The Alamut Valley and the Ancient Castle of the Assassins
This post is about the beautiful Alamut Valley, the castle of the Assasins and my experience as a solo female traveller. The Alamut Valley is famous for its historical significance as the stronghold of the medieval Ismaili sect known as the Assassins. The valley is located in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran and was the site of the castle fortress of Alamut, which served as the headquarters of the Assassins from the 11th to the 13th century.
The Assassins were a secretive group of Shia Muslims who used political assassination as a tool to achieve their goals. They were known for their ruthless tactics and their ability to infiltrate powerful institutions. The castle of Alamut was strategically located and difficult to access, making it an ideal base of operations for the Assassins.
The Alamut valley is about 4 hours north from Qazvin. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Iran, not necessarily because of the crusader castle, but because of its astounding mountain sceneries.
Most of my trip to Iran included cities like Shiraz and Isfahan, full of stunning Islamic architecture that makes you forget that Iran is also blessed with beautiful nature. If you love hiking and the outdoors you should definetly include the Alamut valley in your itinerary.
The Alamut Valley and the castle of the Assasins
It was an early start from Qazvin to get to Gazor Khan in the Alamut valley. A 3 hour drive in a shared taxi through mountain roads in the mist and rain. The rain sometimes changed into snow and all I could see from my window were thick clouds passing by.
The winding roads were hard on my still empty stomach and those of the other passengers. By the time I just wanted to get out of the small taxi we arrived in Gazor Khan. A small mountain village in the heart of the Alamut valley. The couple in my taxi immediately invited me for a cup of tea in their house.
Hospitality in the Alamut valley
It was my first, but not last introduction to Gazor Khan’s hospitality. They had a small house with one large room. There was no furniture, but their biggest pride was the carpet covering the whole floor. We all gathered around a samovar in the middle of the room.
They shared tea, fresh bread and cheese with me. They insisted I could sleep in their house, but considering the small room I left once the rain cleared up. That is when I met Ahmed and his children who were herding their goats back down the mountain.
They were intrigued by a woman travelling alone. Ahmed called his wife to invite me over for dinner. An invitation I felt I could not decline. Ahmed came to pick me up in the evening. His wife had prepared several stews and salads. All very delicious. The children were still shy, but also curious. Unfortunately nobody spoke english, but their friendliness and hospitality didn’t need any language.
From the Alamut valley to Tehran
After a full day of hiking I took a shared taxi back to Qazvin. Without the mist and rain I could now fully enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way. I was with an old couple in the back, while the driver managed to fit 4 people in the front. All squeezed together we made our way back to Qazvin.
The old couple also needed to go to Tehran and sort of adopted me to make sure I was in the right bus. The first bus was apparently not good enough. The lady said the seats looked too old. She grabbed my arm and left. I didn’t see much difference, but she assured me the other bus was much better.
I had to sit next to her and she kept feeding me sunflower seeds. In Tehran she made sure I went to the right direction to catch the metro before we parted. The last bit of Gazor Khan’s hospitality.
The best things to do in the Alamut Valley
Hike to the castle of the Assasins
The Alamut castle of the Assasins in Gazor Khan is the main attraction in the area. Alamut literally translates as eagle’s nest. The story is that a Persian king once followed an eagle that landed on the top of a mountain surrounded by a beautiful mountain valley. Even though it was very hard to reach the king decided to build a castle here. The mountains formed a natural protection and from his castle the views extended over the valley and beyond.
Much later the castle got into the hands of the Assasins, a secret Islamic sect that fought against the ruling Seljuks. The castle flourished in this time and the Assasins made it completely self-sufficient with an irrigation system, a giant library and beautiful gardens.
Unfortunately, the castle was eventually destroyed by the Mongols. What remains nowadays are ruins, but the stunning beauty of the mountains and the magnificent views over the Alamut valley are the same.
It is a steep hike up the castle, but the effort you will make is totally worth it. Not much people make it up here and the silence of the mountains is incredible. The ruins can be a bit disappointing, but the views will for sure leave you breathless if the hike didn’t do that for you already.
Watch the cherry blossoms
The Alamut valley is a good place to see rural life in Iran. In my opinion, it is much more authentic than the more famous Masuleh. Like many other villages in the Alamut valley, Gazor Khan is full of orchards with apple, apricot and cherry trees. In spring you can see the spectacular cherry blossoms that turn the gardens snowy white.
Hiking in the Alamut valley
There are several hikes you can do around Gazor Khan and in the Alamut Valley. There are no marked trails, but you can consult the guest book from hotel Koozaran for some pictures of paths you can hike. Basically you can follow any path and have spectacular views all around you.
Alamut Valley Travel tips
Where to sleep in the Alamut Valley
Booking hostels in Iran online is rather difficult. Because of the sanctions, most regular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb won’t work.
To book your hotel beforehand you either need to contact them directly or use 1stQuest
I checked in at the Hotel Koosaran, the only hotel in town and an experience in itself. The hostel owner did not look friendly at first and it took some time for her to open up to me. She turned out to be a very good cook and the next days I enjoyed her homecooked food such as kuku sabzi and vegetable stew.
It is 300,000 rials for a dormitory bed. Chances are good you have the dormitory for yourself, depending on the season. The guestbooks are also a good source of information for possible treks in the area.
Where to eat in the Alamut Valley
There are no restaurants in the Alamut valley so you will most likely eat at your hotel. The food in Koosaran hotel was decent. It was nice to get a chance to try home cooked Persian food such as kuku sabzi and gormeh sabzi.
There are only a few shops in Gazor Khan. Therefore, it is a good idea to bring some snacks with you and enough water. especially if you plan to go hiking it is best to bring a lunch packet with you. Consider to bring a waterfilter as well to refill your own bottle.
When to visit the Alamut valley
While most places in Iran sees soaring temperatures in summer, the Alamut valley offers some cooler air. This is the best time for hiking in the mountains.
If you want to see the cherry blossoms bloom you must come in spring. Although spring is also one of the wettest periods, it is a lovely time to hike around in the Alamut valley with lots of blossoming flowers and the festivities of the Nowruz festival.
Spring has the cherry blossoms and autumn has the autumn colours in the trees. Therefore autumn is the second best time to visit the Alamut valley, but temperatures go down quickly. Come early in the season or bring some warm clothes.
Although the Alamut valley in winter is very cold it is not impossible to visit. Most hiking trails will be closed, but with the snow you don’t need to go far to be in a winter wonderland and have wonderful mountain views.
Safety in the Alamut valley
Iran, including the Alamut valley, is generally a safe destination for travelers, and millions of tourists visit Iran each year. The city has low crime levels. However, it is always important to exercise caution and take necessary safety precautions while traveling.
Update 2023: A wave of protests erupted throughout Iran in 2022 and 2023. Although this is not a reason to avoid Iran, it is good to know that these protests can become violent. Due to the political situation, it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings. Avoid political demonstrations, expressing strong political opinions and respect the local rules of law. As a foreigner it is better to be safe than sorry.
For solo female travellers I wrote a post with tips and advice about traveling as a woman in Iran.
How to travel to the Alamut valley
From Qazvin: From Qazvin there are shared taxi’s to Gazor Khan (200,000 – 300,000 rials 3 – 4 hours). Most leave early morning around 7 AM from Qaribkosh square. Beware that Alamut castle is in Gazor Khan and NOT in Alamut town (Mo’allem Kelayeh).
When arranging a taxi make sure you are specific in saying you want to go to Gazor Khan. To get back to qazvin ask hotel koosaran to reserve a seat in a shared taxi. Shared taxi’s from Gazor khan back to Qazvin leave at 7 AM.
It is also possible to book a this one day tour from Qazvin with 1stQuest.
From Tehran: Getting from Tehran to the Alamut valley is a long day. There are no direct buses from Tehran to the Alamut valley. You will first need to get to Qazvin.
Luckily there are frequent buses between Tehran and Qazvin that take about three hours. Once in Qazvin you can follow the steps above. Althought most shared taxi’s from Qazvin to Alamut leave in the morning, you will find some in the afternoon as well.
You can check the bus times and book your bus tickets on the 1stQuest booking system.
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