Offbeat Norouz Getaways

Offbeat Norouz GetawaysOffbeat Norouz Getaways

With the Norouz holidays (March 20 – April 1) less than a week away, staple holiday destinations such as Shiraz in the south, Isfahan in the center and Noshahr, Ramsar and Kelardasht in the north of Iran are preparing for a deluge of travelers who have made plans weeks in advance.

But there are plenty of undecided travelers who are wary of spending their vacation in hotspots such as the ones mentioned above, for good reason: The influx of tourists in those destinations makes it extremely difficult to find lodging, not to mention the standstill traffic jams that have become a hallmark of holiday destinations in Norouz (Iranian New Year).

Surely a country as vast as Iran has more than a handful of cities to cater to tourists —and it does. The Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad asked a number of tourism experts to weigh in on the subject.

  Opt for Less-Known Spots

If you are tired of the same old cities, why not visit a destination you have never been to before? That is what Mohammad Hassan Talebian, deputy for cultural heritage at the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization believes people should do.

“Every province has its own unique features that must be seen by everyone, but conventionally less popular spots such as Ilam, Kurdestan, South Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchestan would top my list,” he said.

Saeed Shirkavand, deputy for planning and investment at the ICHHTO, agrees with his colleague, but not all the destinations. “Yazd, Kerman and South Khorasan are perfect this time of the year. In addition to their mild spring weather, these provinces have adequate infrastructure to cater to everyone’s basic needs.”

Bahman Namvar Motlaq, handicrafts deputy at the ICHHTO, opined that “you won’t be disappointed if you visit southern and/or southeastern regions of the country,” a sentiment echoed by Mahsa Motahar, secretary of the Iran Federation of Tourist Guides’ Associations.

“Southern and southeastern Iran are among the least visited parts of the country, despite what they have to offer,” she said, pointing to the 4000-year-old Shahr-e-Soukhte (Persian for the Burnt City) and the 3000-year-old petroglyphs in Saravan as examples of the province’s rich history.

“And as you travel south (toward the Sea of Oman), you’ll see natural landscapes unlike any other,” Motahar added.

  Rich History, Unspoiled Landscapes

For the outdoorsmen who are also eager to visit historical sites, western Iran could be a goldmine, according to Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti, director of the Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Tourism.

“Kurdestan and Kermanshah in the west and South Khorasan in the east are ideal destinations. A nice blend of history and nature makes these spots a must-see,” he said, adding that encouraging tourists to visit those destinations would help “dispel the notion that only certain regions have tourism potential.”

Ahmad Mohit Tabatabaei, a cultural heritage expert and advisor to Beheshti, was more specific with his suggestion.

“In the west, the Izeh-Shahrekurd route offers some of the most brilliant natural landscapes,” he said. Izeh is a small town in Khuzestan Province and Shahrekurd — located 267 kilometers east of Izeh — is the capital of Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari Province.

“In the south, the coastal strip connecting Chahabar in Sistan-Baluchestan to Jask in Hormozgan Province offers different but equally stunning scenery,” he added.

Mohammad Reza Kargar, director of Iran’s Museums and Historical Properties Office, also suggests a road trip, from Isfahan Province to Kerman.

“Drive from Kashan to the provincial capital Isfahan, before making your way to the historical city of Yazd and finally Kerman,” he said. “You’ll get to see vastly different historical textures on your journey, not to mention diverse cultures and friendly people.”

Iran has no shortage of historical sites and natural attractions, and if you are looking for a unique travel experience this Norouz without the usual hassles, then pick a destination from the abovementioned suggestions and pack your bags. Better yet, open a map of Iran, close your eyes and randomly pick a spot; odds are you will not be disappointed.