Anthony Bourdain Shocking Country
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Turner; Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery

Travel enthusiast (and chef, author, and television personality) Anthony Bourdain has seen a lot in his adventures across the globe. But that doesn't mean he can't still be surprised.

When Travel + Leisure asked Bourdain what off-the-grid destination surprised him the most during his travels, he was quick to respond with Iran.

“I was really knocked sideways by how well we were treated in Iran and how delicious the food was and how hospitable ordinary people were to us,” he told T+L. He echoed this sentiment many times in his Parts Unknown episode to the Middle Eastern country, too.

“Iran does not look, does not feel the way I expected,” Bourdain said upon landing, noting that there’s a “much bigger picture” than what you see on television.

The warmth with which he was greeted by locals was completely unexpected.

“I am so confused,” he admitted. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Many intrepid travelers are now discovering this beautiful country, which landed on T+L’s list of the year’s best places to travel. Elaborate mosques, contemporary art, the gardens of Shiraz and (as Bourdain would tell you) the food — fluffy saffron rice and meatballs stuffed with eggs — are more accessible than ever thanks to improved relations with the U.S. and new-found political stability.

For more insight from Bourdain — including the one hotel he could spend the rest of his life in (willingly) and the one dish worth traveling for — check out our full interview with him. And if you’ve got Iran on your radar, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the country.

Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.