Day 1: Shiraz
Welcome to the 'City of Pts' the perfect launch point for your interlude with the Silk Road.
A treasure trove of Persian culture Shiraz is the final resting place of the great Persian pts Sa'di and Hafez, a major site of pilgrimage for Iranians. Wander the cities beautiful gardens and take the opportunity to visit the spectacular Nasir al-Mulk Mosque and see its stunning interior in the morning sun.
Meet your Tour Leader and fellow travellers in the hotel lobby at 10am for your Welcome Meeting.
Days 2-3: Yazd
This morning we embark on our journey through striking mountain scenery, pausing to visit one of the ancient world's most impressive sights the ruins of Persepolis. Constructed by Darius the Great and destroyed by Alexander the Great, the ruins tell the story of the unquestioned glory and power of the Achaemenid Empire.
Late afternoon we arrive into Yazd, one of the world's oldest cities. Once important for the Zoroastrian faith, the old town retains much of its character amongst its maze-like streets, and is known across Iran for its fine woven silks and confectionery. We spend the next two nights in one of Yazd's enchanting and beautifully ornate hotels.
Days 4-6: Isfahan
Leaving Yazd we travel across the Varzaneh Desert dotted with villages that have they own unique culture and customs. Locals in their traditional houses will welcome you, before we continue our journey to Isfahan.
The capital of a number of Persian Empires and an important stop on the Silk Road, the finest city of Persia Isfahan is the highlight of any visit to Iran. The glittering roofs of Isfahan's mosques, the intricate design of its bridges and warm welcome of its residents' awaits. We visit a nougat manufacturer to learn the secrets of making this sweet local delicacy. We enjoy our fully guided city tours and take time to discover city's hidden treasures during our free time.
Days 7-8: Tehran
Tehran is a busy, crowded metropolis which boasts some excellent museums, many housed in former palaces. While some may tell you that this city is lacking in charm, its vibrant, dynamic culture and fast paced lifestyle makes everyday in Tehran an adventure!
Days 9-10: Tehran and onto Mashhad
Following some free time to further absorb bustling Tehran we board a train for our final stop in Iran Mashhad.
Best known for its incredible shrine complex of Emam Reza, the eighth grandson of the prophet Mohammed, this is one of the great architectural wonders of the Islamic world and is said to receive more than five million pilgrims a year. Witnessing the respect and emotion is a moving experience even for non-Muslims.
Days 11-12: Mashhad and to Ashgabat
Leaving Iran your journey will take you across the Kopet Dag Mountains to Turkmenistan and its capital Ashgabat. A flat, sometimes dusty city, twinkling with unique architecture. Turkmenistan's capital vanished in 1948, levelled by an earthquake, and was rebuilt with Soviet style architecture, filled with opulent marble-cladded palaces, gleaming gold domes and vast expanses of well manicured green spaces. From here we venture outside the city to the Parthian Fortress of Nisa, an empire that was among the most powerful and influential civilizations of the ancient world.
During our time in Ashgabat we will embark on an excursion beyond the city to the bewitching Darvaza Crater known as the 'The door to Hell'. The natural gas crater was created in 1971 when Soviet geologists started to drill at the site where they tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. Fearing that the hole would release toxic gas they decided to burn it off with the hope the fire would use all the fuel in a few days, today it is still burning and is quite a sight to encounter.
Day 13: Ashgabat to Mary
Today we continue our journey through Turkmenistan to the desert oasis of Mary in the Karakum.
Days 14-16: Mary to Bukhara via Merv
Early this morning we depart by road to the ancient city of Merv, the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Road in Central Asia before continuing across the Karakum Desert to Bukhara, arriving early evening.
Once known as 'holy' Bukhara, it was historically home to more than 2000 mosques. Today Bukhara's monuments are some of the oldest on the Silk Road; the Ark Fortress, Samanid Mausoleum and the Kaylan Minaret one of Central Asia's tallest and which was spared destruction from Genghis Khan. The Old Town is well worth exploring, you can enjoy some of the many chaikhanas (tea-houses) in Lyabi-Hauz, one of the most peaceful and interesting people watching spots in town.
Days 17-18. To Samarkand via Shakhrisabz
A spectacular drive through the Zerafshan Mountains takes us to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane. Beside the ruined entrance towers of his Ak-Serai Palace, the pretty market town offers a relaxed atmosphere with traditional homes, teahouses and mosques.
Continuing across the Kyzl Kum Desert you will find the fabulous monuments of Samarkand, Tamerlane's turquoise-spangled capital. Here you can explore Central Asia's most spectacular architectural ensemble, the Registan guaranteed to leave even the most jaded traveller gazing in awe, plus many other highlights including the Shah-i-Zinda Complex, Bibi Khanym Mosque and the Ulug Bek Observatory.
Day 27: Xian
Once called Chang'an, this was the glittering capital of Cathay. Old pagodas, city walls and watchtowers remain, but the major attraction is the famed Terracotta Warriors that reveal the city's long and turbulent history.
Days 25-26: Turpan and Silk Road Railway
Today we further explore Turpan and head out to the ruins of the ancient city of Jiaohe. This is a spectacular site, and due to its remote location perched on top of a cliff, it remains mostly intact. When we return to the city we have the chance to enjoy a cultural performance before boarding our late night train to Xian.
Aboard the Silk Road Railway we leave the Taklamakan Desert in our wake, past Jiayuguan, and the bastion ramparts of the Great Wall's most westerly garrison and onto Xian.
Day 24: Urumqi and to Turpan
After this morning's breakfast, we will be driven beyond the city to the oasis of Turpan, which still reflects life as it was along this part of the Silk Road. Early travellers report that it was once two towns the smaller of Chinese inhabitants, the larger of the Turks. These days, the faces in the bazaar recall the four corners of Asia.
Most of Turpan's attractions lie outside of the city and its grapevine-trellised pedestrian streets. While here we embark on an excursion to the fascinating Karez Irrigation System, the life source of Turpan.
Day 23: Urumqi
Our train rolls into the capital of the Xinjiang Province, mid-morning.
Urumqi is a wonderful fusion of an exotic mix of peoples. Whilst here we gain an insight into how this intriguing clash of cultures came to be at the Xinjiang Regional Museum and witness archaeological treasures from the Silk Road, including a fascinating exhibition of well-preserved 3000 year old Indo-European mummies. Later we take in the panoramic views from the picturesque Hong Shan Park, as well as the vibrant colours and smells within the bustling Grand Bazaar.
Day 19: Samarkand to Tashkent
Onwards to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent - a city that cleverly juggles its cultural and historical past, the Soviet era's impact and modern day lifestyles. Here we have a brief opportunity to enjoy the splendor of this old Soviet city.
Day 21: Almaty
Nestled in the foothills of the mighty Tien Shan Mountains, Almaty offers an enjoyable change from the desert landscapes of Central Asia. We spend a full day here with the chance to explore the city.
Day 20: Tashkent to Almaty via Shymkent
From Tashkent we cross the border to Kazakhstan where our train journey takes us to Almaty, passing the occasional now-derelict Silk Road town.
Day 28: Xian and onto Beijing
Beyond the city is the mind-boggling, entombed Terracotta Warriors. You will be astounded at the display of thousands of life-sized terracotta warriors, a hundred or so chariots plus thousands of weapons before boarding our final overnight train that carries us from the gateway of the great Silk Road to the nation's capital.
Day 22: Almaty and onto Urumqi
The long delayed Sino-Soviet Peace Railway project was finally completed a couple of years ago and we take full advantage of it to cross through the Dzungarian Gate bound for China's Xinjiang province home to China's Muslim Uighur population. Snow-capped peaks can be seen for most of the year at the border post of Druzhba (Peace) before the downhill run to Urumqi.
Days 29-30: Beijing
Beijing is an incredible contrast of sights, sounds and smells. Explore the backstreet lanes (hutongs) of the old town with their food stalls and street vendors for a taste of 'old Beijing' and of course the Great Wall of China.
We spend our last morning of this epic journey exploring Beijing's must-see sights, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven before we say farewell to our fellow travellers and our journey comes to an end.