May 16 – June 2, 2014
Join us for this comprehensive tour of Iran. From the seats of Persian power, exquisite gardens, crown jewels, beautiful caravan-serais, and a rich tradition of handcrafts including tiles, enamel, miniature paintings, and of course, the Persian carpets. We will travel from the capital city of Tehran to the south and Kerman, then make our way back through Yazd, Shiraz, Isfahan and then up to the Caspian Sea region. You will experience the main cities, archaeological sights, museums, gardens, unique and varied landscapes, and the warmth of the Iranian people. The cuisine is delicious and wide ranging, and the hospitality is like no other. Let us show you the Iran you don’t hear about in the news – the Iran of welcoming smiles and a history of empires as vast as the Roman Empire in it’s day. The Iran we show you will leave you wondering why more people don’t visit – it has so much to offer!
We arrive early in the morning. Khosh amadid (welcome) to Iran! We’ll be greeted at the airport, proceed through entrance formalities, and transfer to the Laleh Hotel. We have a rest and a late breakfast before heading out for a tour of Tehran. 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 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 you can find glass and ceramic artifacts dating back to the second and first millennium BC. We return to the hotel for dinner. (B-L-D)
Today, after a restful night and hearty breakfast, our guide will lead us on a full-day city tour of Tehran. Our first stop will be the Saadabad Palace Complex, which was founded under the Qajar Kings in the 19th century. See the Carpet Museum with its beautiful modern architecture and a facade resembling a carpet-weaving loom. Founded in 1978 the museum provides a historical background for the evolution of this art form. Overnight in Tehran. (B-L-D)
This morning after breakfast we will check out of the hotel and transfer to the airport for our flight to Kerman around 10 AM. Arrival and transfer to the Pars Hotel. This afternoon, we explore Kerman beginning with a visit to the Ganj-Ali-Khan Complex, a 17th century Safavid period Bathhouse now transformed into an Ethnological Museum. On display are mannequins in traditional dress, and scenes showing life in the region. We will continue to Kerman’s Caravanserai and Bazaar, with a stop at the Friday Mosque. Overnight in Kerman. (B-L-D)
Today after breakfast we have a half day excursion to the cities of Rayen and Mahan to visit one of the oldest citadels in Iran (over 2000 years old). We will also visit the blue-tiled Mausoleum of Shah Nematollah-e-Vali, the great 14th century Sufi Leader. 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 or in the village of Mahan at a family home. Later today, we return to Kerman for further sightseeing including the Green Dome and the Moshtaq Mausoleum. Overnight in Kerman. (B-L-D)
Drive to Shiraz, en-route visit the Sassanian Palace at Sarvestan, the 5th century A.D. structure thought by many to be a hunting lodge or small palace built by Bahram V (420-440 A.D.). 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. Shiraz is a city of historic monuments, poets and philosophers, warriors, kings and orchards. 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. Overnight in Shiraz at the Homa Hotel. (B-L-D)
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 efficiently ruled than any other in the ancient world. 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 flow of ritual processions that once passed through the palaces and audience halls of the Achaemenian Kings. We’ll explore the Gate of Xerxes, the Apadana Palace, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers. Persepolis was completed by Xerxes and Artaxerxes I who ruled Persia in the 5th century BC. The palaces were used by the Achaemenid kings up until they were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC as revenge for the sacking of Athens during the Persian Wars with the Greeks. To top off the afternoon, 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 fire temple from Achaemenian times. Later, return to Shiraz for dinner and overnight. (B-L-D)
Full day city tour of Shiraz to visit some of the famous gardens of this city of “Roses and Nightingales”, including the residential citadel of Karim Khan of the Zand Dynasty in the heart of the city; the pink-tiled 19th-century mosque of Nasir-ol-Molk, the Qajar period Narenjestan Garden/House, the Vakil Complex (Bathhouse & Mosque). After lunch, we will step back in time as we wander through the Vakil Bazaar with it’s blue tiled dome roof. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful bazaar in the world. The bazaars take travelers completely away from the outside world and immerse them in an age-old rhythm of life. Here the atmosphere is full of the market cries of vendors, the hammering of the coppersmiths, the activities of carpet weavers, silversmiths and cloth printers, the grilling of kabobs and the preparation of spices. Overnight in Shiraz. (B-L-D)
Today we say goodbye to Shiraz and embark on our journey to Yazd, stopping en route at Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great and site of his simple but imposing tomb and the remains of three of his palaces. On to Yazd with a visit en-route to the 1,000-year-old Abarkouh Mosque, a wind tower, and 19th century ice reservoir, and a 4000-year-old Cypress tree. Upon arrival, visit the Friday Mosque of Yazd to see the highest portal in Iran with the magnificent tile works, Fahadan Historical Neighborhood and Amir Chakhmagh Square. Overnight in Yazd at our beautiful accommodations the 4-star Moshir Garden Hotel. (B-L-D)
This morning, we see more of the historic city of Yazd with visits to the Towers of Silence and the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. After lunch, we’ll continue by coach to Isfahan. We’ll make stops along our journey to visit the early Islamic period Friday Mosque in the city of Na’in and a beautiful example of a Safavid period private house with delicate monochrome painted plaster decoration, close to the mosque. We will continue our drive to the beautiful city of Isfahan (Esfahan), the 17th century capital of the Safavids, referred to as “Nesf-e-Jahan” (Half of the World) in Safavid sources. We’ll stay for three nights at the exotic Abbasi Hotel which was built in the 1960’s on the site of a 17th century caravanserai. Overnight Isfahan. (B-L-D)
After breakfast, we will start on our tour of Isfahan. We’ll begin with a visit to the historical bridges of Sioseh and Khaju, constructed by Shah Abbas II in 1650. It is essentially a bridge superimposed upon a dam, 436 feet long and supported by twenty-four stone arches. 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 Savid 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.
In the afternoon, we visit the Naghsh-e Jahan complex, the central focus of Isfahan. It is a Royal Square, 1674 feet by 540 feet and enclosed by double-storied 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’ll 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 Mosque, dedicated to Shah Abbas the Great. To many it is considered to be the most beautiful mosque in the world. Overnight at the Abbasi Hotel. (B-L-D)
Today is another full day of sightseeing in wonderful Isfahan. We’ll begin with a visit to the beautiful Friday Mosque and Chehel Sotuni (forty pillars) Palace. The Friday Mosque as it stands now is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 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.
This afternoon, we’ll explore the Hasht Bahesht (eight paradises) Pavillion/Park. It was built as an official court and a reception hall by Shah Abbas II (1647 AD). Return to Maidan where there will also be some time for shopping at Isfahan’s bustling bazaar. During our time in Isfahan, you are invited to a private home to visit with a famous miniature artist. Overnight at Abbasi Hotel. (B-L-D)
Today we enjoy a leisurely coach ride to Tehran with an en route 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 plain tree just outside the complex and visit a nearby traditional pottery workshop. We will then continue to Kashan for lunch and several visits. These include the historical garden of Fin which was first planted during the Safavid period and kept alive with water from the nearby Suleymaniye Spring/Qanat. This beautiful walled Persian Garden was expanded by the Zand and Qajar monarchs, 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 B.C. We will also visit 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. We continue our drive to Tehran and, time-permitting, stop by the Mausoleum of Imam Khomeini for a photo opportunity. (289 miles traveled) Overnight in Tehran. (B-L-D)
Today we have a full-day tour of Tehran, to see the Golestan Palace/Museum if open after renovation. Another of Tehran’s museums will be substituted if necessary. In one you’ll see various costumes of the Anthropological tribes of Iran. In the afternoon, see the State Crown/Jewels Museum, which holds one of the most fabulous collections of treasures in the world. We have dinner and overnight at the Laleh Hotel. (B-L-D)
Today we drive from Tehran, via the Rasht scenic freeway, to Rasht. En route visit the lovely town of Fuman, with its rice paddies and neatly manicured tea plantations, where we will have lunch. Cuttings to start the plants came from India and produce healthy tea, full of antioxidants. There are many nature reserves in this area where birds winter near poplar lined freshwater pools. Indulge in a taste of kuliches, a delicious local pastry filled with walnuts, cinnamon and cardamom.
From Rasht make a short excursion to the picturesque 1,000-year-old village of Masuleh, 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. We arrive at a modest beach resort in Anzali, which fortunately is not crowded at this time of year. Enjoy a dinner of fish caught in the warm waters of Caspian Sea, and perhaps some caviar; and then have a stroll under the stars by the sea. (B-L-D)
Today after breakfast along the northern Iran border with Azerbaijan, and stop for a taste of delicious local honey. It is perhaps one of the secrets of longevity for people of this area. With 14,000 ft Mt. Savalan, a stunning snowcapped extinct volcano to our right, we pass orchards, grazing lands and fishing lakes.
Drive up the Alborz mountain heights through tunnels and along green terraced landscapes. We drive west away from the Caspian Sea in the direction of Armenia and Azerbaijan, en route stopping at the city of Ardabil to visit one of Iran’s great gems, the Mausoleum Complex of Sheikh Safii-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. Visits include 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. Continue to Tabriz for dinner and overnight. (B-L-D)
Tabriz is the third largest city in Iran after Tehran and Mashad. According to Herodotus, even in ancient times, this area had a turbulent history. In the 13th century it was the Mongol capital. We’ll see the Blue Mosque built by Shah Jahan in 1465, the small exquisite Azerbaijan Museum, and the Citadel.
Later, our guide will lead us through the wonderfully constructed Tabriz Bazaar, second oldest in the world after the one in Aleppo, Syria another UNESCO World Heritages Site. The Silk Road passed through Tabriz; today silk, wool and cotton Tabriz carpets with figures on a pink background, are a well known export to France and Germany. Before leaving Tabriz see the El Goli Safavid site and park with beautifully renovated old building surrounded by a large pool. Leave for Zanjan (4-hour drive) for dinner and overnight. (B-L-D)
Before leaving Zanjan see the unique ‘Rakhtshur-Khaneh’ (old public laundry now turned into an ethnographic museum) and the old Public Bath House. En route back to Tehran (4-hour drive) visit the magnificent 14th century Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh, the tomb/tower of Olijaytu, the last Mongol/Il-Khanid Ruler of Iran (1304-1330). 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. Arrive Tehran for dinner and overnight. (B-L-D)
Early morning transfer to the airport for your flight back home.
End of services.
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* For groups of less than 8 people the prices will be as follows:
Extra nights at the hotel in Tehran for early arrival or late departure are $110 per person sharing a double room and $175 for a single room. Private transfers are $75 per transfer.
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