Troglodytes & Assassins

Iran

Culture

Get off-the-beaten-track in Northwest Iran

14 days £2,595 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro


NOTE: Iranian visa authorisation code is included for all those booking on this tour.

From lush paddy fields to quaint Azeri villages, western and north-western Iran offer much varied, undiscovered beauty. Visit the stunning Valley of the Assassins and troglodyte homes in Kandovan. Marvel at the remote Babak Castle and take a whirl through the west’s bygone civilisations from Armenian monasteries to the sacred Throne of Solomon.

Iran Visa Information>>

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tabriz’s UNESCO heritage listed bazaar
  • The stunning Armenian ​St. Thaddeus Monastery
  • Climb up to the dramatic Babak castle
  • Troglodyte caves of Kandovan
  • The sacred Throne of Solomon
  • Visit the stunning Soltanieh Dome
  • The stunning valley of the Assassins
  • The remarkable artefacts in Tehran National Museum

Places Visited

Tabriz - Jolfa - Kaleybar - Kandovan - Marageh - Zanjan - Takab - Qazvin - Soltanieh - Zarabad - Tehran

What's Included

Visa authorisation code
Airport pick-up & drop-off
Ground transport
Accommodation
Entrance fees to sites 
Some meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
Drivers and English speaking guides
Itinerary & Map

This itinerary includes some climbs up to some rural castles and involves walking over uneven territory.
As this is quite off the tourist trail the standard of accommodation is quite variable and is very basic in some places.

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Day 1 : Departure

Depart your home country on a flight to Tabriz. On arrival a hotel room will be available to you.

NOTE: If you arrive on this day (as opposed to the early hours of the following day) it is not a problem. The hotel room will be available from 2pm.

Overnight in Tabriz El-Goli Pars Hotel, Tabriz

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Tabriz

Arrive into Tabriz airport where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative. Transfer to your hotel and relax. Meet in the hotel lobby at 11.30am sharp. Spend the rest of the day exploring the city including visits to the Blue Mosque, the Azerbaijan Museum, Arg-e- Alishah and Tabriz Bazaar. Overnight in Tabriz.

Overnight in Tabriz El-Goli Pars Hotel, Tabriz

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Blue Mosque is referred to in world-wide legend as ‘the turquoise of Islam’. Built in 1465, every part of the Mosque was coloured by blue majolica tiles which were engraved with striking calligraphy. The mosque was re-constructed in 1951, having lain in pieces for almost two centuries after Tabriz suffered a devastating earthquake. The restored interior now appears in the original blue style, but only the original entrance portal survived the 1773 earthquake. 

The Azerbaijan Museum displays pre-historic and historic artefacts from the Tabriz area. A number of exhibits are from the Iron Age nearby town of Hasanlu, and a re-working of the famous Ardebil carpet. More unusual are a series of ancient stone handbags, which were status symbols in the 3rd century BC, and the two statues of rams that guard the museum entrance. 

The Arg-e-Alishah was originally built in the 13th century as an elaborate Friday Mosque. In the 19th century it was converted into a fortress. Now a character-filled building which stands about 28 metres high, the Arg was used as a storage house for weapons during the Qajar period and suffered extensive damage following the Iranian revolution. "Arg" means ark in Persian and refers to a citadel or fortress, but the building is still used for Friday prayers. 

Tabriz Bazaar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that seels traditional spice blends, gold, household goods and, most famously, carpets. The bazaar is unusual because of its stunning 15th-century brick vaulting and incredible size of 7 square kilometres. Also of interest are the timchehs, or domed halls, all 22 of which are elaborately decorated. 

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Day 3 : Excursion to St Thaddeus Monastery

A day excursion to visit Payam caravanserai, the pottery-making town of Marand, Bastam citadel, St Thaddeus Monastery and if there is time Aras Dam Lake. Overnight in Jolfa.

Overnight in Tourist Inn, Jolfa

Meal plan: Breakfast

St. Thaddeus Monastery (also known as 'Kara Kilise' or the 'black church' in Azeri) is an Armenian structure located about 20 km south of Maku in the Azerbaijan province of Iran. Strategically located on a mountain ridge and built from local materials, its thick walls demonstrate both its defensive role and spiritual function. The original incarnation of the church is believed to date back to 66 AD when it was built on the site of a previous pagan temple. The current structure dates back, at least in part, to the 14th and 15th centuries, though much of it was  built  more recently.

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Day 4 : Excursion to St Stephanus Armenian Church

A day to visit Chopan Church and caravanserai, St. Stephanus Armenian Church and Asiyab Kharabeh ("Broken Watermill") waterfalls. Overnight in Jolfa.

Overnight in Tourist Inn, Jolfa

Meal plan: Breakfast

St. Stephanus Church is found in the green valley of Darreh Sham, some 15km west of the city of Jolfa. Set in the midst of this stunning scenery, it is one of the oldest and most beautiful Armenian churches in the area, dating to the 10-12 centuries AD. The church takes its name from St. Stephanus, one of the first Christian martyrs. The original structure has survived in its entirety thanks to a thick wall of stone and seven impressive watch towers that helped prevent attacks. The façade of the church shows images of Mary and Jesus, and beautiful stone carvings of angels and apostles. 



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Day 5 : Drive along the borders

Drive along the picturesque border region (with Armenia and Azerbaijan) visiting old baths and military complex at Kordasht, as well as towns of Oshnobeen and Asheghloo. Overnight in Kaleybar.

Overnight in Anza Hotel, Kaleybar

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 6 : Excursion to Babak Castle

Make a full day excursion to Babak Castle. Later visit the tomb of Sheikh Shahaboddin and visit some local villages to meet some nomads (depending on the time of the year). Continue to Tabriz for overnight stay.

Overnight in Tabriz El-Goli Pars Hotel, Tabriz

Meal plan: Breakfast

Babak Castle is a spectacular mountain fort, constructed between the late Sassanian and early Islamic periods. Standing at a height of 2600 metres, Babak Castle was created for Babak Khoramdina, who is renowned by the local Azari people for fighting off the Abbasid Caliphs and Arab invaders for more than 20 years. The castle itself is made from ashlars (the finest, most intricate stone masonry style) held together by mortar, and spans an impressive area of about 5,000 square metres.
NOTE: Babak castle involves a steep climb of about 90 minutes up and about 60 minutes down again.


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Day 7 : Kandovan

Drive via Tabriz to Kandovan. After a visit of the troglodyte homes and landscapes of Kandovan continue to Marageh. Visit the sites of Marageh including its domes, a temple and the old observatory. Overnight in Marageh.

Overnight in Darya Hotel, Marageh

Meal plan: Breakfast

The troglodyte village of Kandovan is found on Mt. Sahand, a volcanic mountain. The local people have lived in the same tradition for centuries: carving their houses from the surrounding rock, relying entirely on the surrounding landscape for the homes they live in.

Marageh is a town in the Azerbaijan region of northwestern Iran. It lies beneath Mount Sahand (3,700m) in a well-watered valley. The town is the prosperous centre of a large fruit-growing area and exports dried fruits. Once a Persian-speaking city, Marageh played a prominent role under several Turkish princes in the Middle Ages and also under the Mongol leader Hülegü (1256–65), whose capital it was. Five tomb towers dating from the 12th to the 14th century are the most notable monuments in the town; the earliest, the Sorkh Tomb (1147), is one of the finest examples of brickwork in Iran. West of the town are traces of an observatory (1259). The local building stone, known as Marāgheh marble, is of mainly yellow, pink, greenish, or milk-white colour, streaked with red and green veins.

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Day 8 : Takab - Takht-e-Soleiman - Zanjan

Drive to Takab and visit Takht-e-Soleiman, the throne of Solomon set in a broad and remote mountain valley. Optional walk up a hill to visit the prison of Solomon. Continue to Zanjan for overnight stay.

Overnight in Grand Hotel Zanjan, Zanjan

Meal plan: Breakfast

Takht-e-Soleiman (‘The Throne of Solomon’) sits in a stunning remote mountain valley and continues to be an enigmatic and sacred place. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of towering stone walls, remains of 38 watch towers, the outlines of palaces, the fire temple and the Anahita temple. The site was first inhabited in Zoroastrian times, when Zoroastrian Magi priests worshiped pagan spirits and guarded the sacred fire of Azar Goshasp. The watch towers, palaces and the two temples were additions made by the Sassanians in the 3rd century AD. The site was considered a spiritual centre of its time and its natural surroundings, including the bottomless deep blue lake at its feet, preserve this feeling, even though the temples have long since crumbled. In the distance, beyond the main ruin complex, is the Zendan-e-Soleiman or the 'Prison of Solomon'. Interestingly, the reference to Solomon was deliberately adopted in the 7th century by the Persians as a disguise designed to fool invading Arabs.

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Day 9 : Zanjan - Soltanieh - Qazvin

Visit the Anthropology Museum (Laundry House) and bazaar in Zanjan before driving to the Soltanieh Dome and Chalabi Oghli Shrine. Continue to Qazvin for overnight.  

Overnight in Marmar Hotel, Qazvin

Meal plan: Breakfast

Located in the town of Soltanieh ('Land of the Sultans’) is the Soltanieh Dome, the founder Uljiatu's mausoleum. The dome was constructed during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Khoda Bandeh, ruler from 1304 to 1330 and the last of Ilkanid royalty. The UNESCO-listed monument is renown for its architectural and artistic diversity. Most dramatic is the 51-metre-high dome, one of the largest in the world, with beatifully-embossed stucco designs and colourful tile work. 

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Day 10 : Qazvin

Day visiting Qazvin's sites including its Jameh mosque, Ali Gapu portal and Caravanserai. Drive to Zarabad. Overnight in homestay in Zarabad.

Overnight in Homestay, Zarabad

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Qazvin was once the capital of Iran and is now home to several tranquil ancient Persian sites. The city was founded in the 3rd century AD by the Sassanian king, Shapur I, who transformed Qazvin into an artistic and archaeological centre for a time. The Shrine of Shahzadeh Hussain, son of the Eighth Imam of Shiites, dates from early Safavid period, and has undergone numerous restorations. The impressive, large blue dome was made in the 16th century, and modern glass mirrors now surround the shrine itself, which appears in a large fountain. At the back is a graveyard filled with martyrs, and, rather bizarrely, the remnants of an old fighter plane.

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Day 11 : Lambesar & Alamut Castles

Day spent visiting the castles of Alamut and Lambesar and walking the countryside of the Valley of the Assassins. Overnight in homestay in Zarabad.

Overnight in Homestay, Zarabad

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The stunning Lambesar Castle stands to the Northeast of Razmian village, dramatically isolated at the top of the valley cliff. Lambesar castle was one of the oldest and most fortified Ismaili forts, but only a bastion and outer wall fragments remain today. 

Alamut Castle towers above the cherry-growing village of Gazor-Khan. The castle was once the strong-hold of Hassan- e-Sabah, popularly referred to according to medieval sources as ‘the Old Man of the Mountains’ . His name was more a mark of power than wisdom since Hassan-e-Sabah was the leader of the Ismailis. Reaching the castle involves a scenic climb of about four hundred steps. Several thousand members of the Ismaili sect live in Northeastern Iran today. 

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Day 12 : Tehran

Drive back to Tehran via Qazvin. In the afternoon the guide is available to take you out to see more of Tehran (depending on arrival time). Ask your guide what you can do as we have not scheduled a specific activity for this afternoon. For those who want, you can rest. Overnight in Tehran.

Overnight in Espinas Persian Gulf Hotel, Tehran

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 13 : Tehran

Full day visiting Tehran including Golestan Palace, the Crown Jewels museum and the National Museum. Visit a local Zurkhaneh (if one is open). Overnight in Tehran.

Overnight in Espinas Persian Gulf Hotel, Tehran

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Golestan Palace Complex is the oldest of all the historic monuments in Tehran, belonging to a group of buildings once enclosed within the historic Arg of the ancient city. The Arg itself was built during the Safavid dynasty between 1524 and 1576. It later became the royal residence of the capital during the Qajar dynasty, first lived in by Agar Mohamed Khan Qajar. The Palace today appears as it did in 1865 when it was rebuilt by Haji Abol-hasan Mimar Navi, but parts of the original structure still remain. As a complex of 17 different palaces built over a time span of 200 years, the Golestan Palace has historically been the place of coronations and important ceremonies. The Tahkt-e-Marmar or marble throne is particularly stunning, and the palaces are adjacent to beautiful gardens.

The National Archaeology Museum of Iran was completed in 1928 by the French architect Andre Godard. It contains ceramics, pottery and other archaeological gems from excavations all over Iran, including Persepolis, Susa and many other significant sites. The exhibition displays are charmingly chaotic, but stuffed with authentic artifacts, including pottery dating back to 6-7th millennium BC. Striking finds include a human-headed capital from Persepolis and some stunning friezes from the Apadana Palace. The museum is an absolute must for anyone interested in archaeology or the history of Iran.

The Crown Jewels Museum houses the largest set of crown jewels in the world. Its displays include splendid crowns and expensively decorated thrones, swords and shields, aigrettes and a vast number of precious gemstones used to make exquisite jewellery. Highlights include the world's largest pink diamond and the famous Peacock Throne. Open Saturday to Tuesday (afternoons only).

A Zurkhaneh, which literally translates as “house of strength”, is a traditional gymnasium where Pahlevani rituals are practised. These rituals combine martial arts, callisthenics, strength training, music and poetry. There are around 500 of the gyms dotted around the country, each with strong ties to its local community. Some of them welcome visitors, though a small contribution may be expected.

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Day 14 : Tehran - Departure

Transfer to Tehran airport for departure flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

Overview of accommodation on this tour

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Tabriz El-Goli Pars Hotel

Tabriz (3 nights)

The Pars Hotel is a large, modern building with spectacular views overlooking Tabriz and El Goli Park, as well as the Sahand and Sabalan Peaks in the distance. Three restaurants within the hotel serve both traditional Iranian and Western food, with the main tower containing a revolving restaurant. Guests can also enjoy the hotel's library and coffee shop, while rooms include luxury amenities such as free Wi-Fi and satellite television. 
 

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Tourist Inn

Jolfa (2 nights)

Jolfa Tourist Inn is the perfect spot for excursions in and around the area. It provides simple yet comfortable facilities, while its location allows for easy access to nearby natural and historical sights, such as St. Stephanus Church.

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Anza Hotel

Kaleybar (1 night)

The Anza hotel is one of the first Western hotels to open in the Arasbaran region. The rooms are spacious and modern. The hotel has free Wi-Fi and an in-house restaurant serving traditional Persian cuisine.

Visit hotel's site
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Darya Hotel

Marageh (1 night)

The Darya Hotel provides basic yet comfortable accommodation, with air-conditioned en suite bedrooms. Located close to Marageh centre, it is well positioned for sightseeing around the town's historic attractions.

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Grand Hotel Zanjan

Zanjan (1 night)

The Grand Hotel Zanjan is nestled in the mountainous region of North West Iran. The hotel's comfortable bedrooms are clean and spacious with facilities such as a mini bar, television, internet and a telephone.

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Marmar Hotel

Qazvin (1 night)

The Marmar Hotel is one of Qazvin's two hotels. The simple but clean rooms include a fridge, satellite television and a phone. Situated on the northern part of the town, it is close to the main historical sites and is perfectly located for exploring the local area.
 

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Homestay

Zarabad (2 nights)

Very basic accommodation in the home of an Iranian family. A chance to enjoy spending time with local people. Facilities are as you would find in a real Iranian rural home.
 

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Espinas Persian Gulf Hotel

Tehran (2 nights)

Espinas Persian Gulf is a modern hotel in the heart of Tehran. Boasting a traditional Persian restaurant and a breakfast bar which commands wonderful views among the treetops of Keshavarz Boulevard. The hotel also has a fitness centre with sauna, steam room and swimming pool for guests use.  All rooms have contemporary furnishes with a range of modern amenities including; a safety deposit box, mini-bar, LCD TV and tea/coffee making facilities. 

Visit hotel's site
Extensions

Mashhad Extensions (3 days)

Extend your trip from Mashhad

Isfahan Extensions (1 days)

Extend your trip from Isfahan

Kerman Extensions (4 days)

Extend your trip from Kerman

Culinary Iran (1-14 days)

Discover sumptuous Persian cuisine & hospitality

Meet Iran's Women

A glimpse into the lives of Iran's women

Tehran Extensions (8 days)

Extend your trip from Tehran

Shiraz Extensions (4 days)

Extend your trip from Shiraz

UNESCO Sites of Iran (25 days)

Discover the unique wonders of Iran

Grand Tour of Iran (21 days)

In-depth tour to get under the skin of modern Iran

Silk Road through Persia (19 days)

Ancient routes of merchants, scholars and smugglers

Axes Apart: Iran & Cuba (16 days)

Delve into two beautiful, friendly & contrasting pariah sites

Glories of Persia (Archaeology tour) (16 days)

Journey into the history and archaeology of ancient Iran

Essential Iran & Armenia (15 days)

Discover ancient traditions, rich culture & sublime landscapes

Classical Iran (14 days)

Discover the history and culture behind modern Iran

Troglodytes & Assassins (14 days)

Get off-the-beaten-track in Northwest Iran

Reviews

Travel the Unknown organised a really excellent tour, very extensive and covering a huge variety of sites. Travelling in a small minibus was very comfortable and gave us enormous freedom to decide where to stop and for how long. As someone who has always organised their own travel, I was worried that this type of organised tour might be constraining, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Diana Darke (Travel Writer) , Glories of Persia, Iran

This was my first experience with Travel the Unknown, and it exceeded my expectations. The itinerary was comprehensive, the local guide exceedingly knowledgeable, and hotels carefully selected for convenience and comfort. Staff were readily accessible to answer pre-trip queries, and the visa application efficiently handled.

Peter Adams , Glories of Persia, Iran

Excellent trip - off the beaten track, as their name implies, but offering a wonderful overview of the country. Very good organisation - everything went smoothly, prompt replies to any queries.

Chris & Sue Fleckney , Troglodytes & Assassins and Classical Iran, Iran

Loved our trip to Iran! Iran is an amazing country with lots of history, culture, good food and the most welcoming people I have ever come across in my travels! We would like to thank Travel The Unknown for a memorable trip of a lifetime!

The Champagne Family (USA) , Tailormade Iran

This was probably the best holiday I have ever had. There was so much to see and do and we received the warmest of welcomes everywhere we went. Every aspect of the trip worked out as planned with no delays or changes.

Nigel Semmens , Tailormade Iran

What an amazing tour. There was just so much to enjoy - the wonderful historical sites, the intriguing layers of culture and politics, the delicious food, the lovely people and stunning landscapes. I'm still processing it all! The trip was really well organised, the hotels a good mixture from 5* to simple. Marina our guide was super-good and I think made the tour such a success. I'm sure everybody is impressed as I was by Persepolis, the necropolis, and wonderful mosques and gardens, but the little things also stay with me, such as the picnics that Marina put together for us, looking out at the landscape as we drove between cities whilst everyone else was asleep, seeing a (very small!) sandstorm, buying freshly made bread and eating it, still hot, as we wandered down a street looking at the shops, having Persian coffee for the first time in a little cafe, watching cars narrowly miss each other at speed all the time, having mountains around wherever we went. I just loved the whole experience. Thanks again, I've got so many lovely memories and when I've saved up again I'm sure I'll be booking my next trip with you!

Anne Sagnia , Classical Iran

It was again a hugely successful and enjoyable time for us - thank you for all your suggestions and organisation. This time, we were more keen to experience slightly different things having seen and enthused about architecture and art in mosques, houses and ancient monuments on our first trip. And this is exactly what we did: our guide went to great lengths to research and source our more off-the-tourist-trail requests, such as: shisha smoking, seeing carpet making and wool dying, tutorial on carpet design etc, rose picking and rose water processing, evening at bridge in Isfahan, music museum and concert, picnic in Isfahan square. All an absolute delight and fascinating. Thanks to you too for suggesting going to Darband in Tehran, which we loved, and the trip to Varzaneh and the desert which was one of the highlights. Once again, thank you for setting up another great tour for us.

Sarah & Adrian Snell , Tailormade Iran

Very moving, life-changing experience. Iran is a fascinating, complex place with a long, dramatic history. The itinerary of three days in each significant city (Shiraz, Yazd, Esfahan) follows the chronology of the empires beautifully. Three days in each place gives you time to relax and explore. The hotels are first class and quite spectacular. A small group gives you the chance to respond to group ideas, and also to go to local restaurants, off the beaten track from the large tour groups.

Madeleine Murray , Classical Iran, Iran

We have recently returned from a wonderful trip to Iran. The size of the group (12) was just right and staying several nights in each place a bonus. An interesting and varied itinerary and our experience of the welcoming people made for a very memorable holiday. We’d be happy to book with Travel the Unknown again.

Margaret & David Baker , Classical Iran, Iran

A thoughtfully organised and fully educative trip into, what was for me, substantially the 'unknown'.

Andrew Sanders , Classical Iran

This is the first time I have journeyed with Travel The Unknown. We had a hitch in the itinerary and we contacted David - he was immediately on the phone to sort it out despite the fact we were in Iran. That is what I call serivce and I was very impressed.

Patrick Lau & Alan Davis , Glories of Persia, Iran

We wanted a holiday with a difference and Travel the Unknown gave us it. From our holiday experience I would recommend not only Iran, but also Travel the Unknown to anyone.

Andrew & Sandra Doyle , Glories of Persia, Iran
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