Feature

Trips back in time: Five journeys you won’t forget

Iran’s lost imperial city; The rustic quintas of Portugal; Parisian echoes in Hanoi; A stroll through ancient Rome

Iran’s lost imperial cityPersepolis in southern Iran “is the greatest ancient site between the Holy Land and India,” said Rick Steves in the Chicago Tribune. Darius and his son Xerxes built this complex of palaces around 500 B.C. For the next 200 years, their successors ruled over the Persian Empire, which extended from Greece to India at its peak. Dignitaries from 28 kingdoms once walked through Persepolis’ majestic “Gate of All Nations” to “pay their taxes and humble respects to the emperor.” Cuneiform inscriptions over the gate roughly translate as: “The king is empowered by God. Submit totally to him for the good of Persia.” Cut into the mountains adjacent to Persepolis are “grand royal tombs, on the scale of Egyptian pharaohs.” Those of Darius and Xerxes, featuring huge carved reliefs of ferocious lions, still evoke the rulers’ awesome authority. The Persian Empire came to an end when Alexander the Great sacked and burned the city in 333 B.C., and “Persepolis has been in ruins ever since.” Today the site is popular both with curious tourists and proud Iranians, who come here “to connect with their Persian heritage.” Contact: Tourismiran.ir/en

The rustic quintas of PortugalThe Douro Valley, in northern Portugal, is “the world’s oldest demarcated wine region,” said Shane Mitchell in Travel + Leisure. The entire Port-producing area is a UNESCO World Heritage region, and its residents are determined “to preserve the sort of rustic naïveté that Tuscany and Bordeaux can no longer claim.” The valley has emerged as a popular tourist draw, and historic estates—known as quintas—are being converted into inns to accommodate visitors. The best way to tour the valley is to depart from Porto, the country’s second largest city. The road into the rural provinces quickly ascends into mountains, where architectural highlights include medieval monasteries and Romanesque churches. At many local estates, “grapes are still harvested by hand and crushed with bare feet.” Quinta da Romaneira, a 1,000-acre estate, “is run like an elaborate house party.” Meals are served at different locations throughout the day—on a shady terrace, in the refectory, in a library. Best of all is the former storehouse, where guests can enjoy tea cakes in the afternoon.Contact: Visitportugal.com

Parisian echoes in HanoiFrance and Vietnam had a miserable relationship that lasted 100 years, said Susan Spano in the Los Angeles Times. The Vietnamese struggle for independence, which began in 1950, finally brought an end to French rule. But the colonial era bore rich fruit in the “mélange of styles” of art, architecture, and cuisine. Relics of Western influence can still be seen in modern-day Hanoi—a city once known as “the Paris of Vietnam.” The French designed the wide, tree-lined avenues, and filled them with “grand villas in a style known as Norman Pagoda.” Today, peddlers sell freshly baked baguettes on Hang Trong Street, Sunday painters sketch the pagoda on Hoan Kiem Lake, and the nougat ice cream sold in nearby shop Fanny “is almost as creamy” as that on the Ile Saint-Louis. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter, people sit in cafes, “chain-smoke, argue, and drink coffee”—just like Parisians. The city even boasts its own, scaled-down version of Paris’ Opéra Garnier. The epitome of French Indochina is the Hotel Metropole. Built in 1901, it has been magnificently restored by Sofitel, the French hotel chain.Contact: Vietnamtourism.com

A stroll through ancient RomeYes, Romans do get fed up with the traffic, the strikes, the bureaucracy, said Mimi Murphy in National Geographic Traveler. But they know it’s a privilege to live in a city whose history and artistic treasures are unrivaled. The best place to glimpse the glory that was Rome, according to art historian Stefano Aluffi-Pentini, is from the terrace of the Tabularium, the ancient archive that is part of the Capitoline Museums complex. This standpoint offers “an exceptionally comprehensive vista of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill,” with the Arch of Septimius Severus in the foreground and the Colosseum rising in the distance. A stroll down the Cordonata Staircase—“designed by Michelangelo”—and past the Colosseum eventually leads to the Santi Quattro Coronati, a 12th-century church that in those lawless days was “Rome’s sole fortified abbey.” The neighborhoods north of the Tabularium are abuzz with social life. The Palazzo Farnese—now the French Embassy—is the city’s most splendid palace. Beyond it lies Piazza Navona, famed for its three majestic fountains, while the domed masterpiece of ancient Rome, the Pantheon, rises majestically nearby. Contact: Aboutroma.com

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