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My stay in a simple country home in Iran's countryside was unforgettable - even if wife and I had to sleep on the floor. For me, experiencing the rural lifestyle in Iran even beats visitng famous historical sites.

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Road trip to country home in northeast Iran


Stories in this Iran Travel Series:

Road trip to country home in northeast Iran

  1. A perfect Iran Vacation: sleeping on the floor
    In northeast Iran, a simpler traditional living is a short drive away
  2. Tour of Iran’s countryside: full of surprises
  3. A tank is just right for Road Trip In Iran

I spent my weekend Iran vacation in and around a tiny country home in an area in northeast Iran that even Iranians themselves haven’t heard of.

The perfect Iran vacation, my wife and I believe, should include experiencing all the beauty and tranquillity you find outside the cities. Instead of touring historical sites, we crisscross the country in our 4WD to enjoy and document this country’s spectacular nature, amazing foods and the traditional lifestyles of the rural Iran.

Here’s the 3-part story. But first, a little about Iran and our life here:

Iran is mountainous, not a desert (or camel) country

Many people associate Iran with sand, desert and camels. It’s a false image. The Lawrence of Arabia type of sandy desert is in very specific places. Iran has multiple climates, from the subartic to the tropical. Most of the country is arid, but it is not flat.

Most Iranians live near highlands from which groundwater canals and rivers flow, to countless villages and weekend homes nested in the slopes and valleys.

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 51
River flowing from mountain late November near the village of Payeh, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

And camels? I think I saw one in all the years growing up in the capital, Tehran.

You can do a Iran vacation extremely economically

The ability to quickly and economically escape to the countryside is one of the beauties of living in (or visiting) Iran.

Petrol costs only about 25 cents USD per gallon because it’s subsidized. And the country’s got many relatively decent roads.

Iranian city life: a mix of good and bad

Wife Saeideh and I divide our time between living outside Iran and our apartment in Mashhad, the country’s second largest city in the northeast of the country, near Turkmenistan in the north and Afghanistan to the east.

Ali and saeideh near payeh northeast iran
Ali and Saeideh, near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Photo copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

Mashhad, Saeideh’s hometown, is a beautiful cosmopolitan city. It’s the spiritual capital of Iran and a top religious tourism destination for Shia Moslems

But, like most Iranian cities, it is congested. It draws some 30 million tourists a year, at least 5 million of them from abroad. There’s air pollution and maddening traffic.

But what’s special about Mashhad is that, unlike Tehran, escape to the freedom of the countryside is only a short drive away. 

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 1
Mashhad, population 3 million, the spiritual capital of Iran, is in Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Photo copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

Visiting Iran’s villages and countryside

During my time in Iran, I’ve found out something interesting about tourists who visit Iran. They typically come here for the historical sites. Iran’s history is the main pitch of the tour companies. Foreigners think of Iran the same way they think of Egypt.

But tourists can easily tire of visiting old buildings, the same way you can overdose on medieval artwork on a European vacation.

“How many mosques do you need to see?” asks a friend who is a tour guide in Iran. He recalls tourists who begged him to spare them another visit to an historical site.

I think it is a mistake to come to Iran with an itinerary focused solely on history. Because there’s so much more here.

One purpose of our website is to tell you about all the others things Iran offers.

The perfect Iran vacation is outside the cities

For us, what’s outside Iran’s cities is the most interesting – hence the name of this website: Escape From Tehran.

Instead of a focus on historical sites, we spend most of our time outdoors, hiking and photographing the spectacular nature, feeding on farm fresh food, discovering the regional recipes, learning about Iran’s myriad of cultures and languages, and staying in traditional homes in the villages of Iran.

This is the story of one of our typical weekend road trips:

Amazingly varied landscape in northeast Iran

The landscape in northeast Iran is spectacularly varied – from arid terrain you might find in Arizona or Utah  – which often is flanked by snow-capped peaks …

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 1 2
Near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

… to hilly tree-covered landscape you might find pretty much anywhere in Europe.

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 3 2
Near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

A traditional country homestay near Mashhad

Our destination on this trip was the area near the tiny village of Payeh (also known as Kalateh-ye Payeh) only an hour or so east of Mashhad, near the town of Golmakan

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 1 8
Exploring Iran’s countryside, looking down at the village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

We stayed at a weekend home owned by Saeideh’s uncle, Javad, a retired businessman.

From the outside, it looks like someone’s amateurish attempt at building for the Burning Man. (Javad’s selfless dalliance with architecture has a long history. More about that later.)

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 32 2
Country home near the village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

What is unforgettable about this place is the iwan (balcony) opening to a knockout view of the valley below.

traditional accommodations village home near the village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.
Country home near the village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

Best time to visit northeast Iran

It’s one of those views that never ever gets old, especially during the spring, when the ground is velvety green and the cherry trees are so loaded with white blooms that you’d think it’s snowing.

The other good time to visit northeast Iran is in the peak of autumn colors – mid to late November – when trees are desperately hanging on to the last of their yellow and crimson leaves.

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 1 17
Explosive autumn colors of northeast Iran, near Mashhad, Country home near the village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

The hot weather – and the hordes of tourists – are long gone, replaced by clear sunny days and chilly evenings.

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 42
The balcony of villa near the village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

The traditional lifestyle in Iran

Sleeping (and doing everything else) on the floor covered with a Persian rug is part of the country lifestyle in Iran.

Inside the home – originally a one-room cabin built by Saeideh’s grandpa 50 years ago – we find what city folks gave up long ago but is still a way of life in the countryside: sleeping on Persian rugs on the floor, and usually near a natural gas heater.

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 1 5
Sleeping on the Persian rugs in Iranian traditional home, near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

Many Iranians believe sleeping on the ground floor is healthy because the body draws energy from earth.

At night, they unroll bedding and comforters on the floor and in the morning they roll them back up and stack them in a corner.

iranians sleeping the floor, unroll bedding, traditional living in iran, visiting the countryside in Iran
Iranians unroll their bedding at night and unroll it back up in the morning. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

The same room is often used as a living room, dining room, and where the kids do their homework, sometimes by the light of an oil lamp. Electricity didn’t get to this home until last year. 

In Uncle Javad’s case, who is somewhat of a neat freak, the bedding is stored in a cabinet he had custom-built to size:

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 3
Bedding cabinet in a traditional home near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

Weekend trips and country villas are common in Iran

Second homes in Iran are popular for close-knit families who often escape the city en masse. That’s why there are enough cups and dishes in this home to start a hotel. 

And there’s the tobacco water pipe or qalyan (known as the hookah outside Iran), another popular item for gettogethers.  Those are heaps of sugar cubes for tea in the bottom shelf. 

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 2
The water pipe cabinet in an Iranian country home near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

Food on our Iran Vacation

For food, we grilled skewers of marinated chicken over wood charcoal. 

Chicken kabobs marinated in saffron (Persians put saffron is in everything, even the tea!) and other spices and veggies grilled on skewers and served on rice is common everywhere in Iran, city and country. 

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 23 2
Grilling marinated chicken kabobs and onions over wood charcoal, country home near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

But there’s far more to the Persian cuisine than kabobs. More articles coming about that.

Lack of cell reception on Iran Vacation => fewer distractions

I was dismayed when I couldn’t get any cell reception and huffed and puffed a bit.

But by that evening I was glad for it. Without the distraction of the Internet or phone calls and even TV and radio, we couldn’t help but slowly wind down and start noticing the beauty around us.

Oh, look at this. Oh, look at that. For a while, we were like kids on an outing without their parents. The spectacular scenery came alive. It was a reminder of how much goes unnoticed when we’re staring at our phones. 

Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 1 3
Strolling the Iran’s northeast countryside in the fall, near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com.

The starry nights of our Iran vacation

And in the evening, we noticed something else city dwellers don’t have: night skies free of the light pollution of the city.

With absolutely nothing else to do, we sat back and watched the stars rise after sunset.

Starry night sky watching after sunset at out-of-town shelter cottage (not a hostel or hotel or motel) outside Mashhad, Khorasan, northeast Iran, near Afghanistan. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

Our day in the country typically began with a taste of the famous Iranian hospitality (to the rest of the story) >>>

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3 thoughts on “A perfect Iran Vacation: sleeping on the floor <div id='secondary-title' style='color:#996633; font-size:0.65rem; margin-top:0.4rem;'>In northeast Iran, a simpler traditional living is a short drive away</div>”

  1. Ali, it is so nice to have come across this piece of your writing. I think of you often and your brief stay with us on Maui. I’m glad you are well.

    1. Please let me know if you get this reply to your comment. Trying to figure out if the website is sending out comment notifications correctly.

  2. Hi Neva, thanks so much for your kind comment and taking the time to post.
    I really wonder sometimes if anyone ever cares about reading a trip in Iran with all that’s going on. But I think I need to stick to my passion and not worry what most might think.
    The generosity you and Adam showed me remains the highlight of my trip to Maui. I miss you both. Adam’s passion of beer – impossible to forget that.
    Ali

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