It may not be on everybody’s journey radar, but Iran has a well worn tourist circuit, encompassing draws in the early cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. For all those needing to get off the trodden trail, the state has an abundance of lesser-known destinations that match the breathtaking beauty and historical importance of their more famous counterparts.
Here are five of the greatest:
Concealed in the humid green woods of the northern Gilan province in Iran is Rudkhan Castle, a medieval military fort whose origins predate the growth of Islam in Iran. Few foreign tourists have seen the website, which is a well-known draw among Iranians. Work began on the fortress during the Persian Sassanid age, between A.D. 224 and 651. Followers of the Ismaili sect (the notorious “Assassins” or “Hashashin”) are thought to possess renovated and finished the fort during the late 11th to 12th centuries. The trek up to the citadel, which is situated along two summits of a verdant mountain, takes more than an hour, prompting many locals to call Rudkhan the “Castle of a Thousand Steps.”
As soon as you have made the trek back down, it is worth stopping off for food on the drive back on the principal highway toward Rasht, Gilan province’s capital. Attempt a northern Iranian lunch in the exquisite Pich restaurant (Pich Restaurant, Rasht to Anzali Highway, Khomam Beltway; 98 132 422 7554; Pichrestaurant@yahoo.com.) The “Torsh” kabob — tenderloin marinated in pomegranate spread, walnuts and garlic — is a particularly appetizing regional peculiarity.
Bekhradi Historical House
This 400-year old inn constructed in Persia’s Safavid age features four adorned guest suites that are multiroomed and is the earliest house.
Artistic restoration and the 400’s renovation took restoration specialist and local interior designer Morteza Bekhradi finish and to engineer. Peppered with original art and stained-glass windows from the Safavid and Qajar ages that are following, the house remains between two gardens replete with wildflowers and fruits. Bekhradi designed the house’s furniture using wood from the chenar (plane) trees that line the roads and historical gardens of Isfahan. The designer says he sought to remain authentic to the first house, which he says is considered to have belonged to a Safavid-age aristocrat’s set up. Even the conventional hefty Iranian wooden doors belonged to the first house and were restored using chenar wood. Doors through the remaining historic home, which boasts an intricately adorned conventional “hojreh” room for cooling and easiness, are chenar-wood replicas of Safavid originals.
To date, most guests have found the hostel simply by word of mouth, and local Isfahanis are only just starting to learn about this hidden jewel.
Sonbolestan Alley Bekhradi Historical House, 56,, Ebn-e-Sina St, Shohada Sq, Isfahan; 98 31 34482072
A UNESCO World Heritage site in the northwestern state of Zanjan, Oljaytu at Soltaniyeh’s mausoleum is topped by one of the planet ‘s biggest domes. Constructed 1312 and between 1302 in Soltaniyeh, the Mongols’ Ilkhanid Dynasty’s capital city, the monument is a mausoleum for Il-khan Oljeitu, the eighth ruler in the Ilkhanid. Though much of tiles and the structure’s outdoor coloring have disappeared in the mausoleum through the centuries, the elaborate brickwork, tilework and lively layouts have remained mostly unscathed. The exceptional double-shelled construction of the Soltaniyeh Dome is, in addition, considered to possess affected the layout of the Taj Mahal mausoleum in India.
Interesting factoid: Oljeitu baptized as Nicholas and was born to a Christian mom. Oljeitu converted to Islam and afterwards became Buddhist. Oljeitu meant for the Soltaniyeh Dome to place religious artifacts, but he chose to make the monument his own grave after clerics prohibited him from doing so.
Visits to the dome are worth sidetracking to Zanjan for a lunch of classic Iranian dizi, or lamb and chickpea soup, at Carvansarai Sangi (Zanjan, Iran; 98 241 326 1266), an early pit stop that is been converted into a favorite local eatery.
Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel
About 30 miles outside Kandovan’s troglodyte village lies. Folks here live in cone shaped caverns cut out of volcanic rock in the foot of Mount Sahand, a dormant volcano. Nestled within the 800 year old hamlet, the Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel has been literally hand-carved into the rugged landscape, with every one of the high-end resort’s 16 modernized rooms encompassing a cavern, or “karaan.” Based on local lore, mineral water sourced from Mount Sahand valued throughout Iran for its medicinal properties.
Guests of the resort can take a relaxing soak in this valuable liquid. The mineral water gets pumped in right, if there is a spa tub in the room.
Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel, Kandovan Rd, Kandovan; 98 412 323 0191
Toghrol Tower is a Seljuk-age monument situated in the city of Rey, on the southern outskirts of the capital city in Iran, Tehran. Frequently overlooked by visitors who often abide by the higher-income central and northern regions of the Iranian capital, Rey is the earliest county in Tehran province and is speckled with historic monuments, including a 500-year old Safavid-age bazaar. The tower is believed to function as the mausoleum for Seljuk king Toghrol Beg, who created Rey as an important administrative centre of the Seljuk Dynasty until its destruction by Mongol armies in the early 13th century.
From the tower, it is a fast ride into the center of Tehran’s Armenian quarter to round off the excursion using a cup of coffee and Armenian pastries at the historical Cafe Naderi (Resort Naderi and Cafe, Jomhuri Eslami Avenue, Tehran; 98 21 66 701 872), a haunt frequented for decades by Iran’s finest writers and intellectuals.