Mashhad's inexorable growth is starting to engulf outlying villages while once quaint hamlets in the Binalud foothills are turning into strip towns of upmarket restaurants, most notably at Shandiz. Prettier teahouse-retreat Torqabeh remains somewhat more rustic, but to get a little further from the concrete of urban sprall, the stepped village of Kang makes an appealing option, especially if you're hiking. For devotees of Iran's great medieval poets, the garden-set mausoleums of Omar Khayyam at Neishabur and Ferdosi at Tus might appeal, but be aware that both were built in the 20th century.
Longer but more off-beat day trips take visitors to Nader Shah's unfinished tomb-palace at Kalat via an appealingly desolate cross-mountain road. Or buzz up the motorway to find a lonely 13th-century astronomical tower near Radkan, a village with one of the region's best-conceived little ecolodges.