Shemshak, Iran

Photo: Djiock (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s officially another heat wave. You’ve spent the last few days sweating profusely. Instead of enjoying outdoor activities, you’ve stayed inside—with the air conditioner constantly blowing—and wished for cooler weather. You’d love to go skiing right now. A trip to the Southern Hemisphere—where it’s winter—doesn’t fit into your busy summer schedule, though. So you’ve started dreaming about winter ski trips.

As you scour the Internet for photos of snow-covered resorts, you keep clicking on Shemshak. The ski resort, in the Alborz Mountains, seems to be the new it spot. It looks like it’s in the Swiss Alps with open skiing, black diamonds, and lots of fresh powder. It has a relaxed après-ski vibe with cafes, loud music, and not-so-secret recreational drug use. Plus lift passes are cheap. Dirt cheap. There’s only one slight issue. Shemshak is in Iran.

Iran has been off-limits for years. Following the Islamic Revolution, the United States imposed sanctions and deemed the country an “axis of evil.” Iran largely withdrew from the world stage and built defensive mechanisms. Tensions eventually started to ease, thanks in part to a new Iranian president and a nuclear agreement. Iran suddenly become a hot destination. Then all progress ceased after the 2016 election in the United States.

Photo: Barin Hotel

It’s unfortunate. Shemshak could have been the perfect winter getaway. The ski resort is only one hour northeast of Tehran. The Alborz Mountains, which run along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, always receive a ton of snow. The country’s strict Islamic laws—from the separation of the sexes to women wearing hijabs to mandatory photos of the Ayatollah Khomeini—are rarely enforced. Plus there’s a new design hotel about which everyone is talking.

Barin Hotel is in Shemshak. The 10-story building looks like an igloo or bones, depending on your point of view. It has very few straight lines. The walls, even in the hallways and the rooms, are curved and textured. The windows are pebble shaped. While the white facade blends into the surrounding landscape during the winter. It’d be striking anywhere, but it’s a complete surprise in Iran.

So, as you sit and sweat, you picture yourself gliding through freshly fallen snow. You dream of winter, Barin Hotel, and Shemshak. And you hope that one day, you’ll be able to visit the forbidden country of Iran. It’s amazing where your mind goes during a heat wave.


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