Masouleh was our first stop in our Iran trip. This 1000-year-old village is tucked deep in Alborz Mountain in northern Iran. Masouleh is a popular weekend destination among urbanites from Tehran and Rahst. Especially in the summer when they come seeking higher elevation to escape the stifling heat of the lowlands.
“I’m so glad you have Masuleh on your itinerary. It’s so different than the rest of Iran,” our guide Reza said on the drive over. Looking around at the green forested mountains around us, I had an idea of what he was talking about. This isn’t the image of Iran people associate with.
Masouleh isn’t just a picturesque village though. It’s also known for its unique architecture: its yellow, mud-brick cottages are built on a steep mountainside, so steep that the houses are built in stepped terraces and are interconnected. The rooftop of one house becomes the courtyard of the house above.
Because of Masouleh’s unique layout, with its small streets and many stairs, no cars can enter the village proper. Visitors and villagers alike park their cars in the common lot at bottom of the village. As our car made its way up a winding, mountain road we could see nothing but a blanket of swirling fog. When we pulled up, the fog was thicker than ever.
We checked into Hotel Mehran. My room had a kitchen, 2 bathrooms (one had a western toilet, the other a squat toilet), and 5 single beds – all to myself! After trying out every single bed in my room (and confirming that they all have the same rock-hard mattresses), I walked to the balcony to check out the view.
The balcony has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the village which totally made up for its weird layout and shitty mattresses. Then I saw a hint of sun through the swirling fog. It’s going to clear up, I just knew it. Eager to stretch my legs after a 6 hour drive from Tehran, I grabbed my camera and ran out to explore (only to run back in for my scarf when I realised my head was bare. Hah!)
How to Visit Masouleh
Masouleh is about 4-5 hour drive from Tehran.
There’s a bus from Tehran to Rasht, then a bus from Rasht to Fuman. Less common is a direct bus from Tehran to Fuman. See here for Iran bus schedule. From Fuman you can take a private taxi (3000 to 5000 Tomans, depending on your bargaining skill), or take a shared taxi or a minibus to Masouleh.
Where to Stay
As you enter the parking lot, there will be people offering spare rooms to rent. Hotel Mehran is a mid-budget option and can be found at the lower level of the village, close to the parking lot.
Things to Do in Masouleh
Other than exploring the village itself, there are hiking trails in the surrounding mountain. Maps.me has a trail to a few different viewpoints on the hillside across the river, past the old cemetery.
When to Visit
It snows in winter, so Spring/Summer/Fall would be best. For more peace and quiet, visit on non-weekend (Fridays) days.
Related: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Iran
Using narrow lanes and occasionally the rooftops of the houses below, I meandered through the village. Considering these old houses are mostly made of clay and wood, I marveled at how strong the roofs must be. Not only do they have to bear the weight of constant foot traffic, but also snow in the winter.
I picked whichever narrow passageway that called to me and went up uneven stairways between houses that looked appealing. Soon I found myself at the center of the village where the bazaar and restaurants are. There were women selling handmade dolls made of yarns and men tending to large pots of ash-e reshteh – thick soup made of herbs, beans, and yogurt. Most of the shops are closed though. I assume that the village only truly comes alive on weekends (which in Iran falls on Fridays) when domestic tourists come in hordes. (Since Masuleh is not a regular stop on Iran’s classic itinerary, it receives far less foreigners).
At that moment though, with wisps of remaining fog on the surrounding forest and the evening sun reflecting off the honey-colored houses – it felt very peaceful. I picked one of the restaurants with an open terrace and sat down with a hot bowl of ash-e reshteh, thinking that this was the perfect start of my travel in Iran.