THE ADDRESS Magazine Summer 2014 - Page 416

sprawling mass. At the top, kneedeep virgin snow, relatively few people and empty slopes provide almost surreal scenes in contrast to the simmering city below. By dusk, at the base of the mountain range in upscale Zafraniyeh sits a cool crisp oasis in the foothills of the Alborz mountains. Meaning ‘gateway to the mountains’ in Persian, Darband is an idyllic escape from city life and insider’s spot to watch young trendy Tehranis socialise. The mini-Amalfi Coast is fringed by streams and winding pathways bordered by colourful, canopied restaurants carved through the hillside. Groups of Iranians gather to smoke waterpipe (flavoured tobacco) sitting cross-legged on low ‘Takht’ throne seats with cushions and carpet, tucking into kebabs and tea. This is the ‘local’ I had come to Iran to experience. Thus begins the shedding of every preconception I ever had of this eclectic nation. For a sumptuous gourmet meal, Ananda restaurant in Pasdaran is a hidden enclave. The garden courtyard resembles a French countryside retreat and I can’t believe I’m in Iran. Northern histories A 2-day drive via Takab’s sacred UNESCO site ‘Takht e-Soleiman’ leads to Hamadan, the summer capital of the Achaemenid Kings from 5th to 7th century BC. Although the city escapes summer heat, winters are bitterly cold. This is a vital stop for ancient tombs and inscriptions, 416 namely Ganjnameh, engraved on the mountain facade by Darius I and his son, Xerxes. A major world-famous Jewish pilgrimage site lies in the city; tombs of Esther and Mordecai. Knock on the door for the attention of the delightful Rabbi, who shows visitors around. Most striking in Hamadan is the dominant focal Tomb of Avicenna, Iran’s celebrated philosopher, scientist and physician, whose medical prescriptions are still used in medical universities globally. The tall metal structure shoots into the sky against a backdrop of snow-encrusted mountains. Beautifully-preserved rock carvings and inscriptions are a rare delight at Tagh e-Bostan. Sheltered in a grotto, the series of royal hunting scenes depict the Sassanian era around 600AD. The most dramatic portrait is perfectly preserved and shows the ruler mounted on his favourite horse. Riverside retreat in Dezful Dezful city is a welcome retreat from the dry dusty driving. Straddling the river, a bridge dating back to 300BC intersperses ancient water mills, which are a mechanical feat for their time. Dezful itself is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, with discoveries dating from the past 8000 years. I listen, as the natives speak one of the most archaic of Persian dialects. It’s