Our trip to Armenia and Northern Iran, 16 of September – 3 of October 2018

Our traveler CECIL WILLIAM LEELAND wrote an article about his trip to Armenia and Iran:

After our very successful and enjoyable trip to Iran in 2016, efficiently arranged and organised by Oriente Viajes of Madrid, we decided to ask the same agency to prepare another visit to Iran this year. Having visited most of the major cities of Iran on our previous trip, we agreed to concentrate this time round on North-West Iran and the Caspian Sea, and to enter the country from Armenia, which shares a frontier with Iran. We flew to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, from Madrid via Moscow, and spent an interesting and intensive five days exploring this former Autonomous Soviet Republic, with our extremely ptionally well-informed and helpful guide Edgar, who astonished us all by his exceptional command of the Spanish language. Despite being a relatively small country with a population of only 3,000,000 inhabitants, half of whom live in the capital, Yerevan, Armenia has a rich historical and cultural heritage and was the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity. It boasts an astonishing number of monasteries and churches, including the Armenian equivalent of the Vatican! Our trip included an excursion to Lake Sevan, an enormous expanse of water at an altitude of 1,900 metres that occupies over 5% of the country’s total land area, a visit to the famous Ararat distillery, which produces one of the world’s finest brandies, and a ride on the world’s longest aerial (cable-car) railway. We could easily and happily have spent more time in Armenia, and will undoubtedly return in the future if we can.

We crossed over into Iran at the frontier post just south of Goris and our first stop was in Tabriz, one of the largest cities in North-West Iran, where we arrived just in time to witness the amazing Ashura ceremony commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson (Imam Hussein). Despite the rather daunting impression created by the proliferation of men and women dressed almost entirely in black, we soon found that the people were very friendly and greeted us everywhere with free offerings of tea and delicious dates. Tabriz had a lot more to offer, including fine mosques and gardens and the fascinating Town Hall museum with its miscellaneous exhibits of old documents, photographs, ancient typewriters, carpets and even a collection of once-fashionable shoes!

A visit to the troglodyte or cave-dwellers’ village of Kandovan, at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, provided another fascinating insight into the varied ethnic and cultural heritage of Iran, and we were able to purchase some magnificent locally-made kilims or rugs that are a speciality of this village.

One of the highlights of our tour of Northern Iran was our visit to the Caspian Sea, where we stayed at an excellent hotel in Anzali overlooking the beach, and were able to watch the impressive sunrise over the sea from our balcony. A short boat trip on the nearby Anzali Lake, with its impressive vegetation and fascinating bird life, was yet another delightful surprise.

We also visited the picturesque historical village of Massouleh and the cities of Ardebil, Zanjan and Sanandaj (with a half-way stop at the village of Takab to visit the outstanding World Heritage site of Takhte Soleiman, or “Throne of Solomon”, originally a Zoroastrian sanctuary), Kermanshah, Hamedan and Qasvin, in each of which we were able to able to admire many beautiful and in some cases unique mosques, mausoleums, museums and, of course, bazaars, which were a never-ending source of interest and enjoyment, before ending our trip in Tehran from where we flew back to Madrid.

In conclusion, this part of Iran, which is less well-known than the more popular areas further south, is definitely well worth visiting and has a lot to offer, both historically and culturally, which made our ten-day visit seem far too short!

Our excellent Spanish-speaking guide, Mokhtar, proved to be a most entertaining, knowledgeable and helpful travelling companion, with a prodigious memory for dates and dynasties and an inexhaustible fund of historical and cultural information, and together with the excellent driver who spared no effort to make our journey as comfortable as possible, he worked very hard to ensure that our second visit to Iran was enjoyable, instructive and satisfying. A big “thank you” to Oriente Viajes for once again organsing this trip for us.

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