Tourism in northern Iran, and especially in places near the Caspian Sea, had its heyday before the Islamic Revolution, with its beaches on the Caspian Sea and its various recreational facilities.

Tourism resources and cultural aspects of northern Iran and the shores of the Caspian Sea

Tourism in northern Iran, and especially in places near the Caspian Sea, had its heyday before the Islamic Revolution, with its beaches on the Caspian Sea and its various recreational facilities. Nowadays, this region is often neglected by international tourists in favor of more famous places such as the Imam Square of Isfahan, or the gardens and historical monuments of Shiraz. The shores of the Caspian are therefore almost exclusively visited by Iranian tourists, mainly from Tehran or Mashhad. They come looking for a cooler air and lush landscapes. Note that these panoramas have an important place in the Persian imagination: they are seen as the representation of paradise.

The Iranians often take their holidays there and big means are mobilized to attract them: the roads are constantly redone, and the amusement parks are open all the year.

The geography of the northern regions is their greatest asset: the sea and the mountains are only a few hours away, and the Alborz range gives a lot of charm to the landscape - Iran being a mountainous country where the altitude average exceeds 4,000 meters.

Let's begin our itinerary with Iranian Azerbaijan, the province with the coldest winters in the country, with temperatures sometimes approaching -40 ° C. One of the most visited sites is the Black Church (Qara Kelissa), a 14th century Armenian medieval church. Iran has even requested that it enters UNESCO World Heritage, such as Persepolis and other archaeological treasures. It owes its name to the volcanic stone with which it was built. The Armenians are convinced that one of Jesus' apostles, Saint Jude, was martyred and then buried where the church is now built. Its striped black and white tower is visible from afar. We can then take the road to Talesh, a border town with the Republic of Azerbaijan, whose landscapes are very contrasted, between high forested mountains and shores south-west of the Caspian Sea. We can see many rice fields and citrus orchards. Then comes the province of Gilan, which is well known for tea cultivation but especially rice, pillar of the diet of Iranians. One of its villages, Massouleh, is classified in UNESCO: the architecture on the terrace of its houses is very particular there: each roof serves as courtyard to the neighbors of the top!




Massouleh village

Then we reach Masandaran, home to the highest peak of Alborz and even the entire Middle East: the Damavand rises to 5647 meters. This mountain is a real national symbol and it adorns 10,000 rials and mineral water bottles. It was in the 19th century that the first Europeans climbed it. Today, access to its summit is relatively easy: many roads are planned for this purpose. Its peak is almost always covered with snow, and often adorned with a cloud collar. If the weather is clear, we can even see it from Tehran. This volcano is still active but it has not experienced a major eruption for a long time; nevertheless, fumaroles are sometimes visible. He is very present in the Iranian mythology and literature, and naturally finds a place of choice in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), national epic written by the poet Ferdowsi more than a millennium ago. Skiing during the winter, and its eternal snow offer an ideal playground. This activity has more and more followers in Iran, and the novelty of this sport makes this country one of the cheapest for winter sports. Well-equipped, tourists usually depart from Shemshak. It is nevertheless better to inquire before taking the road: due to heavy snowfall, many routes (including the one that connects Tehran to Mazandaran) are closed in winter. When spring is approaching, we hike and bivouacs are organized, camping is very popular. For entertainment, it is possible to take gondolas to admire a panoramic landscape and avoid the fatigue of climbing mountains. Some mountains are home to natural hot springs, although spa tourism is quite marginal.


Massouleh village


Mount Damavand

The last province bordering the Caspian is Golestan, home to the highest brick tower in the world. This famous Gonbad-e Ghabouss was built by a rich emir of the region in the 11th century.

The shores of the Caspian Sea - which is actually a lake - also offer beautiful landscapes and a great cultural diversity. Indeed, the Caspian is limited by Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan. We can see the influence of Russian in some dialects and many northerners have eyes and light hair. Swimming is a must, but you can also rent a horse to walk along the beaches, or enjoy jet skis and motor boats. The shores of the Caspian are full of vacationers, especially during Norouz; the Iranian New Year, March 21st. This affluence has given coastal cities an important property boom. In addition, with the sanctions that accompanied the change of regime, Iranians can only very difficult to obtain a visa for foreign countries; they remain in Iran, thus compensating for the deficit of European or American tourists. Plus, it's a cheap destination. To meet the demand, the buildings and holiday complexes have bloomed and the towers built do not exceed ten years of age. During a walk, the visitor will be able to note the profusion of real estate agencies. As for hotels, it will be able to find a whole range of prices, from the most classic hotel to the most luxurious.



The Caspian Sea

In terms of food, rice is widely consumed in Iran, especially in the North where it is reputed to be one of the best in the world. The humid climate is very conducive to its cultivation: it is not uncommon for rice fields to be flooded with abundant rains, especially in the spring. Sometimes the land is so soggy that farmers have to travel by boat.

The region also offers a great diversity in terms of fauna and flora. The Caspian also gave its name to the Caspian tiger, whose last specimen was killed in 1970 by a hunter.

The northern part of the Alborz Mountains is densely covered with deciduous trees, which form the largest vegetation zone in the country. Mammals such as the wolf, jackal, wild boar, hyena, black bear and lynx are present in the remote forests of the province of Mazandaran. The most amazing species are certainly the red sheep of Alborz and a variety of ram with white beards and long twisted horns, visible on the borders of Turkmenistan. Winter sees the arrival of Russian water hens, and although their hunt is regulated, it is possible to taste. We are generally surprised by their particular taste halfway between duck and fish. The fish is caught directly in the Caspian Sea or its tributaries, and is still sold on the market. We even make stews. It also prepares ghalieh mahi or ghalieh meygu (shrimp stew). Among the foods, sturgeon ranks first. Despite the fact that these species are threatened, it is still consumed but with moderation: its fishing is prohibited during the breeding season.

If you prefer meat, you can fall back on the famous kababs. In Gilan, it is also customary to make kabab torsh, minced mutton and mixed with onions, pomegranate concentrate, aromatic herbs and nuts.