He erected the monument on a mountain slope called Rahmat above a plain he considered holy. Persepolis was reserved only for ritual celebrations. In the spring of each New Year, the dynamic ruler and his court gathered at Persepolis to receive the tribute of subject nations and to reestablish universal order for the coming year. Step back in time as we enter through the Gate of All Nations. The arrival of the erstwhile delegations was announced by trumpeters who stood at the top of the staircase in front of the Gate of Nations. They were then led to the Hundred Column Palace to the presence of the king. Superb bas-reliefs depict the fl ow of ritual processions that once passed through the palaces and audience halls of the Achaemenian Kings. We will explore the Gate of Xerxes, the Apadana Palace, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers. Xerxes and Artaxerxes I who ruled Persia in the 5th century BC completed Persepolis. The Achaemenid Kings used the palaces up until Alexander the Great destroyed them in 330 BC as revenge for the sacking of Athens during the Persian Wars with the Greeks. To top off the afternoon with a visit to Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great and site of his simple but imposing tomb. Finally we visit Naghsh-é-Rostam, which contains the rock carved chambers of four Achaemenian tombs, believed to be those of Darius the Great, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius II. The ornamental facades are rock reliefs from the Sassanian dynasty depicting various scenes of imperial conquests as well as a probable fi re temple from Achaemenian times. Later, return to Shiraz via the Quran Gate and Jahan Nama Seljuk Garden. Return to your hotel for overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, April 12
Shiraz- USA/Eastern Turkey

Morning, transfer to the airport for your flight back home or to Istanbul to continue to Eastern Turkey.

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed