Rife with political instability and security concerns, the Middle East may not be a top holiday destination for most travelers. Add to that the western media’s affinity for exaggeration and the entire Mideast might even seem like a dangerous place to visit.
To dispel fears and paint a more accurate picture of the region, Australian travel website traveller.com.au has published an article introducing the Middle East’s must-see countries. What follows is an excerpt on Iran.
Iran is fast becoming a hotspot. If you’d heard that even a year ago you’d assume we were referring to conflict – but no. Iran is fast becoming a hotspot for tourism. This is, after all, one of the most misunderstood countries on the planet, a beautiful, culturally rich nation where the genuine, warm greetings you receive become almost overwhelming. Iranians are a lovely people who’ve been the victim of political circumstance, though as relations with the US improve that will hopefully become a thing of the past.
“Iranian people are literally the friendliest people you’ll meet anywhere,” says Anthony Ham, editor of Lonely Planet’s Middle East guide, and an expert on travel in the region.
“The hospitality that I’ve experienced there is quite extraordinary. People are genuinely pleased to see you, and they genuinely go out of their way for you.
“The first time I did the Iran guidebook a few years ago it was actually very difficult to research restaurants, because people kept inviting me into their homes. It was very hard to actually go to a restaurant. Iran is a fabulous country, and at the moment it’s largely safe.
“You’ve got Persepolis, which is an ancient Persian city near Shiraz,” Ham says. “There’s Isfahan, which is quite possibly the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, with its blue-tiled mosques and arched bridges. There’s also Tabriz, with its heritage-listed souk, and Yazd is another beautiful old city.”
If you are wondering whether or not you should visit, the answer is in a word: yes. “Iran is still one of the last frontiers of travel, in the sense that it changes the way you think about the world when you’re there,” Ham says. “You think you know about the Middle East, but then you go to Iran and people are just knocking you over with their hospitality.”
If you had to visit only one site, it would have to be the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square; a world heritage site in Isfahan, which is a meeting place for an entire city; a walled area surrounded by mosques and bazaars, teahouses and restaurants that is abuzz with activity every evening.