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Destination at a Glance: Iran

Destination at a Glance: IranDestination at a Glance: Iran

All is not what it seems in Iran. The simple stereotype is of an oil-addled desert land flush with clergymen and anti-Western feelings. Oh, and nice carpets. Don't be fooled! The reality is far more complex and far more diverse. Iran boasts of a sophisticated culture where poetry is valued over dogma and hospitality trumps austerity. Visitors are more likely to be welcomed by men cycling the wrong way down four-lane highways than they are to encounter suspicion or slogans, you read on the Lonely Planet website.

Iranians, despite the trials of a long history and modern politics, are upbeat and genuinely interested in meeting travelers. Like those famous carpets, Iran is textured, subtle and richly colored.

The best time to visit is April to June and September to November.

Top Attractions

• Arched market arcades and beautiful mosques of Imam Square in Esfahan

• Winding lanes and wind towers in the mud-brick ancient city of Yazd

• Tea terraces and hills surrounding Masuleh on the Caspian Sea coast

• Magnificent Persepolis, now in ruins, but an awe-inspiring reminder of the might of the ancient Persian Empire

• Domes and minarets of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.) in Mashhad

Things To Do

• Settle in for an afternoon of banter, bluffing and tea while haggling for a carpet

• Listen to the silence amid the date palms of Garmeh oasis

• Accept an invitation to someone's home for dinner – you are sure to receive one – to experience first-hand Iranian hospitality

• Escape the smog and rumble of Tehran on the walking trails of Darband in the foothills of the Alborz Mountains

Getting Under The Skin

Read 'The Way of the World' by Nicolas Bouvier, a rollicking tale of a 1950s road trip; and 'Mirrors of the Unseen' by Jason Elliot, an observation of modern Iran

Listen to the somber melodies of Persian epic poetry sung to traditional accompaniment

Watch Gabbeh, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a colorful evocation of nomadic life; or the Lizard, by Kamal Tabrizi, a comedy box-office smash

Eat mouthwatering mirza ghasemi (mashed aubergine with garlic, egg and tomato); or kababs in all sorts of varieties

Drink chay (tea) at a chaykhane (traditional teahouse); or 'Islamic' – ie no-alcohol – beer

One Word to Memorize

Khosh amadin (Welcome) is one of the handiest Persian phrases showing warmth and respect of the host.

Random Fact

Iranians use Arabic script, but their language, Per

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