A Special Guided Tour through the Dolce Vita in Tehran

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Continuing this special guided tour through some of my favorite places in Tehran (see my previous article: “Hedonism in the Iranian capital“), let’s leave Tajrish behind us and head southwards to Vali Asr Square …

Vali Asr Square or Meydan-e Vali Asr is literally the heart of Tehran: the Square, at first glance, isn’t really appealing. But although it is massive (in a “social-urban architecture of the 70s at its best” way) and imposing, the place is also a great starting point for walking tours in the city. And a hot shopping spot, full of designer shops, bookstores, handicraft shops, etc. Check, for example, the gorgeous scarves and traditionally inspired creations of fashion designer Parisa Tanpoosh (see below), directly on the Square. Or the well-stocked Farhang bookstore, with a great variety of CDs and books (not only in Persian) about art, music, literature, as well as handicrafts.

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Starting from Vali Asr Square, walk down the Keshavarz Boulevard for about 1.5 km to reach Laleh Park, one of the loveliest parks of the city. Sculpted trees, fountains, places dedicated to relaxation, sports or picnics, Laleh Park has it all. Head straight to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Tehran situated at the other end of the park and pretend not to notice the hijab-free girls and the young couples hiding behind trees to find some intimacy.

Between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Carpet, at the northern corner of the park, don’t miss the little Bazaar (bazar-e če), a market where local artists and artisans sell their creations (at reasonable prices). At the centre of this open-air bazaar, there’s a cosy čaykhuneh (a tea house) where you will love to take a break.

Our next walk takes us from Laleh Park down North Kargar Street to the Square of the Islamic Revolution (Meydan-e Enghelab-e Eslami), and if you didn’t taken a break at the little Bazaar, then step inside the nice and friendly Ima Book Café, on North Kargar Street just before the Square. You can chill among the students and Tehrani hipsters while sipping your orange blossom tea (bahār narānj) on the little terrace overlooking the square.

The lively Enghelab Street starts from the square and leads you to the City Theatre (Teatr-e Shahr). Seeing all the bookstores, one next to another and the outfits of the young Tehranis strolling down the avenue, you’ll know for sure that you are in the heart of the University District. Overcrowded, noisy and polluted, Enghelab has a unique and vibrant energy that will definitely catch you: you’ll probably decide to spend a few hours there, so let’s have a stop and recharge our batteries at the Cake Studio, halfway between the Enghelab Square and City Theatre, unless you want to grab some cakes directly from one of the several nānva-i (bakery) you’ll see at every corner of the streets.

Now, at this point of your little city trek through Tehran, I bet you’ve already noticed how sugar-obsessed the Iranians are. And as a French 40-something woman, I can say I was in heaven: the pâtisseries are good, and you get them almost anywhere in the city.

If you continue down Enghelab to the City Theatre, you’ll pass by some lovely and original designer shops: one of them is Chatre Phiroozeh, just before the Daneshjoo Park, displaying a wide range of ethnic and creative jewellery, scarves, dresses, coats and colourful leather bags.

Our little walk (okay, it might have lasted a few hours, but you didn’t notice the time go by, did you?) ends at the Daneshjoo Park, in front of the City Theatre. Last time I was there, it was mid-November this year: I had bought a glass of pomegranate seeds from a street seller and I sat at the fountain for a couple of hours, enjoying the sunset and the mild autumn weather. Students, workers, elderly women all dressed in black or 50-something ladies with colourful scarves … Some were chatting, some drinking tea, some were listening to music, some were just having a rest, a book or a tasbih (prayer beads) in their hands, some were looking at the passers-by …

This is the kind of moment where time stands still, and your eyes and your soul are completely content with what they get. On that mid-November day of 2017, I had the idea to write, on my return, a few words about the special art of hedonism à l’iranienne.

With the hope that they will give you a glimpse of the secret beauties nested between the walls and on the streets of Tehran.

The City Theatre