Iran: from the Alborz to the Zagros ski slopes
11 nights / 12 days
“Mountain Culture” is a trekking tour into the nature of Iran through the mountains, culture, bazaars, ski slopes, the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque in Shiraz, the wonderful city of Isfahan and sites of great historical importance such as Persepolis. Among all our discoveries along the trip, the most fascinating will be the unforgettable landscape of the Iranian plateau, from the slopes of Alborz to the historic plain of Marvdasht, where the fascinating story of Darius and his successors awaits us.
|DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION||IKA International Airport|
|DEPARTURE TIME||Please arrive at least 3 hours before the flight.|
Your country – Tehran
Tehran – Shemshak
Shemshak – Tehran
Tehran – Shiraz
Shiraz – Pooladkaf (ski slope)
Pooladkaf – Sepidan – Shiraz
Persepolis – Isfahan
Isfahan – Kashan – Ibis Hotel (International Airport)
Tehran – IBIS Hotel (International Airport) – your country
Day 1; Country of origin - Tehran
Departure by scheduled flight to the capital of Iran, Tehran, located at the foot of Mount Alborz. Welcome and greetings by SITO TRAVEL’s tour guide at the airport. Transfer to hotel and check-in.
Day 2; Tehran - Shemshak
Shemshak is the ideal place for skiing, the third largest ski resort. Ski enthusiasts, especially experts, enjoy four months of skiing between December and April. Whether you are looking for a haven of peace to relax or a dose of adrenaline, experience the euphoric heights of the Alborz Mountains and the snowy slopes of Shemshak in Iran.
After breakfast, we depart for Shemshak for a wonderful day in the Alborz Valley. Shemshak is located in the heights north of Tehran and is a popular area for locals and skiing and winter sports lovers.
Transfer to the hotel or a local accommodation and dinner.
Day 3; Shemshak - Tehran
Until the early 20th century, Shemshak was a small village lost in the mountains. Discovering large coal deposits, the village grew and a road was built to connect Shemshak with Tehran. After the mining was completed, the village became a recreational place for athletes. In 1958, the Shemshak ski resort was established, offering Tehran residents a place to learn and practice the sport.
After breakfast, skiing begins and continues until late afternoon before returning to Tehran.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight at the hotel.
Day 4; Tehran - Shiraz
Starting the trip with a full day city tour in Tehran, the most dynamic and effervescent city of Iran. With a population of over 8 million, this bustling city reflects its complexity in a chaotic atmosphere like any other metropolis. However, Tehran is a cornerstone of modern history as it offers its extraordinary museums to travelers among which are National Jewelry Museum that has the most important collection of precious jewels in the world.
Iran’s concern of artistic developments, recent architectural interventions and the revival of many traditional style cafes has made the city a fascinating labyrinth that holds a surprise for visitors at every corner. In order to discover the real Tehran, one must not be fulfilled with only visiting the museums, but also it is highly recommended to dive into the urban bustle, enjoying the contrast between modernity and tradition present in its many cafes and bazaars. It is the only way to get to know its culture and the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the metropolis.
After breakfast, we will walk through the streets of Tehran, to discover its particularly unique rhythm.
- National Museum of Iran exhibits history, art and culture through archaeological findings from the sixth millennium BC to the Islamic era, the 7th century AD. There is a wonderful collection of ceramics, pottery and bronze in this museum and, in addition, every six months, a temporary exhibition is organized with the most valuable archaeological objects, borrowed from other museums such as Venice, Berlin, etc.
- Golestan Palace, located near the Grand Bazaar, is a remarkable complex that has its roots in the 16th century, when Tehran slowly transformed from a simple village into a real city. Golestan means “garden of flowers”, a name that honors wonderful Persian Gardens in the place. The contemporary Iranian history is so indebted to this complex where Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was crowned claiming himself the successor to Cyrus the Great. Next, we visit the entrance to Tehran Grand Bazaar where, among its 10 kilometers of galleries, is possible to find any imaginable object.
- National Jewelry Museum (open only from Saturday to Tuesday) is located in a large vault with a 25 cm thick door in the basement of the Central Bank of Iran. The museum houses royal jewels, precious stones, a globe set with gems, a variety of tiaras, the crowns of the Pahlavi and Qajar dynasties, and the world’s largest pink diamond, Darya-e Nour (182 carats). This diamond was brought to Iran as a symbol of Nader Shah’s victorious campaigns in India in 1739.
Transfer to Mehrabad Airport to catch the domestic flight Tehran-Shiraz. Arrival in Shiraz. Transfer to hotel and accommodation.
Day 5; Shiraz
In Shiraz, The historical relevance of the region is not limited to the Achaemenid era, as Shiraz covers a vast historical axis that goes from the 4th century BC to the 1700s. In Shiraz, Persian poetry becomes truly tangible; the gardens, bazaars and mosques of its historic center, steeped in culture, embraces every visitor. The city’s inhabitants take refuge in their homes at noon to reappear around the Arg Citadel in the afternoon, where activity continues until late at night. The people of Shiraz are known for their taste for nature and picnic and are considered to be the liveliest and funniest people in the whole country.
To discover the Dionysian atmosphere of Shiraz (the name of the city says it all, as it refers to the shape of a snake), the traveler should not miss visiting the tomb of the Persian poet and mystic “Hafez” or wandering the alleys of the Vakil Bazaar where so many European traders came in search of the famous product of the god Bacchus.
After breakfast, we will visit:
- Tomb of Hafez: a Sufi mentor, the great poet of the 14th century A.D. The sweetness of Persian philosophy was born between the lines of Hafez’s poems. What immortalizes this poet is beyond the meaning of his poetry, his Sufi thought, which makes him outstanding for all readers. The surprise lies in the fact that Hafez’s words are related to Bacchus and Venus. Therefore, reading Hafez’s Divan is like taking a walk in his paradisiacal garden to understand the contradiction that exists between Dolce Stil Novo and modernity: it may seem a subversive poem!
- Vakil Bazaar: a unique construction that thanks to its brick architecture and vaulted roofs, fresh air circulates here in summer as well as in winter.
- Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque: The term “elegance” finds its true meaning inside this sacred space with its splendid polychrome majolica tiles. The springtime of Shiraz is reflected surprisingly on the walls, stained glass windows and the exquisite tile decorations. This mosque, a masterpiece of the late 1900s, also known as the Pink Mosque, is a welcoming place where the chromatic world from the rose petals, iris and so on catches the eye at first glance.
- Qavam House (Narenjestan Garden): It dates back to the Qajar period (1880). The name of the garden “Narenjestan” comes from sour orange or bergamot trees, so we are not surprised that Shiraz is the most famous city for its bergamot trees found in the streets of the city. The pavilion in the middle of the garden was a place where people went for administrative purposes and public meetings were held, as well as those between dignitaries and nobles of Qajar.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
Day 6; Shiraz - Pooladkaf (ski resort)
Puladkaf is located 100 km north of Shiraz and 15 km from the Sepidan Mountains and Margon Falls. Pooladkaf ski resort includes a 4-star hotel, 4 restaurants, a 2 km cable car, 2 1600 meters ski lifts and 8 snowmobiles. Next to Pooladkaf ski resort there is a smaller one known as Sepidan. The abundant winter snowfall is one of the most beautiful attractions of Fars province in this region.
After breakfast, we head to the second largest ski slope in the country, Pooladkaf. Once on the slope, you can enjoy different optional activities, according to your personal taste: skiing, cable car or snowmobile.
Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 7; Pooladkaf - Sepidan - Shiraz
After breakfast, we will we will travel to the archaeological site of Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. On the way we stop at Sepidan and then continue to Persepolis. The night will be spent in a hotel located on Persepolis Boulevard to enjoy the beautiful and honorable atmosphere of the place, even at sunset.
- Persepolis is a sacred city founded by Darius I the Great in 524 BC to celebrate Nowruz festival (New Day), the Persian New Year, on 21st March. Persepolis was conquered and burned by Alexander the Great in the revenge for Xerxes’ plundering in the Median wars. The excursion to Persepolis explains in details this majestic city, built by the best craftsmen of the world who received wages and insurance according to the royal law. In this place, we will come to a deep understanding of its architecture by contemplating the wonderful bas-reliefs of the Apadana Palace.
Among the ruins, we can visit its imposing palaces that never fail to impress travelers: the Palace of 100 Columns where the King used to receive the generals and the Audience Hall of the Apadana Palace with a square plan and six rows of columns, up to 19 meters high, which includes the brilliant anti-seismic system to hold the ceiling in case of shock. The access stairways depict Satrap’s processions and the imperial guards called the Immortal soldiers.
Dinner and overnight stay at a hotel.
Day 8; Persepolis - Isfahan
After breakfast, we will visit Naghsh-e Rostam that is a necropolis and a stunning place where the stone tombs of the great Achaemenid kings are still preserved. It is no exaggeration to say that this site is the richest one among all from the archaeological point of view in Iran since in this place lies a magnificent bas-relief of the Elamites, 1300 BC, particular forms of royal tombs inscriptions in ancient Persian, 400 BC, and finally the very important Sassanid documents and manuscripts of the Middle Persian, 300 AD. In a single archaeological site, one can contemplate the history of Iran from the Elamites till the defeat of Valerian, the Roman emperor, against Shapur.
- On the way, we visit the archaeological site of Pasargadae, the first capital of the Persian Empire founded in 546 BC by Cyrus the Great during his reign. In Pasargadae, the real Pardis or Paradise was born: the “Persian Garden”. Among the monuments and ruins of the site, there are three royal palaces and a magnificent bas-relief: The Private Palace of Cyrus the Great, the Audience Hall and the Tomb of Cyrus. Pasargadae was once surrounded by two rivers that flowed through a peculiar irrigation canal into the Persian Garden and entered the city after having been purified.
At the end of the day, we arrive in Isfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in Iran.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
Day 9; Isfahan
Breakfast. The whole day is dedicated to visit the city walking through the streets of Naqsh-e Jahan Square and handicraft stores.
- Royal Square or Naqsh-e Jahan: (the image of the world) located in the center of the city, was redesigned by Shah Abbas I. There are two arches in the large central square of Naqsh-e Jahan (512 by 163 meters). On the southern side, there are many handicraft stores selling miniatures, turquoise work, enamels and traditional fabrics. Naqsh-e Jahan Square was home to an elite of merchants who sought artistic refinement. In the square, there are still the pillars that served to delimit the Polo field built 400 years ago.
- Queen’s Mosque or Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque: is a magnificent masterpiece of the Safavid era that stands in a harmonious atmosphere. Shah Abbas I selected the talented Iranian architect, Ali Akbar Isfahani, as the chief builder of the mosque which lasted almost 17 years. On the shah’s order, this mosque was dedicated to his father-in-law the Lebanese theologian who would later have a Koranic school in Isfahan. The architect Isfahani’s masterpiece put into practice an innovative pattern that never existed before. The mosque, in fact, has neither minarets nor internal courtyard, nor an ablution basin. The prestigious exterior and interior decoration, the play of lights towards the altar, the glory of the calligraphy with a background of the lapis lazuli and finally the complexity and beauty of the floral motifs under the dome have made Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque the most beautiful mosque in Iran.
- Royal Mosque: (today is known as Imam Mosque) puts before our eyes the genius of the architect Isfahani. Once you finish visiting the interior space of the mosque, in the middle of Naqsh-e Jahan Square – former Polo camp –, you can see the unusual grandeur of the minarets and a clever and completely voluntary deviation of the architect in order to create an aesthetic harmony with the square. The Imam Mosque is a unique masterpiece where every decoration and every particle finds its meaning in geometric symmetry. In this place, the inner courtyard is decorated with an ablution basin around which there are the four majestic iwans that represent the glory of the use of blue color in the sacred Islamic space. In addition to the decorative beauty of the two-layer dome – 36.3 m internal height and 51 m external height–, from southern iwan applies a peculiar system to amplify the sound or the calls of the adhan. It is advisable to walk there and listen to the pleasant echo of footsteps.
- Ali Qapu Mansion: the palace where the sovereign used to welcomed his guests. Ali Qapu Palace has six floors and a gate connecting the square to the Chehel Sotun Palace. From the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, you have a view of the palace terrace with its 18 columns. This masterpiece consists of the incorporated details such as the pond on the 5th floor, the stucco ceilings, the type of materials and ornaments used on the walls of the building which highlight the oriental world and, finally, the spiral staircase that leads up to the enchanting music hall decorated with stucco that depicts vases and other similar themes which together help to enhance the acoustic space of the hall.
- Chehel Sotun Palace: (40 Columns Palace) is the pavilion where the king held ceremonies. A few steps from the square, another magnificent Persian Garden shines in the courtyard of this palace that embraces one of the delights of the Safavid Renaissance: the pavilion is still alive in the heart of the Persian Garden as if the luxury of real life had never ceased there. In this place, we will see the masterpiece of miniature art which, by admiring the paintings and the stories they tell, open a door of culture and anthropology to familiarize us with the most important characters in the history of the Middle East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight at the hotel.
Day 10; Isfahan
We continue our tour visiting:
- Vank Cathedral: and its adjoining museum tell the story of the Armenian diaspora who have lived outside their homeland for over 300 years. Iran not only knew how to welcome its guests, but also protected them from serious conflicts that threatened their social life in the Armenian neighborhood of Isfahan. Today, in the courtyard of the Vank Cathedral, the Armenians have opened a new museum of anthropology, with such precision and care, where you can immerse yourself in the real culture of a country so far, thanks to the information displayed in the galleries of these historical exhibits of the Armenian people. But this is not the end of the story since Vank Cathedral – not the only church in Isfahan – invites the Armenian community to religious celebrations and, most importantly, genocide commemorations. Every year on April 24, the Armenians gather at Vank Cathedral in order to commemorate the victims of the Armenian genocide in 1915. As you enter the elegant courtyard of Vank Cathedral, you will notice one of the most important Armenian historical monuments, dedicated to the deported Armenians.
- Jameh Mosque of Isfahan: passing through Isfahan means to be surprised and immersed in the local culture. To get from the Jolfa district to the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, we have to cross the Zayandehrud which defines the border between the two religious quarters of Isfahan. Crossing the Armenian quarter and entering the very popular district of the Jameh Mosque is one of the most important visits as we can admire the progress of Iranian-Islamic architecture that occurred from the seventh century until 1900. Therefore, it is not wrong to point out that Isfahan Jameh Mosque is the oldest and most complete of its kind in the whole country. Here, details are infinite and spaces are immense. In the 14th century, an exemplary model of altar, called the Oljato mihrab, was born in this mosque. The building has a complex stucco composition consisting of three-dimensional inscriptions blended in floral and geometric carvings. The mosque has two clearly recognizable spaces, even for inexperienced people: the interior and the exterior. The admiration of the monochromatic bricks inside and the turquoise blue outside is unavoidable. The transition from one space to the other allows us to travel back in time, especially when we are under the magnificent Taj al-Moluk dome, considered to be the most beautiful brick dome of Iran.
- At the end of the visits, we throw ourselves in the crowd. In Isfahan, as one visit ends, another begins, and the traveler unconsciously prepares to listen to the city’s narratives, as if Scheherazade were reading them directly from “the Arabian Nights”. Those who love to get lost in the alleys and spend time with the people, should know that it is time to enjoy walking among the stores with the scent of perfume and spices as there is a bazaar right at the main entrance of the mosque. After a 40-minute walk, you can reach Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Before following the covered corridors of the bazaar, one can satisfy his curiosity by visiting the synagogues of Isfahan’s Jewish community. This is speaking of multi-ethnicity in the true sense of the word and not easily found in other parts of the world.
- Visit the historic bridges over Zayandehrud: Si-o-Se Pol (33 Arches Bridge) and Khaju Bridge (Pol-e Khaju).
Free time. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
Day 11; Isfahan - Kashan - IKA Airport
Kashan always represents an exemplary model to learn more about its local culture. In addition to the existence of its millenary hill, Kashan is also known for its 19th century villas, also called bioclimatic houses. It is necessary to know that Kashan has a desert climate and very hot summers. The invention of the city’s inhabitants led to the birth of a house in two or three different levels making easy to cool or heat the rooms depending on the season. The importance of the city is not only based on the variety of houses, but it is mainly known for the production of high quality rose water. In fact, the trip to Iran now takes on its original scent of rose petals grown in the hills of central Iran. This beautiful city, located in a green oasis, still houses some of the most beautiful traditional houses in the area, such as the magnificent house of the wealthy merchant Tabatabai. During the visit, some details of a patriarchal house come to light, where the head of the family, father (pedar), gathers the children in the same villa in order to facilitate family access and economic management. Furthermore, this 19th century mansion highlights two criteria of Iranian-Islamic architecture: introversion and extroversion.
We will visit Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse with a splendid roof and Agha Bozorg Mosque and Madrasa, a Koranic school.
- In Kashan, there is also Bagh-e Fin, one of the most famous Persian gardens you can visit during the trip to Iran. The Fin Garden was designed by Shah Abbas I (1557-1629), as an earthly vision of Paradise. The concept of the Persian garden appeals to the soul only by listening to the melody of spring water overflowing into different canals. Today, the central pond called “camel’s throat” (Shotor Galu) is responsible to distribute water to all side channels, using the simple theory of communicating vessels.
Transfer to Tehran airport, dinner and overnight stay at IBIS hotel.
Day 12; Tehran - Destination country
As the sun sets and its rays brighten, the route back to Tehran becomes more noticeable, as if the journey to Iran has just started. It is time to pack the suitcase, which returns loaded with excitement, enthusiasm and a lot of culture. Normally, travelers worry about the cost of overloading their luggage, and as the color of the sky darkens, they are thinking about how to arrange souvenirs and gifts; they like to buy everything from pistachios to fabrics and turquoise stones. There is no doubt that everything will fit, except one thing: the hospitality of the people we met in the markets, historical sites and restaurants. This image is engraved in their hearts and is an unforgettable memory that the traveler will carry with him everywhere. Above all, it will be a good incentive for all those who have enjoyed this trip to return to Iran for the second time.
Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.