Shiraz in Shiraz: Hotel Laleh

Hotel Laleh

Touring in Iran

Tehran
Iran
20 Apr 2017

Hotel Laleh, target

In 1971, the Tehran Inter-Continental Hotel was one of many Western-style establishments (along with a Hyatt, a Hilton, and a Sheraton) to cater for American interests in Iran. The traveller could enjoy a burger and a beer, drink champagne in the French restaurant on the top floor, and sleep in a room as regular and anonymous as anything in Dallas.

Hotel LalehIn 1979, with the revolution, it was confiscated, renamed to Laleh (meaning tulip, the symbol of martyrdom), and purged of Western influences. The bikini-clad air hostesses disappeared from the swimming pool, into which the wine cellar was emptied. The carpet at the entrance had an American flag pattern, upon which visitors were expected to wipe their feet. The lobby was adorned with a mural declaring “Down with USA“.

And the windows were used for target practice by the local revolutionary militia.

Hotel Laleh, survivor

Hotel LalehThe bullet holes are still visible near the kitchen of the French restaurant, but the mural and the entrance mat have gone. After decades of neglect the rooms have been refurbished, the piano player in the lobby has returned to tinkle out Broadway tunes, and Western tourists are again made welcome.

The array of flagpoles at the entrance display flags from all over the world – with the notable exception of America and the UK – and drinks are served in glassware marked “Inter-Continental Hotels”. Sadly, wine no longer fills them, and the only beer available is the 0.0% malt drink, often pineapple or peach or apple flavoured.

Laleh Hotel, my Tehran home

Hotel LalehI love the Laleh. I’ve stayed there four times now, and despite the narrow 70’s style rooms, the down at heel restaurants, and the interesting breakfast buffet (where you may fill your bowl with “kind of flakes”), it never ceases to charm me in its quirky elegance.

There is a carpet shop in the lobby – “overpriced junk aimed at Russians”, declared our tour leader, and to be honest, a carpet with Day-Glo weave fails to charm me – but the bookshop is excellent, the decor distinctly Persian, and there is an absolute gem of a Persian restaurant, all curlicues and mirrors.

Location, location, location

Of course, our Persian carpet expert guide has selected this hotel for its proximity to the National Carpet Museum, but there is also an enormous park, a supermarket and shopping mall over the road, and a bazaar which comes alive every night.

Hotel LalehThe views from the rooms are expansive. On either side, snow-capped mountains are visible, and from the upper floors, the sprawl of modern Tehran is apparent. The view to the north shows mountains up to 4 000 metres high, but the outlook to the south is over nearby Laleh Park, with central Tehran beyond.

Laleh Park is the perfect antidote to eyes starved of greenery after a day or two of airline travel, and it is a delightful place to meet Iranians at play. Picnic parties sprawl under the trees, children chase each other across the grass, badminton, table tennis, and football games spring up on the walkways, and couples sit on the benches, their hands entwined in defiance of the morals police.

Hotel LalehCats prowl in the bushes, and gardeners work in the flower beds. Streams of water and fountains are everywhere. Kiosks sell refreshments, and there is nothing more delightful than to gaze upon the Persians parading, an ice cream slowly melting in one’s hand.

Spend an hour here, and it is plain that Iranians are as casual and peaceful as any other people. Friendly, playful, welcoming, they give the lie to the myths of the “Axis of Evil” we in the West are fed.

Pete

 

15 Comments

  1. What a fascinating detail about the history of this hotel. I always love learning more about the buildings in certain cities. I think it’s really neat to see how events influence the way the building is affected. Haha and I love the quirky name for cereal.

  2. Fascinating insight into a location not yet popular with tourists. It’s definitely a different experience.

    1. Tourism in Iran is ramping up. Throughout my two trips to Iran, I saw a great many tour groups much like ours.

      New five star hotels are going up everywhere. The Chinese, in particular, are very interested in Iran as they push down the Old Silk Road again.

      It is telling that the other top floor restaurant in the Laleh, the one that has had a Polynesian theme for decades, has suddenly switched to Chinese.

      Old decor and possibly the world’s worst Chinese food, but they are heading that way.

      A lot of German groups as well.

  3. Hotel Laleh and the surrounding area certainly sounds and looks like it has quite the charm. I love places that give you a better image of its past history.

    1. Some of the tales of the Laleh are repeated by the staff and guests – a few have been there since to old days – and some came from Elaine Sciolino’s excellent book “Persian Mirrors”.

      Iran is full of history and charm. Keep reading; I have a lot of stories to tell!

  4. How long will it be before the tourists hit up and flood this place? Nice location but I hope it wont get spoilt.

    1. Tehran is a metropolis of fifteen million souls. Even a flood of tourists won’t make a dent.

      Some of the popular cultural and historical sites can get busy already. As well as the tourist coaches, Iranians are out seeing their own country. School groups are commonplace.

      Already we see fast food joints. No McDonalds, not yet, but Dominos Pizza has a foothold.

  5. You have studied a lot to know about the history of Hotel Laleh, good! We love reading posts like this one! It is located in a beautiful zone.
    The photo of the food is so inviting!!

  6. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Iran. I truly do hope to be able to visit one day. I’ve got lots of friends from Iran and I’d love to have them show me their home!

    1. Iranian folk are friendly and welcoming. If you make it there, look them up. They’ll be able to show you the best bits.

      And there are so many good bits. Just one thing, if they offer you the chance to drive in the Tehran traffic, decline with thanks!

  7. Thats really too bad that they emptied the wine into the pool; what a waste! But interesting to hear the background of a big hotel like this. Thank you for sharing! I actually only know people that were absolutely thrilled by Iran; be it the people, the landscape, the culture…

  8. Hi, very interesting hotel history, but not sure I would be tepted to stay there, although they have German beer on stock…however, Iran is high on my list and almost sure I will go there one point in my life… Cheers, Eddy

  9. That’s a pretty unique hotel. Would love to visit here if I have the chance. It’s a nice thing that the hospitality and tourism industries in Iran are booming despite the news that it’s a zone of conflict.

  10. There is so much of history behind this hotel. But glad to see it has survived the hate and ravages of war and still serves travelers. A unique hotel indeed and a place I would love to stay in someday.

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