Close your eyes and imagine travelling to Iran. What comes to your mind? Sandy dunes? Hot vast deserts? Tiled domes?
But what if I told you there was a whole different side to Iran? One with ancient forests, a deep blue sea, beautiful mountains, and meandering roads within. It also has a rich folk culture and excellent regional cuisine! You surely want to see this side too, Don’t you?
Where is this heavenly place you ask? Only one of the most popular holiday and tourist destinations for Iranians and tourists alike: Gilan!
Gilan (Guilan) means the Land of Gilites (Gelae) who are a major ethnic group in Iran. Gilan is located at the Southwestern coast of the Caspian Sea, north of Iran. From its center to outskirts, this province is covered with natural forests, lakes, falls, and more than 40 rivers.
Gilan is the land of natural wonders, appetizing food, and diverse culture. Its major city, Rasht, along with other big and small towns such as Astara, Masal, Masouleh, Menjil, Roodbar, Bandar-e-Anzali, and Lahijan bring in thousands of visitors each year owing to their remarkable capacities in tourism and recreation.
All in all, Gilan has a mild, and at times humid, climate. The summers and winters are not brutally hot or cold and each season offers you its unique and beautiful colors and vibes. For the most pleasant trip, however, I recommend you get there during mid-spring, in Ordibehest (April 20th-May 20th).
Did you know that every region in Iran has a distinctive climate and, accordingly, its unique architecture? In Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan (collectively called “Shomal”), it rains a lot; therefore, most houses are gabled and some are built above the ground level. Some areas even attract visitors for their one of a kind architectural design (Read below about Masouleh and Roodkhan Castle).
Sightseeing Checklist in Rasht
While planning my first trip to Gilan, I was fed up with all those long must-see lists putting too much weight on my mind and making it hard to decide for me! Now, after travelling there more than a few times, I have my very special list of the most popular places worth visiting 😉
Masouleh: or Masuleh is beyond doubt an ancient architectural treasure. It is A historic town on the mountainside with houses built on top of one another, up into the mist. But how? In a nutshell, the lower house’s roof is also the upper house’s yard. Amazing, isn’t it?
These roof/yards also serve as pedestrian crossings and, as you might have guessed, no motor vehicle is allowed there. Embrace Masouleh’s genuine folklore, handcrafts, cuisine, and rituals and embark on an adventure in its forests, rivers, waterfalls, and summer houses.
Location: Southwest Gilan – An hour drive to, or from, Rasht.
Rudkhan Castle: A fairy tale-like fortress so captivating that I had to pause every few minutes to take in the scenery and make sure I am not dreaming! The charming, long, and winding path to this medieval castle at the heart of the forest boosted my energy to mount the steps to reach the castle.
I met and talked to locals on my way up. In addition, visitors could shop at the gift shops, or eat at the food-stands and restaurants that are scattered on the slope leading to the castle.
Location: Fouman, South of Gilan, An hour drive from Rasht.
Entrance fee: ~15,000 Rials.
Villages and Countrysides: People flock to Gilan’s countryside every summer holiday to enjoy its splendid nature and cool weather. You can walk among the clouds in Olasbelangah heights and experience country life the like of which are only seen in the movies: log fire, horses and cows grazing, and birds chirping. Above all, you get to taste fresh organic products.
Location: Masal, Southwest Gilan. 75-min drive from Rasht.
-Deylaman is another spectacular village like Olasbelangah. You can have a picnic by the side of Loonak waterfall or visit its amazing wildlife sanctuary. In spring, Deylaman’s dazzling anemone field attracts many travelers.
Location: Siahkal, East of Gilan. It only takes a 40-min drive from Rasht.
-Asalem and its curving road towards Khalkhal, one of Iran’s most beautiful roads, is a fantastic hiking destination with deep forests, local restaurants, and delicious kebabs! Its nature becomes breathtakingly gorgeous during spring and autumn. There are many villages alongside this road where passengers are welcome to spend the night in wooden cottages.
Location: Talesh, Northwest Gilan. Asalem-Khalkhal road crosses the border between Gilan and Ardabil.
Saghalaksar: A dreamy freshwater lake that is so picturesque and radiant it will take your breath away. This wildlife haven is within a 15-minute drive from Rasht. Its tranquil setting is perfect for camping, hiking, and boating.
Note: It is open to public until 8:00 p.m.
Location: Central Gilan, near Rasht.
Saravan Natural Forest Park: It is a primeval forest park with tall, exotic trees. At the heart of this forest lies a mossy pond where we boated and explored the place. Emamzadeh Ebrahim Holy shrine, Shah Abbas caravanserai, local bazaars, and sporting events (wrestling and horseback riding) are other attractions of Saravan.
Gilan abounds with natural splendors, Heyran Neck, Mt. Sheytan in Lahijan, Gisoom and Ghoo Beaches, Gisoom’s forest and park, Latoun and Visadar waterfalls, and many others. Every place is steeped in history; however, if you wish to know this area better, make sure to visit its museums: Rasht’s Museum of Anthropology, its Rural Heritage Eco-Museum, and Lahijan’s Tea Museum.
Festivals and Fairs: from the very first day of the year (Nowrooz) to its final days, many festivals are held throughout Gilan. The most prominent of these festivals celebrate Tea Harvest, Local Plays, Gilan’s Ethnic Culture, Yalda Night, Local Rituals, etc. Look up the exact dates online.
Fine Gilani Cuisine
Before discussing the delights of Gilan, you might want to know that,
- Rasht has recently joined UNESCO’s network of creative cities of gastronomy.
- Foods like ‘Baghla-Ghatoogh’, ‘Torsh Morgh’, and ‘Mirza-Ghasemi’ are registered as national foods of Iran.
- Diverse marine and plant life in Gilan are the main reasons for its many specialties and fine rasht foods.
- Gilani cuisine is renowned for its side dishes. No Gilani meal is complete without ‘Sir Torshi’ (garlic pickle), ‘Zeytoon Parvardeh’ (olive + walnut dip), ‘Mahi Shoor’ (smokey, salted fish), ‘Delar’ (an herbal dip), and pomegranate sauce.
- Gheymeh & Ghormeh (stews), fish and Beef kebab are mostly served with ‘Kate’, an Iranian recipe for cooking rice. Gilanis grow fine rice and prefer Kate to bread.
Food recommendations and their major ingredients:
For vegetarians: Mirza-Ghasemi (eggplant, tomato, egg). Kaal Kabab (pomegranate, nuts, herbs. Despite the misleading name, there is no meat in it). Kuii Tare (pumpkin, garlic, walnut).
For meat-eaters: Vavishka (liver, potato, egg). Sir Ghaliyeh (chicken or duck, egg, garlic). Anarbij (pomegranate, meatball, herbs). Kabab Torsh and Morgh Torsh (sour marinated kebab or chicken).
What gifts and Souvenirs to buy and take home?
Foodie Goodies: You do not want to leave this land of delicacies without taking some with you, right? Why don’t you get some ‘Zeytoon Parvardeh’ (olive dip) or ‘Lavashak’ (fruit leather)? You can also go for Lahijan’s Tea, Fouman’s ‘Koloocheh’ (Cookie), ‘Nan Berenji’ (rice bread), and of course ‘Siah-Mazgi’ cheese or ‘Reshteh Khoshkar’ (Gilan’s special, sweet treat).
Handicrafts: Rural and traditional crafts also make a good choice of gifts, or something to take home as a token of the pleasant time you spent in Gilan. ‘Rashti doozi’, that is, textiles uniquely embroidered with Rasht’s signature needlework are to be found in every Bazaar and mall. Handmade decorative objects such as wickerwork, bamboo crafts, rug, folk costumes, felt products, and earthenware made by local artists are also attractive and popular options.
Now I’d Love to Visit Gilan, how do I get there?
Air Travel: Arrive at Rasht airport from any airport in Iran. Tickets vary in prices, from 2,000,000 to 6,000,000 Rials.
Train Trip: Experience the pleasure of railway travel either by taking Baku-Astara train from Azerbaijan or arriving at Rasht’s train station. Depending on your departure station, the prices of the latter option may range from 400,000 Rials to 1,000,000.
Road Trip: Every town in Gilan has bus and taxi stations to and from every destination in Iran. The prices start at 500,000 Rials and go up, conditional on the hours and the vehicle.
Depending on your budget, preferences, and destinations, you might want to choose from among several options. Tent camping, suites, villas, bungalows, motels, hostels, and fancy hotels are to be found everywhere.
Prices vary from 100,000 to 1,000,000 Rials and tend to go up during high seasons. Jahangardi, Kadus, Moein, Shabestan, Espinas, Dolphin, and Padidar Khazar are among Gilan’s finest hotels and they charge about 400,000 Rials per night on average.
Do not forget that marvelous and memorable moments are waiting for you in Gilan!