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    The Guardian-Holidays in Iran: readers’ travel tips

    Iran - The Guardian-Holidays in Iran: readers’ travel tips


    Winning tip: Aberkooh

    The desert town of Aberkooh, between Yazd and Shiraz, was a flourishing city on the Silk Road in the 10th century and largely destroyed by the Afghans in the mid-1700s. There’s a 4,000-year-old cypress tree, one of the best coffee shops in Iran, and the beautifully restored Aghazadeh Mansion with its double height windcatcher, using 19 wooden vents to channel cool breezes into the house. With luck you may run into the charming 12-year-old Amir Reza and be invited back to his home for lavender tea sweetened with saffron sugar.


    No blood but plenty of sweat and tears, Isfahan

    When in Isfahan don’t miss watching zurkhaneh, a 3,000-year-old form of athletics originally used to train warriors, involving sweaty men in leather breeches doing press-ups and swinging clubs to deafening music and chanting. The zurkhaneh pits are difficult to locate but ask a local or guide to get you a ringside seat.


    Travel independently

    Brits, know this: you don’t need a tour guide. The visa process remains tricky, but once an agency or Iranian citizen has sponsored your successful application, you should have little trouble going it alone. This allows you to make the most of your encounters with the country’s endlessly hospitable and inquisitive people and the inevitable invitations for tea or to their homes. While you might not think of it as a country where spontaneity is rewarded, such chance meetings will be the highlights of your stay, as they were for me (a Brit) during a recent three-week trip.

    Explore Damavand city and around

    Damavand is a little over 70km from Tehran and one of the most authentic of small cities. Mount Damavand is the highest active volcanic peak in Asia, and one of the best ski resorts, Aab Ali, is also nearby. There are many natural waterfalls and the area is famous for its honey. 

    Varzaneh desert at sunset

    Varzaneh is a small desert town, not too far from Isfahan. Arriving at the small-but-quaint Chapaker Guest House (Beheshti Street, +98 913 203 0096) you will be greeted by the ever-smiling, energetic Mr Reza and his quirky companion Rouhallah. The neighbouring ladies wear shining white chadors in contrast to the usual black ones and peer at you with curiosity. For a couple of dollars Mr Reza will take you to splendid views of vast wetlands, a volcanic crater, the majestic salt lake and the magnificent Varzaneh desert stretching into the sunset.
    Jessica Fast

    Hidden Alborz mountain castles

    After enjoying the Shiraz to Tehran route, take a few days to go north-east from Tehran to Qazvin and then into the Alborz mountains to discover the remote 11th- and 12th-century castles of the Nizari Ismaili “Assassins”, especially Alamut and Lambesar. They will remind you of the mountain retreats of the French Cathars, with stunning valleys, high mountains and views. Zarabad makes an ideal village base.

    The unique heritage of Abyaneh village

    Abyaneh is a 13th-century mountain village about 80km south of Kashan. Its culture, traditions, costumes and dialect are unlike anywhere else in Iran. In 1973 it was registered as a national heritage site. Houses built of mud and straw are stepped into the hillside; narrow unpaved roads slope up and down the hills. Women wear colourful headscarves – the size of the flowers denoting their marital status, while married men wear voluminous satin trousers. As everywhere else in Iran, the people are wonderfully friendly and welcoming.
    Sue Crofton

    Morning sun in Nasir-al-Molk

    In Shiraz stay in (if you can) or at least have lunch in the courtyard of the Niyayesh boutique hotel (twin room £40). Once you have visited the incredible Nasir al-Molk mosque in the morning for the sun streaming through the stained glass windows, cross Lotfali Khan Street, and turn left, in the direction of the citadel, take the third right alley and on your right is a beautiful madrasa(religious school, free). The madrasa courtyard is peaceful and a great place to sit quietly, watch the mullahs in discussion and see life unfold. Continuing down the same alley, hang left and you enter the famous bazaar where you can try faloodeh, the refreshing, if strange, Shirazi dessert.
    Gráinne Mc Namara

    Eco-tour and intellectual chit chat

    Visit the See You In Iran Facebook page and check for upcoming events or tours. I went on a three-day eco-tour organised by the site and mingled with other curious backpackers and young, cosmopolitan, engaged Iranians. We hiked in the mountains near Masal, close to the Azerbaijani border and slept in a remote hillside village. It was amazing to disconnect – there was no mobile reception or Wi-Fi for miles.

    Gheshm Island geological park

    Fly from Tehran or Shiraz to this island in the Strait of Hormuz, or make the short ferry crossing from Bandar Abbas. You do not have to be a geologist to enjoy Gheshm’s extraordinary geology. Eight main sites are spread around an island 60 miles long and can be visited by taxi: negotiate a day rate of around £20. Otherworldly landscapes have been carved over millennia by wind and water. I stayed in Tabl village, at Mr Amini’s house, which was clean and welcoming. (Any meal or night’s accommodation was £3.)

    Breakfast in Masuleh

    I had proudly taken my fiance to see Ephesus in Turkey; now it was his turn to show me his homeland. We arrived at our first stop, Masuleh, on a starry night, and awoke to incredible scenery. Perched on our rooftop, we took it all in over a breakfast of warm bread with saffron and carrot jam, and tea. We then drove to Rudkhan castle and scaled the 1,000 steps to absorb yet more spectacular views. Houses in Masuleh are available to rent upon arrival for around £35 a night and can usually accommodate three or four guests.

    Golshan Hostel, a shining star in Shiraz

    From our trip to Shiraz, I have to mention Golshan Hostel. This traditional hostel radiates Persian warmth and hospitality, and it’s a perfect base for exploring the ancient city. There is a charming courtyard with a blue-tiled pool, flowering vines and bright, scattered cushions. It’s hard not to mingle, chai in hand, in such a tranquil place. 
    Shaz Rakhshan

    The Golestan Palace, Tehran

    This is a beautiful 400-year-old masterpiece, displaying the earliest representations of a fused European and Persian style, and the complex formed the foundation of Iran’s modern artistic movement. My top tips for inside the palace are the dramatic and awe-inducing Takht’e Marmar (Marble Throne), which stands in an outdoor terrace, and the magnificent Talar-e Ayaheh (Hall of Mirrors) which is exactly that. Only a stone’s throw away is Tehran’s famous Grand Bazaar.

    Isfahan, for tea and coffee lovers

    Navigating Isfahan by its old teahouses and new coffee shops is a nice way to spend an afternoon. The Azadegan Teahouse, in a lane off the north-east corner of Imam Square, has ceilings and walls decked with metal pots and lanterns, with tea, snacks and qalyan (hookah) on the menu. On the other side of the city, stylised coffees and virgin cocktails can be found in Café Ahang, near Charbagh Abasi Street. With its bookshelf and tables decorated with post-it notes, it has a cosy, local feel.

    Nicole Zandi


    The desert oasis of Bam, in the province of Kerman, was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 2003 but has since been rebuilt. You can wander through gardens full of orange and pomegranate trees and date palms. A must-see is the impressive, Unesco-listed Arg-e-Bam citadel, which is being beautifully restored. Bam is also an excellent base for exploring the surrounding desert, including overnight stays in desert camps.

    Observing Ashura in Yazd

    I recommend visiting Yazd at the time of Ashura (it will be on 1 October in 2017). It’s the festival of mourning for the murder of Imam Hossein and there is a genuine grief evident in the rituals. Visitors are welcome to the upper galleries of mosques, generally opposite the women’s galleries, to witness hundreds of men beating their chests as the story is chanted. Our group was invited to a large temporary feeding area for a free lunch and supper (donations welcomed). You will also see fountains running red.



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    This workshop is designed according to the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme in order to give young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision-makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The idea of involving young people in World Heritage preservation and promotion came as a response to Article 27 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention). Furthermore, Patrimonito means 'small heritage' in Spanish and the character represents a young heritage guardian. Patrimonito has been widely adopted as the international mascot of the World Heritage Education Programme.
    Date: 29th December
    Number of trainees: 7
    Duration: 3 hours

    The workshop of "Patrimonito" was held on 29th of December. Participants arrived around 10:30 and they were welcomed by hot chocolate and Persian cup cakes. After a little introduction by trainers and trainees, the process started by making two groups and letting them choose a name for their group, each group was accompanied by a mentor then each group was given some images of world heritage sites in Iran and some descriptions, each group was asked to match images and descriptions, the mentor was guiding them throughout the activity. All trainees were participating actively and trying to remember their experiences about their travels to these places. When they were done with the activity, the mentors started giving the answers and a brief explanation about each site; mentors were using trainees’ ideas and experiences to complete their tasks.

    Shortly after that, the second part started which was a presentation done by two of mentors. The aim of this presentation was to define the value of these world heritage sites and duties of each person as a "Patrimonito", and what happens if there is no "Patrimonito" and nobody cares about our tangible or intangible heritage. In this part trainees started questioning and understanding the whole concept of being a "Patrimonito", they also added their own suggestions on how to protect our heritage and by the end of this part, they were completely aware about their role as a "Patrimonito".
    Now it was a best time to have a short break, during the break trainees were introduced to some of intangible heritages as they were served by traditional food and snacks and even they way of serving was according to traditions and everyone had this opportunity to discuss about intangible heritage while enjoying some traditional food and snacks.
    When the break was done, everyone was asked to choose a heritage either tangible or intangible and they had to introduce their chosen heritage to a tourist by making a postcard using what they have learnt. They were given all of necessary tools such as color papers, color pencils, glue, scissors, images of heritage and a mentor was with them in order to help them completing the task.

    When they were done, they handed out their postcards and with the mentors they sat together and spent a few minutes asking and answering about what they have learnt. Then they were told to say their vows for protecting their heritage and caring about it, the mentor said the vow and the trainees repeated after her and they officially became a "Patrimonito".

    The last but the best part was when they were given the certificates, and they were told that since they are aware of the value of the heritage and they know how to protect it, they are chosen as "Patrimonito" and they should continue their mission by introducing the value of heritage to others. They were granted certificates and labels and the workshop of "Patrimonito" was finished by taking some memorial photos.