Our top tips for short breaks and perfect weekends away
We’ve made it through the poorest, coldest months of the year and, in celebration of the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the resulting well-earned day off work, we’ve scouted out some captivating, good-value mini-breaks you can tackle at the weekend without denting your holiday allowance. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker at heart or simply in need of some serious pampering to clear those winter cobwebs, we’ve got the trip for you. Each destination is a mere four hours (or less) away from our Dubai travelling hub, and we’ve selected both local and international must-visit destinations to explore depending on your budget. Kick back, enjoy, and don’t forget to send us a postcard.
What you’ll experience: It’s dirty, it’s crazy and enjoys daily power cuts, but Kathmandu is packed with fantastic culinary experiences. The vegetarian curries and thalis in this city are second to none – so good, in fact, that we gave in and ordered a second meal at Four Season in Thamel (+977 1 470 1715), while at not-so-French spot Le Bistro (+977 1 470 1170), we tucked into a delicious shredded veggie curry. Most locals are vegetarian, yet there’s plenty of meat for the carnivores. If you haven’t filled up on momos (a popular dumpling typically filled with chicken), head to K-Too Beer & Steakhouse.
(www.kilroygroup.com, +977 1 470 0043), where you’ll enjoy the finest slice of cow the Nepalese rupee can buy.
Where to stay: Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel is an oasis of calm in a busy district. Rates start from a few dirhams a night, rising to a couple of hundred for a luxury room. www.ktmgh.com (+977 1 470 0800)
How to get there: Kathmandu is about a four-hour flight from Dubai.
Fly Air Arabia from Sharjah from Dhs950, or Flydubai from Dubai for Dhs1,070. www.flydubai.com, www.airarabia.com.
Ras al Khaimah, UAE
What you’ll experience: The most concentrated number of climbing routes in the UAE can be found in this hilly and peaky area, and they’re particularly good for beginners. If you don’t know what you’re doing we wouldn’t recommend trying to scale any cliffs on your own, so book a regularly organised trip with trained instructors. Local climbing group Global Climbing’s trips include a quiet barbecue meal in the evening, followed by meditation or a game of scrabble, before a cup of hot chocolate and bed. Then it’s an early rise and a day of euphoric climbing, which will challenge you physically and mentally – you’ll return home feeling toned and exhilarated.
Where to stay: Budding explorers will expect nothing less than camping in the great outdoors. The instructors will show you plenty of sheltered pitches in the area so you won’t get swept away in a sandstorm (unless, of course, that’s the kind of adventure you are after).
How to get there: Just over an hour’s drive from Dubai, Global Climbing run regular climbing trips to RAK from Dhs600 per person, including all equipment (shoes, helmets, harness, etc). www.globalclimbing.com (07 235 3910).
For eco-conscious travellers
Suhailah Desert, near Dhaid, UAE
What you’ll experience: The wild. Don your Thailand fisherman pants and your hippy beads and head to this environmental camp for the weekend – it’s only an hour from Dubai. At Eco Venture camps you can educate yourself on how to respect your environment and survive in the elements; at the weekends there are organised group trips including desert walks or lab work (looking at desert specimens); you can also explore impressive wadis, listen to conservation talks, go on night walks and get slimy weeds up to the thighs while wading around mangroves. The camp’s guides are experts in everything from environmental science to geology, bringing their knowledge from Greece, Canada and South Africa.
Where to stay: Choose to either camp in a safari tent or do a spot of ‘glamping’ (posh camping), where you can stay in a cosy bunk bed in a dormitory. Both have mod-cons (ie showers and toilets).
How to get there: Suhailah Desert is an hour and a quarter from Dubai by car, not far from Dhaid. Overnight trips start at Dhs400 and include a roof over your head, breakfast and an evening barbecue and campfire. www.ecoventureme.com (04 372 1222).
For a relaxing break
Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
What you’ll experience: Calm. Oodles of it. If you’re the type of person who gets restless and fidgety, this one definitely isn’t for you. But if you’re the type who enjoys long walks on the beach, slow (if a little precarious) tuk tuk rides through rainforests and quiet candle-lit dinners; you’ll adore this. Sleep at one of the several, small hotels that line the beach in the quiet Unawatuna Bay – the Thaproban is our favourite. There are two temples nearby with beautiful vistas of the island if you fancy a visit to somewhere even more peaceful, or you can head to the turtle farm ( www.seaturtlefarm.org, +94 777 836 115), which helps to preserve the wild turtle population and educates local school children about the environment. Fancy a quiet, late-afternoon drink? Hop in a tuk tuk to the Lady Hill hotel in Galle Fort ( www.ladyhillsl.com, +94 912 244 322) and head up to the rooftop bar for a local brew – be sure to catch your jaw before it hits the floor when you clap eyes on the view.
Where to stay: Thaproban Beach House in Unawatuna, Galle offers a comfortable stay for as little as Dhs183 per night.
(+94 914 381 722).
How to get there: Air Arabia flies from Sharjah to Colombo airport (a four-hour flight) with prices from Dhs890, followed by a four-hour drive from Colombo to Unawatuna. Most hotels (including Thaproban) will arrange transport for a small additional charge.
For culture vultures
What you’ll experience: This mammoth city (the fifth most populated in the world) is where the grand Bosphorous river, which runs straight through the city, unifies and divides Europe and Asia. An important city historically, it has been the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. As you’d expect, the historical sightseeing opportunities are fantastic. Don’t miss the Basilica Cistern (an eerie underground piece of architecture), the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace, which was home to the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years. Istanbul is also a thriving cultural hub today and was dubbed the European capital of culture in 2010 by the European Union. While here, dive in to a flourishing contemporary art scene – the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is a great place to start.
For party animals
What you’ll experience: Beirut boasts all the glamour of Nice or Lake Como, with a traditional Middle Eastern identity. Set amid the mountains, if you’re lucky enough to land at night the city’s lights as seen from the airport are a spectacle to behold. But you won’t want to stand about staring at the view – night-time means only one thing in Beirut: partying. You’ll find clubbers everywhere, dressed up to the 11s and ready to dance through any political strife. BO18 ( www.b018.com, +961 158 0018) is a club set in an underground bunker with a roof that peels back at daybreak. Other popular haunts include Skybar ( www.sky-bar.com,+961 393 9191), an upscale al-fresco spot, and The Music Hall (+961 380 7555), a renovated old-school cinema, which showcases live music.
Where to stay: The Monroe Hotel offers rooms from Dhs473, with some special winter promotions including airport transfers.
For a romantic getaway
What you’ll experience: Buddy up at the Oman Dive Centre in Muscat, which offers all kinds of day and night dives (as well as snorkelling and boat trips for non-divers). Guests have the choice of five sites around the Bandar Jussa reef and the chance to spot cuttlefish, spiny lobsters and turtles. After a day at sea, relax in the intimate, rustic beach huts set in a secluded bay. With a homely feel, the centre hosts barbecues and local live music. Be sure to head out on an early-morning dolphin-watching boat trip: you might just spot dozens.
Where to stay: Oman Dive Centre’s two-person beach huts start from Dhs700, including breakfast and dinner. www.diveoman.com.om (+968 2482 4240).
How to get there: The centre is a five- to six-hour drive from Dubai. A detailed map is available on the website.
For a luxury break
Desroches Island, Seychelles
What you’ll experience: A favourite with A-list luminaries (Charlize Theron, for example) and royalty (future King of England Prince William and his missus, Kate Middleton), Desroches Island is located in the southern Amirantes archipelago, a 40-minute flight from Mahé, the main island. This private island is the ultimate hideaway – think 14km of silver sands, lush jungle and five-star luxury accommodation. After touching down on the private airstrip and dropping off your luggage in one of the beachside villas, you can lounge on the beach or indulge in a spa treatments. The more adventurous can busy themselves by navigating the island’s shores by catamaran, exploring the jungle by bicycle, scuba diving or snorkelling. Fishing and island-hopping trips are also available.
Where to stay: The beach villas, located on the north-facing beach, feature private swimming pools, three en-suite bedrooms (which all feature outdoor bathrooms), and a fully equipped kitchen. Dhs5,051 per night for a beach villa (prices vary depending on number of people).
For budget travellers
Musandam peninsula, Oman
What you’ll experience: The Al Boom dhow navigates the waters of Dibba, stopping off at a couple of bays throughout the day and allowing passengers to swim, snorkel, or even splash around in the on-board kayak. For the rest of the time, it’s just a matter of lounging in the sun on big cushions or relaxing below deck. Because this is one of the few dhows around that has two decks, there’s plenty of space so you won’t feel cramped or obliged to make small talk with other passengers if you’re just after some quiet time.
Where to stay: The overnight package includes a night’s stay at the Golden Tulip in Dibba, where guests get to enjoy the facilities until 3pm the following day, at which point they catch the bus back to Dubai.
How to get there: Catch the bus from Al Boom headquarters on Al Wasl Road at 6.30am (transport is included in the price), to set sail for 8.30am.
Dhs1,310 per couple, including transport, dhow trip, breakfast, lunch and accommodation.
For health enthusiasts
What you’ll experience: Shreyas Retreat caters for just 25 guests at a time, but it’s surrounded by 25 acres of countryside: at an acre per person we’re sure you’ll have enough space. Have a wander around the organic farm, visit the spa, play a little cricket, go jogging on the trails and relax with organic cuisine. There is a no-alcohol policy here – the idea is to walk out more radiant than you walked in. Packages include a seven-day Joy of Giving that focuses on giving back to the surrounding villages through community service. There’s also a seven-night Silent Retreat that (you guessed it) is to be spent in silence. For a weekend break, however, we’d pick the Wellness for the Soul package, which is available in three-night blocks and involves yoga, meditation, massages, cooking classes and community exercises. Stick to the hotel if you’re after downtime, but an hour’s drive to nearby Bangalore is worth it if you’re keen to see the city’s many temples.
Where to stay: Shreyas offers cute cottage-style rooms, and the three-night Wellness for the Soul package (Dhs4,000) includes one private yoga session, twice-daily group yoga sessions, a pranayama yoga session (a breathing practice), a meditation session, two rejuvenation massages, a wellness consultation, daily group chanting sessions and all meals (they’re vegetarian).