Population: 20,000
Kish, the desert island that the last shah started transforming into a playground for the rich and famous during the 1960s, is now seen by Iranians the way Americans view Hawaii. The island is both a novelty – for most Iranians this is the only beach resort they’ll ever be able to visit – and more liberated than the rest of Iran.

Kish as a free-trade zone is booming. Hotels, shopping centres and theme parks are emerging from the sand to cater to migrant workers on ‘change visa’ runs and more than one million Iranians a year. But for foreigners however, there are reasons to visit Kish. The resort water-sports make a pleasant diversion, there are a few ancient sights and cycling around the island on the coastal bike path is fun. More than anything else, it’s the relaxed atmosphere that appeals to Iranians, many of whom treat the island as something of a mental-health break – it’s not a bad approach.