The vast expanses of Iran are a magnet for outdoor adventurers, with pristine national parks, soaring mountains, fascinating nomadic tribes, beach resorts and a nascent ski industry attracting downhill powder buffs from all over the world. The country's winter sports season runs from December until the end of May, with the action centred on Dizin, which is two hours' drive north of the capital Tehran, in the Alborz Mountains. The resort is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and thanks to its altitude - the highest ski lift reaches up to 3,600 metres - and north-facing slopes, it enjoys an excellent reputation for regular snowfall. While amenities are less developed than in other major ski venues in Europe and North America, for many visitors this is simply part of the attraction as they can concentrate on skiing pure and simple. While Dizin is also open during the summer months for grass skiing, other parts of Iran exercise their allure all year round. Golestan Forest, near the city of Gorgan, was the first national park in Iran and its 92,000 hectares have altered little since its opening in 1957. It stretches over two markedly different climatic zones: dense deciduous forest that comes into its own in autumn, and semi-arid steppe. Sighting wild boar, deer, gazelles and ibex even on routine expeditions is the rule rather than the exception, and there is also abundant bird life. Iranian hospitality to foreign visitors is legendary, and few visitors come away without tales of casual meetings which have turned into lengthy friendly encounters. While such welcoming attitudes are the norm in major cities, they are particularly evident in rural areas, especially among Iran's nomadic tribes. There are more than a million nomads in Iran - one of the largest such populations in the world - divided among some 500 tribes and independent clans. All the nomads migrate between summer and winter quarters, moving en masse from cooler mountain pastures down to the warmer plains and making a livelihood from tending herds of sheep, goats and camels. This traditional lifestyle, based on strong ties of kinship and tribal loyalty, has been maintained for generations, and it's possible to catch a glimpse of a way of life that almost seems an anachronism by spending a night or two under canvas in a tribal encampment. Visitors will find they are both objects of courteous curiosity and honoured guests who are encouraged to take part in day-to-day activities and take home a souvenir in the form of the handicrafts made by tribeswomen, in particular the hand-woven carpets distinguished by their durability and imaginative designs. Serious hikers visiting Iran usually have one destination in mind, with their sights firmly set on the country's highest peak, Mount Damavand. The 4,667-metre peak of this dormant volcano is clad in snow all year round, but there are a number of routes to the top, varying from dizzyingly steep paths to others which definitely require rope and crampons. One of the most popular ascents is via the southern route, which is marked by a shelter below the summit at 4,220 metres. However, the western approach is equally spectacular as it enjoys a particularly good view at sunset and passes the frozen waterfall known as Abshar Yakhi. Quite apart from the mountain's physical challenge, Damavand is the Mount Olympus of Persian mythology, boasting numerous legends including the three-headed dragon Azi Dahaka, which is reputedly chained inside the mountain. The thermal springs on the mountain's lower slopes reportedly have therapeutic qualities and are certainly a delightful way to ease cramped muscles after climbing to the top. There are few luxury spas in Iran but a great deal of natural ones, with the city of Sarein being especially well regarded for the curative properties of its mineral waters. Most spas here are essentially large swimming pools, fed by springs, where patrons are encouraged to immerse themselves for as long as possible to enjoy the full benefits. Finally, and most exotically, the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf has been extensively redeveloped in recent years, transforming it into a seaside resort highly popular with watersport enthusiasts and people who go there to take advantage of the duty-free shopping in the island's numerous glittering malls. Snorkelling from the silvery sand beach ranks among the best in the region, with plenty of marine life on view a few strokes from the shore. Other diversions include parasailing, jet skiing, water skiing and fishing, while there are plenty of dive shops offering gear for hire and courses. Kish means pearl in Farsi and over the years numerous famous travellers - including Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta - have agreed that the island is the Pearl of the Persian Gulf.