Many delights and surprises await the western traveller to Iran, the modern-day Persia. I returned from a two-week lecture tour in early September on a journey that took me from Tehran then south to Isfahan, the cultural jewel of Iran. From there I travelled to Saadat Shahr (a small town in the south) and finally to Shiraz and to the nearby ancient ruined city of Persepolis, built by King Darius from about 520 BC but ransacked by Alexander the Great some two centuries later.
History and culture are important in Iran, and an understanding of the various Persian empires stretching back over 2500 years, including the Qajars throughout the 19th century and the Pahlavis (from 1921 to 1979) and the Islamic Revolution initiated by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 are important to appreciate this highly sophisticated society.
The first point to note is that Iran is a very safe country to visit; there are no terrorist attacks or muggings, and tourists, though relatively few in number, are everywhere welcomed with a genuine warmth and amazing hospitality.
An Iranian meal comprising rice with meat, salad and carafes of doogh served on a floor rug.