Four hours from Abu Dhabi With unspoilt beaches and plenty of water sports, Iran's Kish Island has fast gained popularity.
Making a splash
From a tourist point of view, Kish Island has gently made a name for itself as a place to enjoy sun, sand, water sports and tourist attractions that are very family-friendly. If you're keen for an active holiday, the hotels are quite helpful in arranging water sports such as scuba diving and snorkelling, as well as leisure activities such as horse riding and cycling.
With an average temperature of 27°C and maximum temperatures rarely exceeding 35°C, it has also developed a reputation as a pleasant destination for escaping the Gulf's summer heat. As well as some rather unspoilt beaches noted for their coral, other attractions include Kish Dolphin Park and the World Zoo. For history buffs, the ruins of the old city of Harireh, believed to be 800 years old, are well worth visiting.
A short stroll from Harireh is Green Tree Park, a tranquil garden and home to the island's oldest tree, a spectacular banyan tree that has stood for between 500 and 600 years. The 2,500-year-old underground city of Cariz has been reconstructed and visitors can now enjoy a souq, restaurants, tea houses and theatres 16 metres below the ground. Payab, a water reservoir believed to be nearly 2,000 years old, has also been restored and offers insights into a lost age.
The Greece Ship is another intriguing attraction. A Greek ship is believed to have been stranded on Kish Island around 1345; how it came to be stuck on the shore is a mystery but it is believed the Greek sailors couldn't relaunch it, set it on fire and left the island in another boat. Remarkably, the ship was salvaged from the flames and remains on Kish Island to this day. If you can't bear to be away from the shops, Venus Mall is the biggest on Kish with 160 shops and there are also more traditional markets dotted on the island.
In keeping with the rest of Iran, the island is proudly alcohol-free and women need to respect the local culture by wearing headscarves in public. The island is renowned for being extremely safe and as a result, it attracts many female visitors who are seeking a relaxing break in a tranquil location.
Budget In general, Kish Island accommodation is slightly more expensive than on the Iranian mainland so most hotels are in the mid-range to luxury bracket, but if you're seeking budget accommodation, try the Fanoos Hotel. It's a distinctive cream building with a winged façade, there are 90 spacious rooms and double rooms start from Dh145 a night (@email:www.fanooshotel.com). The Pars Nik Hotel offers clean, safe accommodation on Kish with double rooms starting at just Dh140 a night. (Tel: +98 764 4424125)
Mid-range The Tatilat Hotel offers comfortable apartment accommodation with double rooms starting from Dh200 per night. It's in the Siri Square area close to Pardis 2, one of the island's bigger malls. The Tamasha Hotel offers a choice of rooms as well as suites with self-contained kitchen facilities. Double rooms start at Dh200 a night (@email:www.irantour.org/kish_tamasha_hotel.html).
Luxury The Darius Grand Hotel is the island's thumping great spectacle of plush accommodation. It's big, it's luxurious, there are three restaurants, a marina, extensive sporting facilities and great views of the Persian Gulf.
The architecture is meant to reflect the grand buildings of ancient Persia although some would say it does this in rather the same manner as Dubai's Wafi City reflects ancient Egypt. Double rooms start at Dh1,100 (@email:www.darishgrandhotel.com). Not quite as grandiose, apart from the Kooh e Noor Restaurant, but just as packed with facilities is the Sadaf International Hotel. Boasting five restaurants and a stunning pool area, it is another great choice for the luxury traveller (@email:www.sadafkish.com) and the rates are reasonable for the five-star category. Double rooms start at Dh450 a night.
Understandably, seafood is very popular on Kish Island with a fresh supply constantly guaranteed. Amoo Akbar restaurant, opposite Paniz Mall, offers excellent seafood and good prices and the gigantic prawns are a house speciality. Kooh e Noor Restaurant at the Sadaf International Hotel serves a wide range of cuisines and is considered to be one of the best in town. It is certainly one of the most spectacular located inside a 27m man-made mountain. For traditional Persian cuisine, especially lamb, Shandiz Restaurant on Jahan Road is highly recommended.
Kish Air flies daily to Kish Island from Terminal 2 at Dubai International Airport (@email:www.kishairline.com). Expect to pay around Dh900 for a return airfare.