The city of Tabriz is tucked into Iran’s northwestern corner, and it’s partly this geographical location that makes it different from the rest of the country. The first major bout of culture shock experienced by visitors, including Iranians, is the local language. Azeri Turkish is spoken in Tabriz, and locals are not keen on speaking Persian. In fact, questions asked in Persian are often answered in Turkish.
Another factor making this area unique is the geography. East Azerbaijan Province, where Tabriz is located, enjoys a cooler climate and varied topography including mountains, dormant volcanoes and glacial lakes.
These cultural and geographical differences start to become apparent on the road to Tabriz from central Iran. Passing the city of Zanjan, an interesting mountain chain appears and is painted with hues of copper, red, green, orange and yellow. This work of art by mother nature, the Aladaglar Mountains, shares its name with a mountain range in Turkey, but the two should not be confused.
These painted mountains exist in a few places on earth, such as the Zhangye National Geopark in China, Hornocal mountain range in Argentina and Ausangate mountains in Peru. In China, these mountains are said to be the result of millions of years of minerals and sandstone being pressed together and oxidised. This is likely what happened elsewhere in the world, too, making these phenomenal mountains look like giant layer cakes. Many tourists travel to Iran unaware of this natural beauty, but nature photography enthusiasts and visitors in general should take a road trip to Tabriz to experience these trippy mountains for themselves and have an adventure off the beaten track.
A good place to start would be the Dome of Soltaniyeh, a UNESCO-listed site with a glowing turquoise dome, before moving on to the numerous attractions of Zanjan. Continuing northwest and nearing the village of Bostanabad, some 60 km outside Tabriz, is when the landscape starts to change, making you wonder if there was something in your water (or tea). The perfect spot for a picnic stop, this magical place is otherworldly, giving the feeling of walking on Mars. You’ll surely be delighted to explore it on foot, capture the colours on film and discover hidden villages nearby.