First private train heads for Tehran with 96 passengers from 14 countries
A steam engine pulls the Golden Eagle Danube Express after its departure from Budapest on 15 October, en route to Tehran. Photograph: Zoltan Mathe/EPA
A long-distance luxury train, operating in the style of the Orient Express, arrived in the Iranian city of Zanjan from Budapest on Thursday, in a rare private rail visit to the Islamic republic.
Iran’s cultural heritage and tourism organisation said some 96 passengers from at least 14 different countries were aboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express, according to the semi-official Isna news agency. “It arrived in Zanjan at 17.30 local time," Gholamreza Najafloo, a spokesperson, told Iranian reporters.
The Cheshire-based Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, which has organised the Jewels of Persia tour, said it marked the first time a European private train had been permitted to enter Iranian territory.
To observe Iranian requirements, alcoholic drinks are not being served during the entire section of the tour in Iran.
The train, which departed Budapest’s Nyugati terminus in mid-October, travelled through Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey prior to the Iranian leg of the journey. Its final destination is the capital, Tehran.
Since the election of the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, last year, Iran has invested more in its tourism industry, opening doors to a larger number of foreign visitors.
This was facilitated by the appointment of Mohammad-Ali Najafi, a western-educated Iranian politicain, as the country’s vice-president for tourism.
Najafi told the Guardian last October that Iran was overhauling its strict immigration rules to ease or abolish visa requirements for most foreign visitors. He has since stepped down from his position but taken another job with the government.
Iran is home to some of the world’s most magnificent historical and archaeological sites. Relics of a proud ancient civilisation include: Persepolis, the capital of the largest empire that the world has ever seen; the city of Isfahan; Shiraz, the city of love and poetry; and Hamadan, where Avicenna, the father of early modern medicine, is buried.
Unesco has declared 16 world heritage sites in Iran, which was historically referred to as Persia in the west until the 20th century.
Apart from Zanjan, where guests are visiting the Unesco-listed, 13th-century Soltaniyeh mausoleum, the Golden Eagle train will stop in the ancient city of Yazd, Isfahan, Shiraz and finally Tehran.
“We felt that many of our clients would be greatly drawn to the excitement of Iran for its fascinating culture," said Ian Lomas, of Golden Eagle. “An emerging tourism market, Iran is now returning to travellers’ bucket lists. We are experiencing a significant demand for the 2015 and 2016 departures – indeed, our inaugural journey sold out within three weeks of launch date."
Prices for the two-week tour range from £8,695 to £13,995 per person.