At the start of the old Safavid pilgrimage route across the desert to Mashhad, this crumbling mud-walled town ranks among the most picturesque in Iran. Its most distinctive building is an ancient mosque with an unusual octagonal minaret, one of the first to be erected in Persia after the Arab invasion, and which retains some exquisite decorative brickwork.

Another highlight is the adjacent Safavid house built in 1560, whose owner opens it to the public as an ‘ethnographic museum’ where you can admire original plasterwork friezes recounting traditional tales from the Koran. The town also retains an evocative Parthian fort and the remains of a 3,000-year-old qanat water distribution system by means of which snow-melt was channelled from the distant mountains.

A tract of massive, yellow dunes outside Naein provide a target for enjoyable day trips or cycle rides.

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