In northwest Iran near the border with Turkey, this ancient capital of Armenia (founded in the third century BC) is now a sprawling industrial city surrounded by mountains. Famed for its calligraphy and bookmaking in the 13th century, Tabriz was well placed on trade routes and played an important role in Iran's history. The city is home to the Azeri Turks, Iran's largest minority group. While there, visit the ruined 14th-century Ali Shah Mosque (its walls are 85 ft/26 m high), the 13th-century Blue Mosque (beautiful tile work) and the Jum'a Mosque.

In the nearby city of Ardabil lies the Shaikh Safi Tomb, where one of the world's most valuable carpets was discovered (it's now in London's Victoria and Albert Museum). Huge Daryacheh-ye Oroumieh (Lake Urmia), which lies west of Tabriz, is noted for its healing salt water and medicinal mud.

Plan a very full day to see Tabriz. 465 mi/750 km from Tehran.

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