x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Heart of Arabia

Four hours from Abu Dhabi Translated as "house of learning", Shiraz is a treasure trove of historical delights.

The Khoda Khane, or House of Qurans, stands in the courtyard of Friday Mosque.
The Khoda Khane, or House of Qurans, stands in the courtyard of Friday Mosque.

As one might expect from a city whose name translates as "house of learning", Shiraz - Iran's fifth most populated metropolis - is a treasure trove of historical delights. The prefect destination for culture vultures and history lovers alike, this magical destination boasts an array of tempting attractions for the more pensive tourist. From the exquisite mosques and mausoleums to the restful gardens and stunning mountain views, Shiraz is full of cultural attractions.

According to Islamic historians, Shiraz came into existence after the Arab takeover of Iran. The invasion, in fact, contributed to the city's importance, and by the 13th century it had grown into one of the largest and most popular Islamic areas of the era. Since then it has become a hub for art and literature due to the many scholars and artists who have lived and died there. Consequently, a slew of stunning tombs and monuments erected in honour of these talented souls dot Shiraz, showing that although gone, they are far from forgotten.

One of the city's most famous sights is the Tomb of Hafez, a homage to Hafez-e Shirazi, an eminent 14th century poet, mystic and scholar renowned for his lyrical poems, which are said to have possessed a modern surrealism. Hafez's resting place has become a hot spot for literature lovers. A short walk from the town centre, the mausoleum, which is housed in an open pavilion, is marked by a marble tombstone, engraved with the poet's work.

Shoppers will also be in their element, as Shiraz is home to Bazar-e Vakil, a colourful and atmospheric market. The best way to explore this buzzing bazaar is on foot, without concern for time or direction. Simply try to soak up the ambience in the maze of lanes before putting your bartering skills to the test in any of the 200 stores. Serai Mushir at the southern end of the main bazaar lane is a quaint two-story caravanserai and the perfect place to take a breather or do a bit of souvenir shopping. It's customary to haggle throughout Iran.

If you're keen to escape Shiraz's busy town centre, relax in one of the many hidden corners of Bagh-e Eram, one of the most picturesque gardens in Shiraz. Best known for their tall cypress trees, the gardens are centred around a Qajar-era palace, the Kakh-e Eram (Eram Palace). The bad news is that the management currently chooses to charge foreigners entry fees up to ten times the local price.

Budget The Apadana Hotel (+98 711 233 1106) is widely recognised as one of the most affordable hotels in Shiraz. Although basic, the rooms are clean, comfortable and air-conditioned. Rooms start at Dh80. Mid-range Comfortable and cosy, Park Hotel (+98 711 331000) is conveniently located on Zand Avenue and within walking distance of shops, markets and close to the city's banking district. Rooms start at Dh175. Luxury Shiraz Homa Hotel (@email:www.homahotels.com) on Meshkinfam Street is located in the heart of the city and perfect for guests seeking to combine convenience with luxury. Rooms start at Dh245 per night.

For Iranian food at its best, book a table at Shater Abbas Restaurant (+98 711 229 1440), on Khakshenasi Street. This trendy spot is known for its contemporary menu, which fuses traditional favourites with less familiar dishes, such as turkey kebab and mushroom steak. The menu is a little on the steep side, but well worth it the extra expense.