Timeless, mythical Persia and the Silk Road… Iran is fascinating and filled with fantasies of every kind. For some time now, the country has been increasingly opening up to tourism. And the capital is certainly worth a stop. Surrounded by mountain chains, bursting with futuristic architecture, seventies buildings and thousand-year-old palaces with secret gardens, a weekend break in Tehran will surprise and amaze you. In this pulsating city, get a feel for its warm and respectful sociability over a cup of tea.
Day 1: get to the heart of Tehran life
The Grand Bazaar in Tehran will give you your first taste of the capital. Before you even arrive there, you already hear the clamour all around, the crowds get bigger by the minute. Step into this unique bazaar with its maze of narrow alleyways, huge domes decorated with Persian mosaics and small fountains of gently lapping water. Amidst the piles of carpets and traditional clothing, you will also come across more functional items such as microwaves and underwear! Just like Iran itself, the bazaar has a multitude of different facets.
Take your time as you go along the alleyways, otherwise you might miss the smallest tea house in the world, Haj Ali Darvish, squeezed in between two other shops. Barely two metres wide, this iconic stall is part and parcel of Iran's heritage. There, its legendary owner will serve up a tasty glass of tchay, Iranian red tea grown on the mountain slopes close to the Caspian Sea. The art of tea has been passed down from generation to generation in this tiny tea house for more than a century. Before you leave, make sure you write a message in the visitors' book which the unforgettable Kazem Mabhutyan leaves out for his customers. The experience will seem from a bygone age.
Revived by this fine brew, visit the former royal mosque next to the bazaar before heading off elsewhere. Step into the courtyard full of sweet-smelling flowers. Then, explore the rooms resplendent with colour, decoration and Persian motifs. The monument, one of the city's most beautiful, seems like a real haven of tranquillity after the hustle and bustle of the bazaar. If you want to discover more of Tehran's gems, take a short walk over to Golestan Palace.
If all this sightseeing has made you hungry, then go to the Chi Café. Decide whether you want to sit inside its friendly wood-clad interior or on the terrace in the tiny alleyway outside. Either way, you can try all manner of mezze, particularly inspired by Lebanese cuisine. Although you would never guess from its name, the café also offers delicious teas flavoured with saffron and cardamom – delightful!
Tehran Grand Bazaar
Main entrance: Panzdah-e Khordad Avenue
Haj Ali Darvish
Teheran Grand Bazaar
+98 21 5581 8672
Former royal mosque
Panzdah-e Khordad Avenue
+98 21 8899 1921
Day 2: head for the hills
Making an early start, set off for a hike in the Alborz Mountains which provide the backdrop to capital. In summer, this area is popular with Iranian families who arrive in their droves to walk among the rocks and vegetation of this stunning place. On the trails, you will pass stalls selling fresh fruits – their pomegranates and watermelons providing a refreshing break. In the small village of Darakeh, stop a while in one of its many tea houses with their tree-shaded terraces overlooking the river for a moment of unforgettable relaxation.
Next stop is Tabi'at Bridge or “Bridge of Nature”. Climbing up this wood and metal footbridge gives you a spectacular panorama over Iran's biggest city. Set between wooded parkland and rugged summits, you can see Tehran's modern buildings looming in the distance.
After such a thrilling day, you deserve a good meal. North of the central train station, you will find one of the city's oldest tea houses and certainly one of its most popular. Tehran locals love Azari and flock there for its quirky atmosphere. Brick walls are covered in multi-coloured tapestries and paintings depicting major scenes from Persian history, an abundance of plants adorn the place… In such a lovely setting, order the dizi, a traditional lamb, potato and chickpea stew. Rumour has it that it is the best in the capital. After your feast, sip a cup of ubiquitous steaming tea gently flavoured with spices so typical of the Iranian capital.
Tabi'at Bridge (Pol-e Tabi'at)
Abbas Abad, 11369, Tehran
+98 912 843 7139
Rah-Ahan Square and Valiasr Avenue
+98 21 5537 6702