The Definitive Silk Road Tour
This thrilling, 2-month Silk Road tour will take you from the buzz of downtown Tbilisi to the to the balmy shores of Iran’s Gulf of Hormuz. Along the way, you will encounter the snow-streaked peaks of Kyrgyzstan’s ‘Heavenly Mountains’, the arid deserts of Dasht-e-Lut and the breath-taking cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.
With everything from high-altitude to high-culture, this bespoke iteniary was designed to stretch the imagination.
Visit Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia
You’ll wander amongst the turquoise domes of legendary Silk Road cities, explore medieval Caravanserais, sleep in yurts under star-spangled skies and sip a drink by azure mountain lakes. You’ll break bread with nomads, stand on mountaintops with Kyrgyz eagle hunters, watch master boat builders at work and experience the smells, sights and flavours of some of the world’s best bazaars. This Silk Road tour will give you the freedom to swim in high-altitude lakes, and hike in the most breath-taking terrain possible.
Inspired by Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure
This classic Silk Road tour was inspired by the work of our director Ants, who produced Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure. While travelling with the crew, she forged friendships with locals and unravelled the beauty of the Silk Road. The months of painstaking research that Ants undertook to produce the show have informed this tour, from where we will eat to which caravanserai we visit.
|DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION||The trip will depart from Dushanbe International Airport and end at Tbilisi International Airport|
|DEPARTURE TIME||Please ensure you arrive in good time for our scheduled departure from Dushanbe|
- All accommodation
- Meals as required
- Local airport transfers
- All land travel costs (high-speed train, cars)
- All museum entrance costs
- A number of bespoke, exclusive experiences
- A professional local guiding team with English speaking local guides.
- Fresh filtered water + a Water 2 Go water filtration bottle, in order to reduce plastic waste
- Professional route planning and logistics, backed by risk assessments, emergency procedures and satellite communications (where necessary).We don’t take risks lightly and we plan for all eventualities, believing it is better to have prepared and not require a procedure than not to plan at all.
- International Flights – we can book these on your behalf under our ATOL Licence
- Guide gratuities
- Personal spending money for alcohol or souvenirs
- Your personal travel insurance including medi-evac
- Your Visas for Tajikistan, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. We can arrange these for you if you’d prefer
A Team of Silk Road Itinerary Specialists
However you want to see this fascinating part of the world, we can craft a Silk Road tour for you that satisfies your bucket list. This trip is just one example of the bespoke adventures that we put together for our guests. Whether you want to follow a carbon copy, introduce a few more countries or just visit Uzbekistan, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
We develop these itineraries by starting with a telephone call with you. We’ll have a good chat, understand what you like (and don’t like), what sort of things you would like to see, the type of accommodation you would prefer and a whole lot more besides. Then, we’ll develop an itinerary that matches your expectations and will revise it repeatedly until you are happy, at which point we will price it and confirm your bookings with a deposit.
You’ll have direct contact with a member of the team throughout and will be looked-after as if you were family.
Start Point: Home Destination: Dushanbe, Tajikistan Travel: Flight
You’ll fly into Dushanbe, the capital of tiny Tajikistan. This is often via Istanbul, Almaty or Dubai. Many flight to Dushanbe arrive at the rather ungodly hour of 3.30 a.m. the next morning.
Arrival in Tajikistan
Start Point: Dushanbe Destination: Dushanbe
Upon arrival at 3.30am and exiting the arrivals scrum via the CIP system to save hassles, it will take your driver only 5 minutes to whisk you to your 5* hotel. This is home from home for us when in Dushanbe. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy more rustic accommodation later in this trip, so enjoy the pool, great food and central location today.
We won’t provide a guide today, as you’ll probably want to relax into the trip and besides, Dushanbe is a compact and very safe city to wander around. The hotel is on the main street bisecting the city and you can easily walk, hop on a passing trolley-bus or take a $2 taxi anywhere.
To the Afghan border
Start Point: Dushanbe Destination: Kalai Khumb Travel: 4WD
After breakfast your English-speaking local driver will collect you in a Toyota Landcruiser. Believe us when we say that you’ll appreciate the suspension on these vehicles and also not sharing your car with up to seven others, as the locals do. Your driver will probably speak Tajik, Russian, Bartangi, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and possibly Shugnani fluently, so we can let him off with less-than-perfect English.
The road is mostly excellent, and you’ll see a huge range of landscapes, never mind the huge mountains that start to build around you. Afghanistan will appear on your right and be a constant companion for days to come. Unless you decide you want to go to Afghanistan, the plan is to keep the river (the Amu Darya, or Oxus of ancient times) to your right. If it appears on your left, something has gone wrong…Tonight will be spent at a local guest house in the border town of Kala I Khumb. This has comfy beds, hot showers and a western loo.
South, ever South
Start Point: Kalai Khumb Destination: Khorog Travel: 4WD
You’ve about 5 hours to drive today, so we’d suggest an early-ish start to get up to the ruins of the Kala, or fortress, known as Karon city, before continuing on the rough road towards Khorog. The ancient site of the city was, according to many archaeologists, the birthplace of polo and has been described as a potential Machu Picchu of Central Asia. Whatever you think, the views are pretty good and the artefacts that have been found there are very interesting indeed.
The road continues for 150 km, following the Amu Darya – or Pyanj, as this section is called – to the regional capital of Khorog. This will one day be an adventure travel capital of the world, but right now it is merely dreaming…. You’ll stay in a comfortable hotel in the centre.
There is excellent curry to be had here at the only Indian restaurant for many hundreds of miles!
Into the Wakhan
Start Point: Khorog Destination: Yamchun Travel: 4WD
After breakfast at the hotel – maybe also a visit to the bazaar – and with no particular rush, you’ll hit the road south. There is a chance to stop at a hot spring here – very famous and highly sought for its properties supposedly curing skin ailments. You’ll get your first glimpse of the Hindu Kush range today, and you’ll bear left (east) into the start of the Wakhan Valley. Lunch will be in the town of Ishkashim, where you can buy Afghan hats and shawls if you like.
The homestay tonight is basic, and at just shy of 3,000 m above sea level. But what it lacks in star ratings is more than made up for in location. With the best hot spring in Central Asia a few metres up the hill from your Guest House, you’ll be toasty warm when you settle for a cool beer or a green tea, overlooking the magnificent Hindu Kush range. From the outdoor sitting area – or tapchan – you are only 30 km from Pakistan, and can see across the mountains of both Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Start Point: Yamchun Destination: Langar Travel: 4WD
Since there’s so much to see here in the Wakhan, there is no need to rush anywhere today. Maybe a warm bath in the springs to start your day, and then a stroll to one of our absolute favourite places in the world – Yamchun Fortress.
Any day is improved by a view like that, but after this you can go and see a fascinating little ethological museum and follow it with a short hike up to a ruined Buddhist stupa (this was a Buddhist area, alongside Zoroastrianism, before the spread of Islam) with a phenomenal view of the Wakhan Valley where children will try to sell you rubies they’ve dug out of the hillsides. You can extend this hike to the Buddhist caves – they are in the cliffs near the stupa. You’ll end today staying at a wonderful homestay.
Enjoy comfy beds, duvets, hot showers, the best home cooking and the chance to relax in their orchard. This is what travel here is all about.
Up and away
Start Point: Langar Destination: Bash Gumbez Travel: 4WD
Today you head up and over the spectacular 4300 m Khargush Pass.
After the Pass, we are going to take you off into the heart of the Pamir National Park to a warm spring by the shore of Yashilkul Lake. After the spring you can try a dip in the lake -this is cold water swimming par excellence, surrounded by the Alichur and South Alichur ranges – snow leopard territory. You will see giant golden marmots and may be lucky enough to spot a wolf in the distance.
After a swim and a warm soak, you’ll head back to the main road for an hour or so, through the blisteringly poor settlement of Alichur itself. There are some ‘shops’ here if you need to top up on biscuits or Snickers! Tonight, you’ll be hosted at a yurt camp at Bash Gumbez – around 3600 m above sea level. Often you’ll see tiny yak calves cavorting all over the place.
You’ll have a toasty-warm yurt to yourself and will have food made for you by these humble but incredibly welcoming ethnic Kyrgyz people. Expect basic facilities, lots of lovely yak butter and yoghurt and a real experience of life lived in one of the coldest places in the world (in winter, it can get as low as -68C° down the road from here). The stars here can be about as clear as you’ll find anywhere in the world – a true delight that makes you realise why the Soviets built observatories up here.
The Murghab Plateau
Start Point: Bash Gumbez Destination: Murghab Travel: 4WD
Waking up in the middle of the high-altitude plateau, you can accompany the herders rounding up or letting their yaks loose, or just stroll up to the nearest peak. It’ll look like a short walk, but believe us, at 5,000+ metres, you’ll feel every step. Then you’ll have the option to visit meteor craters and abandoned Soviet observatories and take a hike to overlook the Great Pamir range in China – just over the border from here. The imposing massifs of Kongur and Mustagh Ata rule the eastern horizon. This is one of the most remote places in the world and you’ll see the landscape where the Great Game between Imperial Russia and Great Britain was played out a century and more ago.
Tonight, you’ll stay with a divine family in their very comfortable guest house in the frontier town of Murghab. Rest well as tomorrow, you will enter Kyrgyzstan.
Start Point: Murghab Destination: Osh Travel: 4WD
It’ll be an early start today as you’ll be climbing out of Murghab over the mighty Ak Baital pass – 4,695 metres – and past the cerulean blue expanse of Karakol Lake where the World’s highest regatta is held. From here you’ll head over another pass where the Tajikistan border formalities take place, and down the other side to where you’ll enter Kyrgyzstan and meet your new Kyrgyz driver.
The landscape changes instantly – green plains, horses and yurts everywhere. Look back and you’ll see the great white wall you’ve just come through. Speeding north on good roads, you’ll twist and turn through glorious scenery to the ancient city of Osh – the second city of Kyrgyzstan. You’ll arrive around sunset and check into your hotel.
The hotel is a hangover from the Soviet days and was an Intourist hotel. We love this old dinosaur, and with half-decent rooms and a good location (with pool!), it is a place with real character. There are ‘smarter’hotels but then lack character and tend to smell of cigarettes, so this is a favourite of ours. We’ll let you know a great place for supper and you’ll get good food, wine and beer that’ll make your heart skip after the more frugal food of the High Pamirs.
Start Point: Osh Destination: Osh
Don’t bother with the breakfast at the hotel – it is best described as ‘character-building’…. Instead, take a stroll and find somewhere downtown for superb coffee and eats. This city is ancient and has a teeming bazaar to explore. It also has Suleiman Too – a mountain in the middle of the city where Emperor Babur got enlightened to go and found the Mughal Empire that had such an influence on the Indian subcontinent.
You’ve all day to explore, relax and recharge in Osh.
Start Point: Osh Destination: Chychkan Travel: 4WD
A relatively early start today, but no real rush as you are heading just a couple of hundred km’s to Lake Toktogul. The route is very interesting as it follows the Naryn River Valley, and gets pretty spectacular the nearer to Toktogul you get.
At Chychkan you’ll stay in a place with cabins in the woods and lovely rushing clear mountain streams. Plenty of time to get out into the forests for a hike for as long as you’d like here.
Into the green beyond
Start Point: Chychkan Destination: Son Kul Travel: 4WD, foot, horse - if you like
North into a spectacular mountain scape today, as you cross the Ala Bel pass. You’ll then head east through the verdant Suusamyr valley towards Son Kul. This is the plan for this afternoon. If the season is late and Son Kul hasn’t got accommodation, then we’ll have a back-up plan ready to go (staying at Khochkor). But the idea is to stay at the yurt camps at Son Kul. You can go for walks, ride horses, swim in what will be pretty chilly water, or just relax and enjoy the wide-open spaces of this special place.
Start Point: Son Kul Destination: Bokonbaevo Travel: 4WD
Rolling down from the high plateaus, you’ll arrive at the lakeshore of Issyk-Kul, the second largest mountain lake in the world. Here, you’ll be staying at one of our favourite places,a shore-side yurt camp. You are two weeks into your trip and this is the perfect place for a rest stop to ruminate over all you’ve seen so far!
You’ll be here tonight and tomorrow in a warm and comfortable yurt near the shore of the lake. It is a spectacular place.
Start Point: Bokonbaevo Destination: Bokonbaevo Travel: 4WD, foot and optional horse
Relaxation day. We’ll organise for you to go out and visit an eagle-hunting family, stroll into the hills with them and hopefully watch them at their craft. This is a special day with wonderful people, spectacular views over Issyk Kul and tired legs when you get back. Oh, and possibly some vodka, too…
Likewise, there is good hiking in the hills just behind the camp, a series of natural rock formations known as the Fairy Canyon and plenty of lakeside space to enjoy. You’ll be at the yurt camp again tonight
To the capital
Start Point: Bokonbaevo Destination: Bishkek Travel: 4WD
Leaving the wilds behind you, today you’ll take the old Silk Road route towards the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. It’s worth making a stop on the way at the Burana Tower – your first real encounter with the Silk Road architecture that permeated the region, and of which you’ll see so much more in Uzbekistan.
You’ll arrive in Bishkek in the afternoon and will be here tonight and tomorrow night, so plenty of time to explore one of our favourite capital cities. We can arrange for a variety of different hotels, but it’s worth going for something a little more upmarket here as the hotels are not exorbitant and food/drink costs next to nothing. Our favourite is central and has a superb pool and very comfy beds – just the ticket! We can suggest an absolutely superb Georgian restaurant here, with delicious food and good wines. Bishkek also has a good live music scene and is stuffed with great micro-breweries and craft beer bars that will welcome you in as old friends.
Start Point: Bishkek Destination: Bishkek
You have all day to explore this interesting city. Backed in the south by snow-capped mountains, it is a very green urban space of tree-lined avenues, café culture, museums and bazaars. It’s also a very progressive place and a centre for medical services to Central Asia. Where else can you find street-corner MRI and CAT scanning clinics…?
You can take in the main sites (Ala-Too Square, the Lenin statue, the Changing of the Guard, National Museum of Fine Arts) and do some serious shopping at Osh Bazaar, home of the world’s finest felt slippers! Or you can spend time simply having a massage in one of the city’s excellent spas.
There are plenty of options for food here, so you won’t be going hungry, and just worth noting too, that excellent vodka is about $1 per bottle
Start Point: Bishkek Destination: Tashkent Travel: 2 hour flight
You’ll hop between two capital cities today as you leave Kyrgyzstan behind for country number 3, Uzbekistan. Depending on schedules, this might be a direct flight or via Astana in Kazakhstan. All very easy in any event.
You’ll arrive in Central Asia’s biggest capital city in the afternoon or early evening, and we’ll suggest a central hotel, simple but comfortable. There are some great restaurants here so we can advise you if you’d like a recommendation.
Start Point: Tashkent Destination: Tashkent
This is a worthwhile city to explore, so you’ve a whole day here to soak in the sights. We’ll organise a local guide for the whole day, but you can decide to do your own thing whenever you like. While it isn’t a city like other Silk Road splendours you’ll see, Tashkent is an ancient place steeped in history. Sadly, it was utterly flattened by an earthquake in 1966. The Soviet rulers at the time decided this was an opportunity to build a model city and immense wealth was lavished on the construction. And, in a rare example of success, the Soviet planners actually did a good job and the city is very pleasant. Many museums and galleries are here – some are excellent. But our favourite feature is underground…
We are talking about the metro! It is an incredible construction, with each station having its own design theme, crystal chandeliers and marble platforms. It is well worth the visit. A particular gem is the Kosmonatavlar station, themed after space exploration – just brilliant.
Another restful night in Tashkent tonight before a feast of minarets and madrassahs starts tomorrow.
The Golden Road to Samarkand
Start Point: Tashkent Destination: Samarkand Travel: Train, 2 hours
You’ll leave Tashkent by train this morning, taking just two hours by ultra-efficient high-speed rail to the city of Samarkand. Both Samarkand and Bukhara are the high-tide marks of Islamic architecture, and they will stun you with their beauty. You can leave your bags at your lovely boutique hotel and wander the Registan square to catch the sunset on your own terms.
Start Point: Samarkand Destination: Samarkand Travel: On foot or local driver
A monstrous and possibly world-beating breakfast will await you in the 100-year-old main room of this old Jewish Merchant’s house. You’ll be spoilt rotten.
After that, your local guide will meet you to show you the sights and help you to get the most from this fabulous city. The sites are never that far apart, but there is a lot to see.
Another night at the same hotel this evening and another massive breakfast tomorrow will set you up well for the next stage of your journey.
Start Point: Samarkand Destination: Bukhara Travel: Train, 3 hours.
Another brief train hop today at around 10.30am, and you’ll arrive in Bukhara by around noon. Bukhara was one of the two great Khanates, or kingdoms of this region, and the architectural influence from here spread across the Islamic world – you’ll recognise squinches, porticoes and arches across Iran and the Caucasus too. Personally, we love Bukhara because it is so compact. Samarkand is gorgeous but more spread out. You’ll stay at a central boutique hotel. This is a great city to stroll through and again, you’ll be here for sunset. Delightful.
Sunset strolls are the order of the day here, and a relaxing meal with a beer overlooking the ancient Lyabi Haus pool is a pleasant way to while away some evening hours.
Start Point: Bukhara Destination: Bukhara Travel: On foot
Take time to enjoy this place. We will organise a guide for you all day today, so again, you can let them take you places or just decide when you want to explore on your own. This is a spectacular place and there is a huge amount to see.
You can see metalworkers, woodcarvers and pottery makers doing their things here – your guide will show you the way.
We can suggest a really good roof terrace restaurant here too, so these days in Bukhara should leave you feeling culturally fulfilled and deeply refreshed. Tonight is at the same hotel again
Start Point: Bukhara Destination: Tashkent Travel: Train, 5 hours
You’ll have this morning to soak up more of Bukhara before your 3.40pm train to Tashkent, arriving into Tashkent at just before 8pm. Your hotel will be the same as before
Hop to Istanbul
Start Point: Tashkent Destination: Istanbul Travel: Flight, 4 hours
There are normally 2 flights per day, one at 2am and the other at 9am. The latter sounds infinitely preferable!
A transfer to the airport will get you there for 7am, and your flight will arrive in Istanbul at around midday. A short transfer into the city to a hotel in Galata district will leave you time to go and enjoy some fabulous street food (recommended: balik ekmek!) in the Eminonu district by the Bosporous, and why not dip into the spice bazaar just over the bridge in Sultanahmet district – all easy walking distance in this ancient and very cool city.
Start Point: Istanbul Destination: Shiraz Travel: Flight, 3.5 hours
The Turkish Airlines flight to Shiraz doesn’t leave until 8.50pm this evening, so you won’t need to get to the airport until 6.30pm-ish. This gives you time to relax, explore the best parts of Istanbul, eat wonderful food, go for a hammam – do with the city as you please.
Home of Hafez
Start Point: Shiraz Destination: Shiraz Travel: On Foot
It’s an early morning arrival in Shiraz. British, American or Canadian passport holders will need a guide in Iran, and we are going to give you a guide who is also a driver so you’ve got maximum flexibility and the greatest immersion into this misunderstood place. You’ll transfer to your hotel in Shiraz – home for today, tomorrow and the following night. You’ll be staying in a 5* hotel in the city centre while you are here.
Today is a day for relaxed meandering as you get to know the city. Your guide will show you the bazaar and find you some great places to begin your exploration of Persian cuisine.
Start Point: Shiraz Destination: Shiraz Travel: On Foot
You’ve all day to soak up the sights of Shiraz, of which there are plenty.
Key among the sites to visit are the Nasir-ol-Molk (Pink Mosque), the Vakil bazaar and mosque, the Zand-era citadel, the Quran gate, Qavam House and Gardens, Eram Gardens, Shiraz carpets and so much more.
You’ll have the option to try local food specialities such as faloodeh, torshi and karam polo, followed by dinner in a local home. You’ll then repair to your hotel before an early start tomorrow.
Start Point: Shiraz Destination: Shiraz Travel: Saloon Car
Today will be an early start! The reason? Persepolis – as with any ancient and popular site – is best seen without hordes of stampeding click-happy groups! So, your driver will take you 60 km to Persepolis bright and early so you can enjoy just a fraction more privacy in this most special of places.
You’ll hopefully enjoy the chance to marvel at the mind-boggling scale of the place and imagine how other travellers – including Alexander the Great, who also plundered it – must have felt on first approaching the giant flat terrace with its sky-scraping columns.
After Persepolis you’ll visit the ancient Naqsh-e-Rostam necropolis about 20 minutes from Persepolis, before heading to the Eram Gardens for an afternoon visit. This wonderful house and gardens were laid out between the 12th and 14th centuries and were known as ‘the Emperor’s Gardens, or Bagh e Shah.
You’ll have a bite of lunch near the gardens, and then return to Shiraz for supper on your last night in Shiraz.
The Persian Gulf
Start Point: Shiraz Destination: Bushehr Travel: Saloon car
Today you’ll head for the coast to Bushehr. With at least five thousand years of documented history behind it, this was – and to a certain extent, still is – a major trading port for Iran, although it has fallen into a less important role after the completion of deep-water ports to the north and south. The city has some unique architecture and was heavily influenced by Portuguese style, still evident in many older buildings. The old city has a tumble-down but very warm feel to it, and you’ll find plenty of winding alleyways and balconies that make superb photos.
The old fishing port is also an interesting place to spend time watching the world at work. You’ll spend this evening at a little gem of a guest house and you’ll eat supper here.
Start Point: Bushehr Destination: Bandar e Siraf Travel: Saloon Car
Driving south down the coast, taking your time to stop where you like, you’ll head to the ancient Silk Road port town of Bandar-e-Siraf. This was a major port of antiquity, and recent archaeological finds have shown plenty of Gujarati pottery, wealthy merchant houses and the associated infrastructure of a busy maritime town. Very few tourists make it down here, and you’ll be unlikely to see many while you’re there. You’ll spend tonight at a local hotel, close to the beach. Sunset should be spectacular…
Start Point: Bandar e Siraf Destination: Bandar e Kong Travel: Saloon Car
South again on your exploration of the Persian Gulf coast. You’ll head for Bandar-e-Kong, where you’ll spend the night at a traditional (and lovely!) guest house near the beach. This town has an Afro-Indian influence and a particular culture of its own as a result.
Here, you’ll experience highly-spiced foods and have the chance to see traditional wooden ‘lenj’ boats being made in the shipyard. The skills are dying out, so this is a rare opportunity to see the craft now.
Start Point: Bandar e Kong Destination: Qeshm Travel: Saloon Car, local boat
You are heading for some relaxation for a few days, on and around the island of Qeshm. On arriving at the mainland town of Bandar Abbas, you’ll go with your car and driver over to Qeshm by boat – arriving early evening. You’ll be based at a local guest house, near Sarbili (and other) beaches in Tabl village.
Start Point: Qeshm Destination: Qeshm
Relax or explore – nowhere is far away on this island, and you can easily also visit the traditional fishing town of Laft, or take a trip to Hengam Island, or just relax under the date palms
Start Point: Qeshm Destination: Qeshm Travel: Boat via Hormuz
Day trip over to Hormuz Island (1 hour by foot ferry). Fortresses, mangroves, cliffs, beaches and gin-clear blue waters… Today will be an interesting excursion to the ‘rainbow island’. You’ll use a rickshaw for your transport and along with your guide, you’ll be able to explore at will, as long as you are back for the afternoon ferry to Qeshm…
Start Point: Qeshm Destination: Bam Travel: Saloon Car
After all that relaxation, you’ll be ready for the next leg. This is an early start for the ferry back to Bandar Abbas. Then onto the road for the trip to Bam – a 4 or 5-hour journey with a lunch stop en route. You are aiming to arrive in Bam this afternoon – once one of the jewels in the crown of Iran’s cultural heritage. An ancient city with roots stretching back at least 2,500 years and containing the world’s largest adobe building, the city was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.
It has been painstakingly and sympathetically restored, and whilst you cannot replace what was lost, the city is still worth the trip as the contrast between the newly reconstructed parts and the rubble of the historic parts is fascinating. You’ll have time to wander the streets and sites a little before retiring to the Asia Kadeh guest house for the evening.
If you think you’d rather, you can make the short car journey to Arg e Rayen, another citadel city which avoided the fate of its sister at Bam.
The desert sunset and sunrise are pretty special in Bam….
Start Point: Bam Destination: Kerman Travel: Saloon Car
A short drive to Kerman this morning means no particular hurry! Kerman is the main city of south-eastern Iran. This place has a lot of history to offer, and is a surprisingly large city!
Sites include the Shah Nematollah Vali Shrine, the delightful Shazdeh Garden from the late Qajar period, the Ganjali Khan complex and baths from the Safavid era, the 2nd century Jabalieh dome, a super bazaar (one of the oldest trading centres in Iran) and much more besides. You’ll have this afternoon and tomorrow here to get the best from the city whilst stay at a great guest house.
Start Point: Kerman Destination: Kerman
You’ve today to relax, and enjoy exploring the sites, sights, smells and sounds of this “Desert City”. You’ll once again stay at your welcoming Guest House.
Start Point: Kerman Destination: Meymand Travel: Saloon Car
Today you’ll drive just over an hour to Meymand, a 12,000-year-old cave village near Kerman. You’ll have time to explore this ancient place with its totally unique architecture, and stay this evening at a local house. You’ll experience first-hand the generous hospitality of the Iranian people, and probably have to politely refuse yet more food being brought before you! You wanted to meet local people, and this is a superb opportunity. There are hikes to be done around Meymand too, in case you feel like stretching your legs a little.
Start Point: Meymand Destination: Yazd Travel: Saloon Car
Drive north for about 4 hours to the fantastic desert city of Yazd, where you will stay 2 nights in a 4* hotel. There is much to see in Yazd – the first Iranian city to have a historic centre designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. You’ll walk to tour the historic Fahadan neighbourhood including Amir Chamagh square, and water museum. In the evening, you can visit the Zuhrkhane “House of Strength” – a place where Zoroastrian ritual, spiritual practice and wrestling meet.
Start Point: Yazd Destination: Yazd Travel: On Foot
This morning you’ll visit some key Zoroastrian sites in Yazd, including the Towers of Silence and Fire Temple, and you’ll visit the Grand Bazaar. Here you’ll find Termeh textiles. You mightn’t have heard of them but have most likely seen a paisley pattern, so you’ve looked upon one of the motifs often employed in termeh textiles – known here as a ‘botteh’. These textiles are as intricately woven as they are linked with the Silk Road itself, being printed on silk and wool mix cloth for hundreds of years. You’ll have time for baklava tasting and tea, visit the Dowlat Abad gardens and spend your evening once again at your hotel.
Start Point: Yazd Destination: Esfahan Travel: Saloon Car
A 4-hour drive north and west from Yazd will bring you to the fabled city of Esfahan. A jewel in the Silk Road crown of Iran, the architecture here will be somewhat familiar after the days spent in Uzbekistan. You are here for today and all day tomorrow in a comfortable hotel which oozes a Shah-era level of charm.
This afternoon, you can begin to explore Isfahan on a relaxed walking tour. Suggested sights for this afternoon will be the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan, with its local artisans and handicrafts, and Vank Armenian Cathedral. This evening, you’ll have dinner in the Jofla Armenian district plus an evening stroll on one of the iconic bridges of Isfahan and on to Chahar Bagh Boulevard. Delightful.
Half the World
Start Point: Esfahan Destination: Esfahan Travel: On Foot
Today you have a full day to explore this incredible and very beautiful Silk Road city, including Naqsh-e Jahan Square, the Shah Mosque, Sheikh Mosque and Ali Qapu Palace. You’ll have time to meet some carpet sellers too for another authentic Silk Road experience and take lunch either in a traditional place in the bazaar, or a new tea house such as Atiq O Dole – depending on time! Following this, you’ll visit Hasht Behasht and Chehul Sotoun pavilions built in the 17th century – incredible parts of Isfahan not always on every time-pressured itinerary. Another relaxing night in your hotel will leave a lasting impression of this great city, sometimes known to its inhabitants as “half the world”. Meals
Into the Desert
Start Point: Esfahan Destination: Matinabad Travel: Saloon Car Notes: Stop in Kashan
You’ll drive up the northern highway to the city of Kashan today, home to rose oil, scent and rosewater production for centuries.
A stroll here around the Fin Gardens will probably give you just enough culture to want to escape into the wilds for a couple of days. Lucky, as this is what we’ve planned for you….You’ll hit the road again for an hour or so, aiming to arrive in the afternoon at Matinabad Eco Camp.
We’d say camp was the wrong word for this place. You’ll have a comfortable room and great food, plus good coffee and chats with Iranian tourists tonight, in preparation for your departure into the desert tomorrow.
Adventure in the desert
Start Point: Matinabad Destination: Dasht e Kavir Desert Travel: 4WD
A well-kitted team of two 4x4s will replace your own driver and car, and will take you out into the desert tonight. These local tribal people will look after you like family. A full kitchen will come along, with tables and chairs to eat comfortably.
The drivers never travel in single cars in case of one needing help from another, and out here, it’s often the lady drivers who are in charge of the driving teams – not something you normally expect in Iran. You are going to be camping somewhere where all you’ll be able to see is sand… At night, the stars are incredible and the silence is as golden as the sands.
This is an evening of chatting around the fire, relaxing and enjoying a back-to-nature experience. That said, the tents are comfortable and everything you need will be provided and set up for you.
Start Point: Desert Destination: Tehran Travel: 4WD and Saloon Car
Your team will decamp the tents whilst one of them guides you across the dunes for an hour or so of hiking. The cars will then collect you and drive you out of the Dasht-e-Kavir desert to a meeting point where your own driver pick you up again. After a lunch stop here, you’ll head north to Iran’s capital, Tehran. Tehran has some of the slowest-moving traffic anywhere in the world. Your driver will try to ensure that you have the best timing to get through as smoothly as you can. With that said, we aren’t going to predict arrival time at your hotel in the centre of the metropolis. You can eat there or somewhere locally this evening
Start Point: Tehran Destination: Tehran Travel: Saloon Car
There is arguably a lot to see in Tehran, but without spending a couple of days here (needed because of travel times across the city), we think it is better to cherry-pick the best bits in the northern part of the city and to have a more relaxed time. We’d suggest your day in Tehran begins with a visit to the Niavaran Palace Complex followed by the Sa’ad Abad Palace and Tajrish Bazaar in the afternoon. The bazaar is wonderful, and anything but a tourist experience. You’ll have time for supper at the Tabiat Nature Bridge area – some lovely restaurants with outdoor dining, nestled into the foothills of the Alborz Mountains where they dissolve into the city suburbs.
Your flight to Baku will depart at another ungodly hour – 1.20 a.m. tomorrow morning, so we will need to get you out to the airport by 11 p.m. You’ll be departing via the CIP terminal instead of the main terminal at Imam Khomeini International Airport. Your guide will bid you farewell here.
Start Point: Tehran Destination: Baku Travel: 1.5 hour Flight
Your short flight to the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, will arrive at about 3.20 a.m, so pretty much in the small hours of the morning. But Azerbaijan Airways are very good and you can then easily get a taxi to your hotel in the old city.
Your lovely boutique hotel will be expecting you, and you can get a few hours of sleep after the horrid timings of the flight from Tehran last night. Today, you’ll probably enjoy relaxing and having a glug of wine or a G&T after the ‘privations’ of Iran, and you can easily wander around to your heart’s content in interesting Baku. We won’t provide a guide or driver today, but we recommend that you stroll around the Old City, visit the Meydan Tower and Shirvanshah Palace, and take the funicular railway to Uplands Park, where you can enjoy fabulous views across the city, including the Old Town, the Caspian Sea, the oil fields and the famous Flame Towers.
Start Point: Baku Destination: Baku Travel: On Foot or local driver
There’s a lot to see around Baku and the Absheron Peninsula. Here are some ideas to start the ball rolling – but you don’t need to decide on what you’d like to do until nearer the time. We have included a guide and a driver for today.
Artists’ studio tour (an artist that paints with crude oil)
Cooking masterclass – starting with a bazaar visit to buy ingredients, then cooking and finally eating the fruits of your labour!
Caviar tasting with champagne/wine on a boat on the Caspian Sea.
Private tour of Tagiev, the first Azeri oil billionaire’s house – an amazing man and philanthropist who lost everything after the Soviet takeover in 1918.
Tour of the old Soviet area of the city (can do this on foot or in a Soviet Lada)
Visit the stunning Heydar Aliyev Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid.
Yanar Dag – the burning mountain – a hillside that has been on fire with natural gas for thousands of years
The Atasgeh Fire temple – an old Zoroastrian temple just outside the city
The Pir Hasan shrine
Uplands Park – looking over the Caspian Sea. You can get the funicular railway up to this viewpoint.
The mud volcanoes of Gobustan – an hour from Baku
Spend a morning or afternoon at a traditional hammam
Go to a market to sample and buy caviar
Of course, you can equally just relax and enjoy some downtime here
Start Point: Baku Destination: Basqal Travel: Saloon Car
After breakfast, you’ll leave Baku with your driver (who will speak some English) and drive to the village of Baskal (about 2 hours away), where traditional Azeri silk scarves, kelagayi, have been made for more than a thousand years. Hand-printed with designs rooted in the country’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian traditions, these colourful scarves are said to have been worn in battle by female Scythian warriors. You’ll spend half a day with a local guide, walking in the beautiful hills and villages behind Baskal, and having either a picnic lunch, or lunch with a family in a village/ This is about 7 km walking, on uneven ground, with some inclines and descents.
You will then spend tonight at the Chateau Monolit winery, a world-class vineyard that’s putting Azeri wine firmly on the world map. The winery has its own hotel, so you won’t have too far to totter…
Khans and Caravanserais
Start Point: Basqal Destination: Sheki Travel: Saloon Car
A leisurely start today as you drive a few hours north through the pistachio and hazel orchards of this verdant region. A stop in the village of Nij is interesting and showcases the last Christian community in Azerbaijan. By mid-afternoon you’ll be in the important Silk Road town of Sheki, enjoying some of its famous sweets in a medieval Caravanserai. We highly recommend you wander around the Caravanserai and have tea in their sweet tea house – the halva and sweets are unique to Sheki and really worth trying. Tonight, you’ll stay in a comfortable 4* hotel in Sheki, right beside the caravanserai. (As much as we love the atmosphere of the Caravanserai, the rooms there leave a lot to be desired, hence we think you will prefer staying nearby instead.)
Start Point: Sheki Destination: Sighnaghi Travel: Saloon Car
Sheki is a place with much to offer, so it is worthwhile having a bit more time here, also to relax and unwind.
Sheki’s name and history goes back to 7th century BC, when the Scythians ruled the roost in these parts. Since then this important arts, silk and trade centre has been variously ruled by the Mongols, Ottomans, Persians and Russians, to name just a few. This morning you’ll see the legacy of one of these conquerors, the fantastically intricate UNESCO-listed 18th-century Khan Palace – a building that took two years to build and another eight to decorate! After some time to explore the town’s cobbled streets, silk shops and maybe to purchase a souvenir or two, you’ll grab some lunch then drive 2 hours north to the border with Georgia, where you’ll say goodbye to your Azeri driver and meet your new Georgian driver, arriving near the ridge-top town of Sighnaghi by early evening. You’ll stay in a delightful boutique hotel a few miles from the town itself.
On the Ridge
Start Point: Sighnaghi Destination: Sighnaghi
We love the location of this town, perched on its own ridgeline with views that go on forever. You can relax at the hotel, go walking in the beautiful neighbourhood, or pay a worthwhile visit to Bodbe Monastery to see the tomb of St. Nino – the young woman who Christianised Georgia way back in the 4th century.
From here, it’s a short hop down the road to the home of a remarkable young silkworm farmer. You’ll meet the worms, feed them fresh mulberry leaves and then enjoy a spectacular lunch in the garden, replete with homemade wine and chacha (a bit like grappa, but better and much more pokey!) This is a fascinating experience with a truly wonderful woman. Full and happy, you’ll return to your hotel, have some time to relax (and digest!) and then enjoy supper in a world-famous local restaurant that produces its own wine and makes absolutely gorgeous food. The menu changes every day, depending on the season and what is locally available.
Start Point: Sighnaghi Destination: Zemo Alavani Travel: Saloon Car
Ok, so you may have noticed something a theme in Georgia… booze. This country has some of the oldest recorded wine-making techniques in the world. In fact, they taught the Romans to make wine, who in turn taught the French and so on. Natural wines are a big thing here, as is finding someone like the next person you’ll meet, who is so utterly passionate about wine-making that you’ll probably depart rosy-cheeked and best of friends. His winery is about an hour and a half north of Sighnaghi, and you’ll reach it via the 19th-century summer palace of a Russian noble. But it isn’t all about the wine. At his place you can also have a go at making the national dish of Georgia – kinkhali, a sort of dumpling that is very highly prized. Everyone knows which restaurants are currently making the best kinkhali and they will be very busy indeed! You’ll stay tonight at a nearby hotel, a new place with a great pool, organic food and wonderful views on the Caucasus mountains.
Start Point: Zemo Alavani Destination: Juta Travel: Saloon Car and on Foot
This morning it’ll be an early start to head north to Kazbegi region.
After a four-hour drive through the mountains to reach Kazbegi, you will stay at a mountain homestay owned by an ecologist. You’ll stop for lunch on the way in the village of Kvesheti, where you’ll eat with a family. It’s only a 20-minute walk from the road to the hut in Juta village, but we will arrange horses to carry your gear. By the time you arrive it’ll be time for a wander in the area and a later afternoon and early evening to relax at the hut and enjoy the view.
The hills are alive
Start Point: Juta Destination: Juta Travel: On Foot
After breakfast, the hut will provide you with a packed lunch and you’ll spend the day trekking up towards the Chauki Pass. If you have time, you can descend on the other side to the stunning Abudelauri Lakes. These lakes are all different colours: one is colourless (green in photos, due to its surroundings) the second is blue and the last one is milky white. The length of the trek depends on the weather and your walking abilities, but can be between two to six hours. You’ll return to the hut tonight for supper. Your guide will not come with you today, but will remain at the hut and be there in case you need them.
Start Point: Juta Destination: Tbilisi Travel: On foot and saloon car
After breakfast you’ll check out and drive back to Tbilisi down the Georgian Military Highway, with a short detour to see the amazing Gergeti Church on the way. The mountain views from this road are fantastic, and you’ll pass the roaring Aragvi and Tergi Rivers. On the way, you can stop and visit the beautiful 16th century Ananuri monastery complex if you wish. You will have lunch in Chardakhi village at a good winery on the way.
You’ll arrive in Tbilisi in the early afternoon at what we think is the best hotel in the city.
This evening, just get a feel of what is probably our favourite city in the world. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your time here, with loads to see. We will leave supper to you tonight but can give you plenty of heart recommendations.
Old City, New City
Start Point: Tbilisi Destination: Tbilisi Travel: On Foot
After a delicious breakfast, we’d suggest you meet a local guide for a walking tour of some of old Tbilisi. Tbilisi is a city whose position at a crossroads of the Silk Road is written in its architecture – a medley of Arab, Ottoman, Armenian, Persian and Turkish names and influences. The main square is called the meidan, an Arabic name, and its street names are Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Georgian and Russian. Sadly, much of the old city is in a tragic state of disrepair, with no money to restore it. In some parts, old Armenian churches are caving in and people are living in semi-ruined houses. Yet it remains a place of undeniable charm and romance, its history etched in its streets and buildings. That’s why we love it.
You have options here to visit the fantastic Dry Bridge Bazaar (the best flea market on earth!), the fascinating Silk Museum and the Simon Janashia Museum of History. Lunch will be at an excellent restaurant – either run by a famous Georgian chef, or a wonderfully eccentric place in the old Soviet part of the city that includes a qveri winery (you’ll know all about qveri wines by now!)
Start Point: Tbilisi Destination: Tbilisi Travel: On Foot
As this is a city you don’t want to rush away from, you have another day to explore it – either with or without a guide. You can visit one of the old sulphur baths in the heart of the old city and seek sights such as Metekhi church; Narikala castle; Botanical gardens; Sioni Cathedral and the historical Sololaki area. You can also visit some of the city’s up-and-coming boutiques, and see why Georgia is having a moment on the international fashion scene. Recently, this post-Soviet republic has been put on the map as a place of flourishing fashion talent, due in no small part to Balenciaga’s new creative director, Demna Gvasalia, and local brands that are quickly picking up international traction.
Lunch is up to you and supper will be at a famous city centre restaurant, well-known for their natural wine selection. As it’s your final night, we’ll arrange a special supper, where you will enjoy six types of Georgian fusion dishes from different regions, six sorts of spectacular natural wine from different regions of Georgia and six polyphonic songs – all introduced by a tamada, a Georgian toastmaster. This will be a feast to remember! Your last night is again at the delightful hotel you’d been enjoying.
All good things must come to an end
Start Point: Tbilisi Destination: Home Travel: Flight from Tbilisi
You’ll transfer 35 minutes out of Tbilisi to the airport in time for your flight home. There are direct flights to London, connections via Istanbul to London, or to other EU cities and beyond.
Why should you travel with us?
Our directors Marley and Antonia have a combined twenty years of experience travelling across the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. Thread-by-thread, we have built an expert knowledge of the fabric of the Silk Road, from the Black Sea to the Tian Shan mountains. We know the mountain valleys, sprawling plateaus, national parks, lakes and city centres like the backs of our hands.
Our inside knowledge won’t just give you a route to follow. By putting you in touch with local people, we enable you to make meaningful connections with the countries that you visit. After all, when has a view ever been lifechanging?
Where will you be staying?
On this trip, you’ll be staying in everything from excellent 5* hotels to yurt camps. However, the landscapes and people with whom you stay will more than make up for any lack of amenities.
You will also be staying in at least one wilderness camp. This will be set-up for you by your guides, who will also cook for you. If you measure luxury in terms of how many stars you will actually see, then this could be the best place you’ve ever stayed.
What will the weather be like?
This is a huge region with very different climates throughout the year, so we will give you specific advice on this at the time we begin to discuss your booking.
How fit do I need to be?
You will need to be relatively fit and prepared to spend some time in rough terrain in the desert. Whatever effort you put in will be repaid many times over in the form of hospitable people and fantastic food and drink. This is not an ‘active’ trip per se, but as a tailor made itinerary we can make it as adventurous or cushioned as you like.
What kit do I need to bring?
We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful.
Do you use decent vehicles?
Yes. We will travel in top-spec 4WD or other vehicles with carefully chosen drivers that know their roads well.
How much are flights?
This entirely depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. Again, we’ll send you an information pack containing all the information you need when you book your place. We are ATOL bonded so can easily book your flights as part of a package – please advise if you’d like us to do this.
What will the food be like?
Varied. Some countries have basic whilsst others – Iran, Georgia and Turkey for example – can really push your tastebuds into overdrive.
Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions?
Yes. We are members of TRIP – the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention Group – and perform detailed country risk assessments prior to departure, in line with the ISO 31000 international standard for risk assessment.
We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit, in addition to making use of the Australian Smart Traveller assessment tool, and the US State Department’s OSAC service. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition and are expedition first aid trained by Crux Medical.
For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be. And we always carry a satellite phone where communications are at all iffy. We really don’t mess around when it comes to safety.