Travel Blog Travels in the northwestern mountains of Iran

Read here all about our travel experiences in the Northwestern mountains and the Caspian coast of Iran

Travelling in the Northwest of Iran

For the fifth year in a row I am lucky to be able to explore a part of Iran again. There is so much to see in this country! Despite the sometimes negative news, more and more people have visited Iran in recent years. And rightly so; there is so much to see, besides the well-known classics like Isfahan and Shiraz the country has rugged desert landscapes, breathtaking mountainous areas, but above all; an extremely hospitable population. This makes it always a relief to travel in Iran.
This time I opt for a trip through the less known northwest of Iran. From Tabriz I travel through the Iranian provinces of Azerbaijan (yes, Turkish-speaking Azeri also live here) towards the Caspian Sea. I visit the Armenian churches at Jolfa, travel through the Aras river valley, which winds along the border with Nakhichevan, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
I climb the impressive Babak Castle, symbol of Azeri pride and travel further to one of the highest mountains in Iran, the impressive Mt. Sabalan. Here I sleep with Shah Savan nomads.
A rough off road trip brings me by jeep through the green Talesh mountains near the Caspian Sea, in these months the holiday paradise for the Iranians.
I conclude the trip at the beautiful valleys of Shahrud and Alamut, a paradise for hikers and for centuries the domain of the castles of the Assassins.

Here you can see the pictures of this tour
The Aras Valley; from Jolfa to Kaleybar

Iran is more than just the Persian culture. I make a trip through Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan and visit Christian, Armenian churches. And yes, that is all very normal in Iran.
From Tabriz, with its large bazaar, I travel to Jolfa in an hour and a half. This is the border town with the Azeri enclave of Nakhichevan. On the other side of the river I see the villages of this enclave. This region is known for its Armenian churches, once the Armenian empire stretched over large parts of Iran and Eastern Turkey. Some of the best examples of this time can be found here at Jolfa, where some Armenian churches are located. The most famous is the church of St. Stephanos, a classic example of Armenian churches. The kochkors (Armenian crosses) are everywhere incorporated into the wall of the church.

The Aras river has a legendary status. This would be one of the four rivers that flowed out of the Garden of Eden, and is mentioned in the Bible as the river Gihon. Now it is the border river of Iran with Azerbaijan and Armenia. I follow the river, which winds like a green oasis through the rugged mountain landscape. On the way I visit small mountain villages like Ushtebin, where the life of modern times has barely left any traces.

After a few hours we turn south and drive to Kaleybar. Here you will find the impressive Babak castle, which rises high above the landscape. It's a tough climb to the castle, which is a symbol for the proud Azeris in Iran. At the foot of the climb, Shah Savan nomads have put up their tents. Bread is baked and the herds are brought in. The sun goes down, phenomenal.
Meeting the Shah Savan nomads near Mount Sabalan

The greatest ountain in western Iran is Mt. Sabalan, with 4811 meters the second highest mountain in Iran. And one of the easiest to reach the summit. The inactive volcano is surrounded by hot springs and therefore popular with Iranian hikers. In the summer they go to the springs of Ghotorsoei and Shabil, to climb the summit from here. Some start the climb from below, others take a jeep to the mosque at the base camp. Here at about 3600 meters it's another 4 hours of climbing, to the crater lake at the top.

Now, in August, it is busy with climbers and walkers. And nice to see; all ages, young hipsters from Tehran, old men, women with headscarves, families with children, everyone wants to reach the top, a tough climb. Around the mosque are dozens of tents and there is a cozy atmosphere.

Lower, on the slopes of Mt. Sabalan, is the terrain of the Shah Savan nomads. These Turkish-speaking nomads live in winter in villages around Astara near the border with Azerbaijan, but in summer they travel to the cooler slopes of Mt. Sabalan. There they put up their dome-like tents and let sheep and goats graze on the slopes. Of course we are invited to drink tea inside the surprisingly spacious tent.

Via Meshkin Shahr we drive to another slope of M. Sabalan. Also here a lot of hot springs. We sleep in a strange, newly opened 'eco-resort', on a fantastic location. In the area you can make long walks into the valley. Deeper in the valley, we meet a Shah Savan family again, with of course endless cups of tea.

Finally we also sleep on another slope, at the ski resort Alvares. Because of the dilapidated hotels a bit of a depressing environment, but in winter it's probably a lot more fun here.
Road Adventure in the Talesh Mountains

The next adventure waits. We make a rough off road trip through the Talesh mountains. This green mountain range borders the Caspian Sea and the plains behind it. One of the wettest regions of Iran and home to the Talesh nomads, who live here in tunnel-like tents.
We start the trip at the mountain lake of Neor, situated at 2500 meters. We take a few nomads with us who are hitchhiking. Of course this results in an invitation in their tent, situated in a misty environment. We drive through a landscape, where you think you are in Scotland rather than Iran. We cross a pass and then we enter the area of the Talesh nomads. Here too there is plenty of hospitality and beautiful views. Especially around the village of Soubatan, a collection of houses on green hills. Walking through the remote village you imagine yourself in the Wild West. It is therefore only accessible by 4x4. This area is also ideal for long walks. Slowly we descend, the landscape becomes more woody, temperatures rise and finally we reach the Caspian Sea.
The Caspian Coast

Naturally, Iran is not exactly your first beach destination. Yet many Iranian families go out to the Caspian Sea every summer. Get into the water (women with clothes on) or into the mountains behind, preferably with a 'telekabin', a cable car and then enjoy the view. Always bring picnic baskets, and everywhere they sit, Iranian families along the side of the road, on slopes, on the beach, on mountain tops. chat and eat together. And what better place to do that than in the green and wet hills of the Alborz Mountains or on the beach. With a bit of luck it also rains, because rain is a rarity in Iran and people love it (for comparison, in Tehran it was dry, sunny and 43 degrees Celsius, here it rained, degree 25).
I visit the harbour of Anzali, take a telekabin (near Ramsar), walk through the tea gardens of Lahijan and visit the mountain village of Masuleh, one of the most touristy places in Iran. Nowhere else do you see so many souvenir shops and restaurants on a square kilometre.
And of course I take a dip in the Caspian Sea, enjoy an islamic beer on the beach and a real mojito-Iran style (read a green slush-puppy with mint).
Highly recommended; yes. Well, there are no monuments, the Caspian Sea is not the most beautiful sea there is, we are used to green and rain, but here you can see how people spend their holidays themselves, there is a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. You'll get a holiday feeling of your own.
The Castle of El Alamut

One of the most legendary stories in the already rich Iranian history is that of the Assassins. Surrounded by legends, usually exaggerated, the supporters of the ismailite Hasan-e Sabbah, whether or not stoned, would pick up their opponents from their strategically located castles. These castles, in the valleys of Shahrud and Alamut, can still be admired today. The road to them is beautiful, through a rugged mountain landscape, with ochre-coloured rocks, interspersed with green valleys and small mountain villages. You can make long walks, hikes over the Alborz mountains to the Caspian Sea, off road adventures by jeep, or just laze in a mountain village and old men with donkeys see strolling by.