This week’s dream: Iran, a nation in transition
The Islamic Republic of Iran probably isn’t on your bucket list of places to visit, said Jeremy Iggers in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But perhaps it should be.” The Islamic nation so often talked about as a threat to the West is actually among the safest places in the Middle East—with no recent hostage taking, no suicide bombers, and citizens who like Americans. Each year, millions of non-U.S. tourists visit Iran, enjoying its ancient architecture, flavorful cuisine, and spectacular scenery, ranging from deserts to snowcapped mountains. I’d visited years ago and was fascinated, so I returned recently, hoping to get to know the people better. That proved easy. Because few people had met an American before, they all were eager to talk.
I quickly fell in love with Isfahan, “one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen,” with domed mosques, ancient palaces, and “parks that seem to go on for miles.” My hosts were three sisters—the nieces of a friend—and they spoiled me with their hospitality while speaking freely of their contempt for the cleric-dominated government and its edicts, like the requirement that women wear the hijab. After touring the 400-year-old Shah Mosque, a blue-andwhite tiled masterpiece of Persian architecture, we visited a 17th-century palace, an Armenian cathedral, and a Jewish marketplace where we chatted with a haberdasher.
After dark, we stopped at a megamall where luxury boutiques share space with a Target-like store selling everything from athletic shoes to flat-screen TVs. Signs advised “Please respect hijab,” but nearly every woman there had pulled back her headscarf.
“So, which is the real Iran? Is it a theocracy or a high-tech consumer society?” In truth, it’s “a bit of both.” One sign of changing times is that more people are drinking. In Shiraz, my host proudly offered me scotch and vodka (“I have a guy,” he confided). Later, he drove me to the ruins of Persepolis, the palace complex built 2,500 years ago by King Darius the Great. The site is magnificent, a forest of towering columns, carved friezes, and massive stairways. It’s also “a silent reminder that, when trying to understand one of the world’s great civilizations, it helps to take the long view.”
An eight-day Iran Luxury Travel tour (iran luxurytravel.com) starts at $5,990 for two.
Hotel of the week
The Cliff House
Every window at this seaside resort frames a view “that could inspire a landscape artist for days,” said Christopher Muther in The Boston Globe. Perched on one of Maine’s most scenic coastal outcroppings, the Cliff House could fill its 132 rooms just by marketing its tiered oceanfront patios. Yet a recent overhaul has transformed the 1872 property into one of the most “downright chic” new resorts in the state. Renovations won’t be fully completed until spring. But when you find yourself in an outdoor hot tub taking in the crashing Atlantic, that will hardly matter.
cliffhousemaine.com; oceanview rooms from $270 Cape Neddick, Maine
Last-minute travel deals
The Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa in Lenox, Mass., is offering 25 percent off two-night stays during Halloween weekend. The “Spook-tacular Savings” package includes lectures, guided hikes, and gourmet meals. From $1,350 a person.
Italy by train
Save 20 percent on a 13-day tour of Venice, Florence, Rome, and Sorrento. The package, which starts at $2,096 a person, double occupancy, includes hotel rooms, breakfasts, and travel by high-speed train. Book by Oct. 31 for travel in 2017.
Fall rates are in effect at the Jared Coffin House and its boutique sister properties on Nantucket Island. At the Coffin House, which overlooks the marina, guest rooms start at $155, down from summer’s peak rate of $295.