What to see First-timers… Amman is a modern Arab city boasting art galleries and cafés to the west, and a more conservative, less affluent eastern half. If it’s your first visit, you won’t want to miss the beautiful Roman Theatre, a 6,000-seater built into the side of a hill. And the Citadel atop Jebel al-Qala'a offers yet further glimpses into the area’s past as well as stunning 360-degree views of the fast-developing city below. With the Rose City at Petra just three hours’ drive away, Amman is the perfect base from which to explore.
Back for more… If you’re after a feast for all the senses, rise early and make your way to the markets in Al-Balad, Amman’s old centre, on a Friday. Or if you just fancy a break from city life, head a short 60km out of Amman to Qasr Kharana, one of the better known early desert Islamic castles in the region.
Where to eat Budget Street food options aren’t hard to come by in Amman, but a standout choice is the Reem Cafeteria, which has become a bit of a late-night institution. The place – in Jabal Amman, Second Circle – is little more than a hole in a wall, but is invariably busy. If you’re vegetarian or just fancy a little more choice, head to Hashem, a café off Al-Amir Mohammed Street, which serves some of the tastiest falafel in the entire country.
Blow-out Fakhr El-Din: Enjoy the best of Lebanese cuisine in an authentic Jordanian residence. It’s now an award-winning restaurant, with a beautiful outdoor terrace, perfect for the summer months, as well as a sleek, if a little small interior. The food is definitely some of the best you’ll find in the city, and prices reflect this. www.fakhreldin.com
Where to stay Budget Mansour Hotel: If you’ve always wanted to go back to school, here’s your chance, because this wallet-friendly hotel used to be one. Don’t expect luxury, but do expect basic yet comfortable rooms, a quiet location and glowing reviews from its guests. Downtown, King Faisal Street (+962 6 464 2696).
Blow-out Le Royal Hotels & Resorts – Amman: You can’t miss this luxury five-star hotel – its impressive circular building rises up like a towering light house. The spacious rooms and suites ooze classic elegance and an indoor and outdoor pool, spa offering a host of treatments and ten food and beverage outlets complete the picture. www.leroyalamman.com
How to get there Fly Dubai, Royal Jordanian, Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways all operate direct flights to Amman, with flight times of around two hours and 55 minutes.
Getting around Buses do operate throughout Amman, but if all you speak is English you may struggle. Taxis are easy to come by and cheap – just make sure the driver turns on the meter.
What to see Baku… Boasting a UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town and glitzy, modern skyscrapers, the Azeri capital does contrasts and contradictions rather well. European and Asian, and at the same time neither of the two, the city is shedding its Soviet-era vestiges and embracing modernity. Maiden’s Tower, a 29 metre-high tower made of stone and dating back to at least the 12th century, is a Baku icon and worth a photo or two, while the sandstone Palace of the Shirvanshahs offers a glimpse into the nation’s historic Islamic Medieval past.
Beyond Baku… Lankaran, a sleepy, easy-going city in southern Azerbaijan, is easily reached from Baku, and its seaside location gives it access to the waters of the Caspian via a few sandy beaches. Its claims to fame are tea and flowers, and its old prison once held captive a certain Joseph Stalin. In the country’s northern parts, meanwhile, the mountain village of Xinaliq is a must-see highlight, with its old stone houses boasting breathtaking views of the Caucasus Mountains from their lofty perch.
Where to eat Budget Yolki Palki: Lit up by the sounds of live gypsy music each night, this delightful, low-key cellar-restaurant is a great way to get to know the Azeri vibe. Expect hearty Eastern European fare and rather excitable locals. M Hüseyn küç 88 Imam Huseyn Mosque Area, with another branch at Qoqol küç 15.
Blow-out Chinar: A swanky, up-market Asian fusion restaurant, Chinar is great for when you fancy a break from the local Azeri cuisine. The interior is super stylish and there’s also a lounge and bar area with regular live music and DJs spinning the decks. Shovket Alakbarova Street 1 (+994 12 492 0888).
Where to stay Budget Kichik Gala Hotel: This budget option stands out from the many other hotels in Baku’s historic Old City thanks to its spacious and clean rooms, better equipped accommodation and its location that lends itself perfectly to exploring the best of the city's sites on foot. www.kichikgalahotel.com
Blow-out The Excelsior: A grand and opulent hotel that has anybody who’s somebody in Baku flocking to it, this five-star property has everything you’d expect for the price. The off-centre location is the only slight downfall. www.excelsiorhotelbaku.az
How to get there Fly Dubai, Azerbaijan Airlines and Qatar Airways fly direct to Baku from Dubai and Doha in around three hours. From Abu Dhabi you’ll need a stopover.
Getting around Baku Metro makes travel across the capital easy and cheap. Beyond Baku you’re looking at hopping on a train or hiring a car.
Money matters Local currency: Azerbaijani New Manat Exchange rate: AZN1 = Dhs4.68 / QR4.64
What to see First-timers… Take a tour of the Grand Mosque – it’s free and the volunteer guides are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Also take time to visit Qal’at Al Bahrain, a museum and education centre on the ancient harbour and capital of the Dilmun civilisation. The sunsets here are amazing. Finally, no visit would be complete without a trip to Bahrain International Circuit, the home of the first Middle East Grand Prix.
Back for more… Drive to the half way point on the Saudi causeway at dusk. The border is on two islands in the middle and you can go up the 65m-high observation tower. The drive is worth it simply for the views, driving out into the sea towards a country most of us will never have the chance to visit. The crossing toll is BHD2 per car. On your right as you head along the Janabiya highway, keep your eyes peeled for the camel farm. It’s not an official tourist attraction, but they welcome visitors and you can get to know racing camels up close and personal.
Where to eat Budget Bahr al Najaf (Najaf Sea): A restaurant off the Budaiya Highway. Seating is on carpets and cushions on the floor, and you’ll eat chicken or fish and rice with your hands (remember to use the right hand only) followed by hot sweet tea or Arabic coffee and dates. The whole meal will usually set you back around BHD2-3.
Blow-out Cico’s: It's been in Bahrain for years and is a local favourite. It looks like a chi-chi London eatery, circa 1975 – chequered table cloths, candles in bottles and plastic grapes hanging from the rafters. Sounds naff but it all adds to the charm and the food is uniformly good. An average meal with a nice grape will set you back around BHD40. (+973 17 713 710).
Where to stay Budget Bahrain Guest House: Run by English woman Glen, for more than 20 years, the guest house is in Juffair – close to nightlife, restaurants etc. There are six large rooms, all en-suite, a large private garden with swimming pool, TV lounge, internet and laundry. Prices per room range from BHD25 for one night, BHD20 for three nights or more and BHD15 for seven nights and upwards, inclusive of continental buffet breakfast. bahrainguesthouse.com
Blow-out Sofitel: On the far western coast of the island, a fair way outside town and close to lots of the Royal Palaces, the Sofitel boasts the first Thalassa sea water spa in the region. The hotel has its own private beach – an essential on an island where public beaches are few and far between – and some really good restaurants. www.sofitel.com
How to get there Direct flights are available from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha with Fly Dubai, Emirates, Gulf Air, Bahrain Air and Qatar Airways, with flight times of around 45 minutes.
Getting around Taxis are not as cheap as in the rest of the Gulf, but at least they are now metered (do make sure it’s turned on though). It’s a small island, too, so unless you are heading out to the race track, most journeys around town should be well under BHD10.
What to see First-timers… Bali has it all – surprising considering how small it is. Idyllic beaches, clear waters, great surf, lush landscapes, ancient temples, vibrant culture, delicious food, indulgent spas, the list goes on… Which is great for visitors, as it means you can have an experience that’s exactly right for you. Chances are, though, you’ll want to unwind and pamper yourself, and for that you’ve come to right place, particularly when it comes to massages. It’s a roaring industry, in fact, with numerous government-sponsored schools specifically for the blind, who are thought to offer the best massages around. Most high-end resorts have their own spa, so pick the treatment that suits you best.
Back for more… When the call of the beaches has dimmed and you’re ready for a more, shall we say, cultured experience of Bali, rest assured there’s plenty here to keep you going. The village of Ubud is a great place to start, stopping off at Monkey Forest along the way, followed by a bicycle ride around the surrounding villages, revealing terraced rice paddies and wonderful vistas of rural Bali. Mount Batur, an active volcano on the island, is another worthwhile excursion, with numerous groups setting off to its summit each morning to marvel at the crater (mind you watch your step, though). Those after a more active experience can also try their hand at white water rafting down the Telaga Waja River.
Where to eat Budget Bali Buddha: This Ubud classic's emphasis is on food that’s good for you, with a wide selection of vegetarian, vegan and raw foods, but meat-eaters and seafood-lovers will also find plenty to satisfy them. www.balibuddha.biz
Blow-out The Warung: Presenting the best of traditional Indonesian and Balinese fare, this classy restaurant at Alila Villas Uluwatu offers indoor and al-fresco dining in sophisticated surrounds. Guests can dine with others at the communal tables or sneak off for more privacy. www.alilahotels.com/uluwatu
Where to stay Budget Homestay Irene: Perfect if you’re looking for a more authentic experience of Bali, Homestay Irene's five villas are on the eastern parts of the island, with easy access to the beach. www.homestayirene.com
Blow-out W Retreat and Spa Bali Seminyak: This ultra cool, chic and modern resort offers luxurious five-star accommodation in idyllic surroundings, with all the facilities you'd expect. Blending local, traditional elements with contemporary flair, rooms here have a definite wow-factor. www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels
How to get there There are no direct flights to Bali from Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, but numerous airlines fly to Denpasar with a stopover in various places. Expect total journey times of around 11 hours.
Getting around Rather than rely on public transport, which is usually rather slow, hire a car, motorbike, or even a driver, to travel in style.
Money matters Local currency: Indonesian Rupiah Exchange rate: IDR1,000 = Dhs0.4 / QR0.39
What to see First-timers… Stroll along the bustling Corniche, perfect for people watching and taking the temperature of the ‘Paris of the East’. If you’re here at dusk, watch the sun set over the Med at Pigeon Rocks. Put on your walking shoes and head for Martyrs’ Square, the Mohammed al-Amin mosque, St. George’s Cathedral and the city’s Roman remains – before long you’ll realise what an incredibly diverse and historic city Beirut is.
Back for more… The Music Hall, in the Starco area on Omar Daouk Street, used to be a cinema, but is today more like a cabaret theatre. Ideal for an evening with dinner, drinks and live acts, the Music Hall showcases all manner of world and Arabic music as well as the odd jazz night. The easygoing vibe attracts a good mix of people, making it a great place to meet and mingle with strangers.
Where to eat Budget TawLet: With its open kitchen policy, TawLet sees someone different every day cook up lunch, meaning the menu will never be the same no matter how many times you return. It’s a unique concept, with the food always fresh and delicious. Although not strictly budget, TawLet offers great value for money. www.tawlet.com
Blow-out Momo at the Souks: The Beirut venture by Algerian restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, Momo offers an exquisite selection of Arabic and North African cuisine in equally exquisite surroundings. Dine al-fresco in the warmer months, and end the meal with one of the New York-style mixed drinks. momoresto.com
Where to stay Historic The Mayflower: Having opened its doors in 1957, the charming, Mayflower has welcomed a host of well-known politicians, writers and sports figures over the years, including author Graham Greene and Formula One world champion Graham Hill. The preferred choice for many of the world’s correspondents during the Lebanese Civil War in the ‘70s, today the hotel is still a great base from which to investigate. www.mayflowerbeirut.com
Boutique Le Gray Beirut: Opened in 2009, the city’s first five-star boutique hotel offers 87 rooms and suites with chic, understated European-style interiors. It’s probably the trendiest place to stay in Beirut – almost as cool as the city itself – and comes with a rooftop restaurant, bar and pool. www.campbellgrayhotels.com/le-gray-beirut
How to get there Fly direct to Beirut from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha with Fly Dubai, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. Flight times are just over three hours.
Getting around If you’re not in a hurry, hop onto one of the two bus networks – the blue and white buses are government owned, the red and white privately owned. Don’t worry about bus stops, just wave and the driver will pick you up.
What to see Trekking and hiking This tiny nation the size of Switzerland boasts some of the world’s best hiking and trekking, through landscapes only a privileged few have seen. Most treks set off from the capital Thimphu or Paro, and visitors are spoilt for choice, being able to select from gentle walks and hikes lasting no more than a day, as well as much longer treks that require experience, fitness and stamina. Whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed pristine landscapes of forests, mountains and fields, all with stunning vistas. This is Himalayan terrain, though, so you’ll need to prepare for the high altitude.
Essential sights A visit to the famous Tiger’s Nest, or Taktsang Palphug, near Paro is a must. This beautiful Buddhist monastery sits precariously on the edge of steep cliffs with views out over the valleys below. While you’re in the area, Paro’s National Museum is also worth a visit, and if you time your visit right (spring), the colourful festival of Paro Tsechu makes for an unforgettable experience. In Thimphu, meanwhile, the capital’s many dzong fortresses, monasteries and temples will keep you occupied for days. Add to this some of the happiest people in the world – Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product, didn’t you know? – and you’ve truly got yourself a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Where to eat Thimphu Chuniding Resort: The restaurant at this hillside resort overlooking the capital serves excellent Bhutanese cuisine, and goes to great lengths to source only the best local produce. www.chunidingresort.com
Paro Taktsang Cafeteria: Half way up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, this cheap and cheerful cafeteria acts as a rest stop for those heading to or from the temple. Expect simple fare, but excellent tea.
Where to stay Thimphu Amankora Thimphu: Just one of Amankora’s five luxury lodges in Bhutan, this one is located close to the capital, surrounded by blue-pine forest. The 16 suites offer far-reaching views and traditional styling. www.amanresorts.com
Paro Uma Paro Hotel: Nestled within pine forests and overlooking Paro town, this exceptional hotel is one of only a handful in Bhutan to offer truly luxurious accommodation. Simply breathtaking. www.uma.paro.como.bz
How to get there There are no direct flights from the Middle East to Bhutan. Your best bet is to fly to Delhi, India and then continue to Paro with Druk Air, the only airline that flies to and from Bhutan. www.drukair.com.bt
Getting around Two options: walk or drive. But if you’re here on a tourist visa, and part of a tour group, you’ll have a vehicle at your disposal as part of the cost of your trip.
What to see Highway 1 stretches along the coast of California, and the drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco is easily one of the best the country has to offer. From LA, head up the coast to Santa Barbara via Montecito, home to the likes of Oprah Winfrey and John Cleese.
At Pismo Beach, take in the fantastic sand dunes, before heading to the volcanic dome-shaped Morro Rock and then impressive Hearst Castle. Next up is Big Sur via 90 miles of fine driving along twisting road, offering stunning views out onto the Pacific, with Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park worth a stop. There’s also the Henry Miller Memorial Library, redwood-filled Garrapata State Park as well as Monterey, which boasts a great aquarium. At Santa Cruz watch surfers take on the swells at Steamer Lane and then learn more at the Surfing Museum, before finally arriving in San Fran via the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Where to eat Celebrity spotting Lucky’s: Serving up a long list of succulent steaks and burgers, Lucky’s in Montecito, offers excellent fare in friendly surrounds, plus there’s a good chance you’ll rub shoulders with a few of the celebs who call this part of Santa Barbara home. Meat is what patrons come here for, but there are also plenty of seafood and salad alternatives. luckys-steakhouse.com
Views to die for Nepethe: Founded by Lolly and Bill Fassett, this friendly restaurant along the Big Sur section of Highway 1 has been serving delicious burgers, meats and seafood to poets, artists and travellers for over 60 years. The setting is stunning, perched 800 feet above the Pacific coast and overlooked by the Santa Lucia Mountains. www.nepenthebigsur.com
Where to stay Hollywood favourite San Ysidro Ranch: Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier exchanged vows at this classic hotel in the Montecito foothills and Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin held their wedding party here. The ranch offers individually decorated cottages, suites and rooms, as well as a year-round heated pool and in-room spa services. www.sanysidroranch.com
Hippie hangout Esalen Institute: Founded in 1962, this vast, luxurious retreat in Big Sur was once frequented by hipsters Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Aldous Huxley, and today still attracts an open-minded, free-thinking crowd. Guests can make the most of the hot springs, gardens and beautiful coastal surroundings. www.esalen.org
How to get there Direct flights to LA are only available from Dubai with Emirates, with flight times of around 16 hours, but it’s also possible to fly from Abu Dhabi and Doha via various stopovers.
Getting around Hire a car on arrival in LAX. But for that extra wow-factor, pick up a vehicle from Beverley Hills Rent-A-Car. www.bhrentacar.com
Money matters Local currency: US Dollar Exchange rate: USD1 = Dhs3.67 / QR3.64
What to see First-timers… The gateway to the country’s north, traveller-friendly Chiang Mai is the perfect base from which to indulge your wild and adventurous side. Popular daylong treks into the nearby Mae Taeng area often include much more besides mere hiking, such as white water and bamboo rafting, swimming and elephant rides. The hills surrounding Chiang Mai are also home to numerous tribes, who offer an interesting glimpse into the history of the region. Just make sure the operator is TAT certified. Try Trekking Collective Co. www.trekkingcollective.com
Repeat visitors… For a truly memorable stay, make your way north of Chiang Mai and check into the Four Seasons Golden Triangle, situated right on the Thai border with Burma and Laos. Guests stay in stunning tented accommodation in the middle of the jungle, a stone’s throw from the Ruak and Mekong Rivers. Activities include elephant trekking under the watchful eye of professional mahouts, trips downriver to local markets and villages, and hops over the border into neighbouring Burma. www.fourseasons.com/goldentriangle
Where to eat Budget Khao Soi: Crispy fried noodles in a spicy coconut-flavoured broth is a seminal Thai experience. Numerous restaurants and street stalls serve this delicious dish, but Raan Pic Ohn, close to Wat Pan On, off Ratchadamnoen Road, can rightly claim to have one of the best khao sois in the city. It’s cheap and basic, but will blow your socks off.
Blow-out The Chedi: Housed in what was once a British colonial consulate, the classy Chedi’s restaurant is open all day and wows diners with its East-meets-West fusion dishes, achingly chic surroundings and immaculate service. www.ghmhotels.com
Where to stay Boutique Tamarind Village: Taking its name from its 200 year-old tamarind tree, this charming hotel is located in the old walled and moated part of Chiang Mai. With a restaurant serving Thai and international dishes, a pool and a spa, it’s a true oasis in the heart of this quiet, temple-filled older part of town.
Blow-out Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi: Located on the outskirts of the city, and thus offering welcome seclusion, the Mandarin is regal on every level, as it’s been modelled on a Thai palace. Accommodation comes in the form of beautiful two-storey villas spread over a magnificent 60-acre property. www.mandarinoriental.com/chiangmai
How to get there Flights to Bangkok are available with Emirates, Thai Airways, ANA, Etihad Airways, Bangkok Airways and Qatar Airways from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, with flight times of less than seven hours. From the capital, Thai Airways, AirAsia and Bangkok Airways offer connecting flights to Chiang Mai lasting just over an hour.
Getting around In Chiang Mai, three-wheeled tuk-tuks rule the road (well, at least their drivers like to think so), but if these prove too noisy, opt for a standard taxi.
What to see First-timers… On the one hand there are the infamous bars, clubs and package-holiday scenes of Agia Napa, Pafos and Limassol, on the other you have the café culture of the capital, Nicosia, quaint Mediterranean villages, glorious golden beaches and age-old World Heritage Sites. Which you go for is up to you, but topping the to-do list of any visitor should be: ancient Kourin, one of the island’s most important archaeological sites with its Greco-Roman amphitheatre; the mosaics at Pafos, discovered in 1962 and some of the best examples of Roman floor mosaics; and Salamis with its ancient city walls, gymnasium, theatre, Roman baths and villa, forum, agora, basilica and temple.
Back for more… The beautiful Akamas Peninsula in the west of the island is an untamed wilderness that’s perfect for adventurous, outdoor types, with few roads and settlements. Hire a bike and head off on your own, or join a tour if you’d rather have the company – try BikeTrek Cyprus (+357 26 913 676). The Peninsula is also home to a loggerhead turtle sanctuary and the Baths of Aphrodite.
Where to eat Budget Araouzos Taverna: This old, long-established eatery is located in a traditional stone-built house, decorated with ancient tools and artefacts. It offers a 25-plate mezze that includes wild mushrooms, snails, moussaka and meatballs. The quality of the food is well worth the 25-minute drive from Pafos. Georgiou Kleanthous 17, Kathikas (+357 26 632 076).
Blow-out Mavrommatis: This fine-dining restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel not far from Limassol offers a superb dining experience, courtesy of an acclaimed Paris-based chef who has raised Greek and Cypriot dishes to new heights. www.fourseasons.com.cy
Where to stay Budget Olgas Katoi: The main house of this agrotourism B&B retreat dates back over 300 years and is decked out in traditional village furniture and handmade lace doilies. Each of the ten attached guest rooms opens onto a sunny balcony that overlooks the Marathasa wilderness, where the freshest ingredients are picked for the taverna. Kalopanagiotis, Marathasa Valley (+357 22 350 283).
Blow-out Grecian Park Hotel: Located on a clifftop overlooking Cape Greco, between Agia Napa and Protaras, this five-star bolthole is a small slice of style heaven. A short nature trail surrounds the hotel if you fancy a wander, and the natural wonders of the sea caves and relatively uncrowded Konnos Bay are close by too. www.grecianpark.com
How to get there Direct flights are available, with Emirates flying direct to Larnaca from Dubai in under four hours. From Abu Dhabi and Doha, you’ll need a stopover.
Getting around Cyprus is small enough to make accessing the different parts of the island relatively easy. A hire car is ideal, but taxis and buses do also operate.
Money matters Local currency: Euro Exchange rate: EUR1 = Dhs4.85 / QR4.78
What to see Nature… For such a small country, Djibouti boasts a surprising amount of natural wonders. Lac Abbé, on the border with Ethiopia, is an otherworldly, lunar landscape of six connected lakes, a volcano at one end, salt flats at the other and, most remarkably, hundreds of limestone chimneys, some of which rise 50 metres into the air. No wonder they decided to film parts of Planet of the Apes here. Another natural spectacle are the Goda Mountains, whose unexpectedly green, forested slopes rising to 1,750 metres contrast seemingly impossibly with the rest of the country’s arid desert landscape. It’s here that you’ll find Djibouti’s only national park, Day Forest.
Wildlife… At Arta Beach and the Bay of Ghoubbet, a short drive from Djibouti City, visitors can take part in one of the most exhilarating wildlife experiences on the planet: swimming with whale sharks. These spotted ocean giants flock to this part of the world between October and January, and various operators organise snorkel trips in their company. The sharks that come here to feed are mostly mere eight-metre youngsters (they can almost double that), but you’ll be pleased to know that humans are strictly off the menu as their diet consists mostly of plankton.
Where to eat Budget Mukbasa – 7 Freres: Located in the African Quarter of Djibouti City, this small, well-known eatery is usually filled with locals. The poisson Yemenite, a whole fish baked in a wood-fired oven, is the hit on the menu here. It’s simple fare but very tasty. Avenue 13, African Quarter.
Upmarket La Mer Rouge: Serving some of the best seafood in Djibouti City, including shark and sashimi, this popular venue in Nelson Mandela Street may not look like much from the outside, but locals and expats alike rate it exceptionally highly. lamerrougedj.com
Where to stay Budget Bavaria Les Acacias Hotel: This Djibouti City hotel was opened not so long ago and offers good value for money, a convenient location and friendly service. www.bhihotels-djibouti.com
Blow-out Djibouti Palace Kempinski: The most luxurious place to stay in the capital, this five-star resort boasts two outdoor pools. www.kempinski.com
How to get there FlyDubai flies direct to Djibouti from Dubai three times a week (Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays), with a flight time of three hours. Alternatively, various airlines connect Abu Dhabi and Doha with Djibouti via a stopover in Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Kenya.
Getting around Public transport is limited, so you’re best off in the hands of a tour operator.
Money matters Local currency: Djiboutian Franc Exchange rate: DJF100 = Dhs2.09 / QR2.07
What to see First-timers… The palm tree-lined stretch along the Nile between Luxor and Aswan is perhaps the most rewarding in terms of ancient Egyptian structures. With stops along the way, it’s possible to take in the three top sites. In Abu Simbel, gawk at the four great statues of Rameses II who guard the entrance to his temple. In Luxor, the temple of Karnak is by far the largest of its kind in the world, the Great Hypostyle Hall particularly impressive, while the Valley of the Kings, west of Luxor, is a marvel to behold, with the carved underground tombs of 60 pharaohs, including that of Tutankhamun no less.
Repeat visitors… Following the excitement of the sites, discover a more sedate side of Egypt by floating down the Nile aboard a felucca, a traditional sailboat that’s been used for centuries in this part of the world. You’ll join a small group of no more than 20 and sleep under the stars, as these simple vessels afford only the most basic of accommodation. But the experience brings you closer to the landscapes and people of the Nile than a larger, motorised cruise ship ever could.
Where to eat Cairo Abou El Sid: For authentic Egyptian fare served in wonderful, traditional surrounds, there’s nowhere better. This Cairo classic has a large menu filled with delights such as Circassian chicken in walnut sauce, stuffed pigeon and koshari. Service can be slow, but the friendly interior and delicious food make it worth the wait. www.abouelsid.com
Luxor Sofra: This delightful restaurant in Luxor is Egyptian through and through, serving up delicious hot and cold mezza, salads and traditional Egyptian fare using fresh, local produce. www.sofra.com
Where to stay Cairo Mena House Oberoi: With unrivalled views onto the Giza Pyramids just a few hundred metres away, this classic hotel has hosted royalty, heads of state and celebrities over the many years it’s been open. www.oberoihotels.com
Luxor Jolie Ville Kings Island Luxor: Some three kilometres outside the city, this five-star resort is situated on an island in the middle of the Nile and is at once close enough to all the action and far enough to keep away unwanted disturbance. www.maritim.com
How to get there Direct flights to Cairo from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are available with Emirates, Egypt Air, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. Flight times are just over three hours long.
Getting around Travelling along the Nile can be as luxurious or stripped back as you like, with vessels ranging from giant luxury floating hotels, to medium-sized dahabiyya boats, to humble feluccas, the smallest of the bunch.
What to see Essential activities Head to Snoopy Island – the friendly name is apt, as it’s a beginner-friendly spot for some fantastic snorkelling. It’s not uncommon to spot sea turtles, sting rays and black tip reef sharks as well as pufferfish, snappers, moray eels and gentle seahorses. Dibba Rock, meanwhile, boasts an amazing coral reef that’s home to clown fish, eagle rays, parrot fish and barracudas, plus whale sharks have been known to make an appearance, which is why it’s one of the UAE’s best places for diving. For something above water, kayaking through the Kalba mangroves shouldn’t disappoint. The coastal city has some of the oldest mangrove forests in the world, and is home to rare birds such as the white collared kingfisher as well as turtles.
Essential sights The Hatta Rock Pools seem highly unlikely to first-time visitors, surrounded as they are by arid mountainous landscape. These fresh water pools offer glorious respite from the heat and chances are you’ll have the place to yourself. Back in Fujairah, the Fujairah Museum exhibits art rock, Bronze Age Islamic coins and Bedouin jewellery. Fujairah Fort is also worth a closer inspection. If you’re in town on a Friday, head down to the Corniche for the rather unexpected sight of bullbutting. This non-bloody pastime originates from the Portuguese, and still attracts a large crowd. Finally, pick up a few bargains at Fujairah’s very own gold, fish, meat and spice souks.
Where to eat Budget Dibba Rock Restaurant: Guests at this restaurant attached to Royal Beach Alfaqeet Hotel can tuck into a good selection of international cuisine while taking in views of one of the best dive sites in the country. www.royalbeach.ae
Blow-out Waves: Fancy dinner on the sand, by candlelight? Well, you can at this fine restaurant at Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa. You can order a butler and roses, too, in case things aren’t romantic enough already. www.rotana.com
Where to stay Midrange Sandy Beach Resort: Situated opposite Snoopy island on the shore of the Indian Ocean, this resort offers hotel rooms or beach chalets. It’s a great base for diving, snorkelling and other watersports. www.sandybm.com
Blow-out Hilton Fujairah: Although this five-star resort is 30-odd years old, it’s still a great bet if you’re keen on staying in town. A laid-back Spanish vibe permeates the place, with all rooms, suites and villas boasting their own balcony and views of the sea or pool. www1.hilton.com
How to get there Fly Dubai and Qatar Airways fly direct to Dubai from Doha in under an hour. If you’re travelling by car from Dubai, take the Emirates Road (E11) through Sharjah and Dhaid, and turn right onto the E89 at Masafi.
What to see First-timers… There’s no denying that the vast majority of visitors to Goa spend most of their time not exactly doing much – after all, it’s the perfect place for a slow, laid-back beach holiday. But, if you want a break from grilling in the sun and splashing in the waves, there’s much to experience and take in. For one, head to the 17th-century Fort Aguada and its lighthouse on Sinquerim Beach, which served as a reference point for vessels arriving from Europe. Yet more colonial relics can be found in Old Goa, or Velha Goa, which was once the capital of Portuguese India. A chilled-out sunset cruise is also a great way to end a day of sightseeing, with a number of boats setting off from Santa Monica Jetty in Panaji, Goa’s capital city.
Back for more… Who said Goa was just about beaches and wild nightlife? Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, in the foothills of the Western Ghats, blows this assertion out of the water, with its pristine forests, leopards, barking deer, macaques, flying and giant squirrels and much, much more, including some 200 species of bird. Even Bengal tigers have been known to make an appearance. Equally, Mandovi-Zuari Wildlife Sanctuary, located on the confluence of the Mandovi and Zuari Rivers, boasts a great variety of flora and fauna, including 20 species of mangrove tree as well as numerous aquatic animals.
Where to eat Budget Mum’s Kitchen: Fighting a worthy battle to save Goa’s traditional ‘archaic’ cuisine, this friendly restaurant in the Goan capital Panjim serves delicious Goan and Portuguese dishes. The seafood options are particularly good. www.mumskitchengoa.com
Blow-out Fiesta: Housed in a former Portuguese villa in Baga, this highly rated restaurant boasts a wonderful, romantic setting and serves up fine European cuisine with a creative twist. www.fiestagoa.com
Where to stay Boutique Siolim House: Housed within the 350-year-old Casa Palacio Siolim is a beautifully restored boutique hotel. Don’t expect all mod-cons, but do expect elegant North Goan colonial charm and finesse. www.siolimhouse.com
Blow-out Vivanta by Taj Fort Aguada: Luxurious and relaxing, this wonderful resort not far from Panjim has hosted celebrities and heads of state. Rooms have been modernised, but the place has retained its traditional Goan-Portuguese charm and distinct wow-factor. www.vivantabytaj.com
How to get there Air India flies direct to Goa from Dubai in under three hours, while Qatar Airways does the same from Doha in just under four hours. From Abu Dhabi, you’ll need a stopover.
Getting around It’s easy and affordable to hire a chauffeur-driven car in Goa, but to experience true wind-in-your-hair freedom (well, hopefully you’ll be wearing a helmet), hire a scooter or motorbike and explore…
Money matters Local currency: Indian Rupee Exchange rate: INR100 = Dhs6.74 / QR6.69
What to see First-timers… With well over a thousand islands rising out of the warm, clear waters of the Aegean, choosing where to go can seem a difficult task. But those seeking an introduction to island hopping should look to the 30-odd isles that make up the Cyclades. Start on Mykonos, famous for its party atmosphere, cubist architecture and white sandy beaches. Then sail south to larger Naxos for the laid-back vibe, interesting history and charming interior, before finally disembarking on Santorini to take in the volcanic landscape, romantic sunsets and picture-postcard blue and white buildings perched on the edge of cliffs.
Repeat visitors… Patmos, part of the Dodecanese islands, offers a rich history, ancient monasteries and a hilltop castle and idyllic beaches. Less visited Skyros, one of the northern Aegean Sporades islands, has a wild feel, with isolated beaches and hiking paths through unusually green, landscape. While Ionian island Ithaca was the home of Homer's Odysseus, and its green olive groves and vineyards drew praise from Lord Byron.
Where to eat Mainland Varoulko: Awarded a Michelin Star ten years ago, this fine-dining venue in the Greek capital, Athens, has long been a favourite among discerning residents, with chef Lefteris Lazarou serving up some of the best seafood dishes in the country. www.varoulko.gr
Island Selene: At home on the island of Santorini, this elegant restaurant is owned by George Haziyannakis, a man unafraid to experiment with local produce in his quest to transform traditional dishes into inspired innovations. Rest assured every dish is a triumph. www.selene.gr
Where to stay Mainland King George Palace: Consistently ranked among the top hotels in the world, this Athenian classic has been welcoming guests since 1936. Facilities are first-class and for an unrivalled view each morning, ask for one of the rooms overlooking the Acropolis. kinggeorge.grecotel.com/EN/index.html
Island Cavo Tagoo: Ingeniously built into the side of a cliff on the island of Mykonos, this stunning boutique hotel offers luxury with an airy contemporary feel. For something extra special go for one of the 33 rooms that boast a private pool looking out onto the Aegean. www.cavotagoo.gr
How to get there Emirates, Etihad Airways, Olympic Air and Qatar Airways fly direct to Athens from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, with flight times of under five hours.
Getting around A number of islands have airports, but to make a journey of it, board one of the many ferries at the famous port of Piraeus on the Greek mainland, and let the island hopping begin.
Money matters Local currency: Euro Exchange rate: EUR1 = Dhs4.83 / QR4.78
What to see First-timers… Being such a compact city with excellent public transport, it’s easy to take in all of the most popular sites in just a few days. Start by taking the world-famous Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island, then it’s downhill to ride the world’s longest escalator to Central, filled with its cafés and designer boutiques. Next, hop on the iconic green and white Star Ferry, crossing the harbour to Kowloon in time for sundowners in The Peninsula hotel’s Philippe Starck-designed bar and a stroll through Temple Street Night Market. Back for more… People tend to think of Hong Kong as just a city, but it’s actually an archipelago of some 260 islands, of which Hong Kong Island is just one. Lantau (the largest), Lamma and Cheung Chau are three of the more popular, but to really get a sense of the region – and to escape from the urban sprawl – charter a ‘junk’ (the term today refers not just to traditional Chinese sailboats but to motorised vessels) and head off in exploration of the rugged coastline.
Where to eat Budget Super Star Seafood Restaurant: Don’t let the ‘Super Star’ moniker fool you into thinking this restaurant chain is fit only for celebrities, because what’s on offer is great, affordable dim sum for all. On any given weekend, at any of their outlets, you’ll see a packed house. Try the venue at 83-97 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui (+852 2366 0878).
Blow-out SPOON: With two Michelin Stars and celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse at its helm, this classy restaurant features a seductive menu of contemporary French cuisine. The stunning waterfront view might be the only thing that comes close to matching the food. InterContinental, 18 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui (+852 2313 2256).
Where to stay Budget Cosmo Hotel: Conveniently located in the Wan Chai/Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong Island, this four-star hotel combines great value for money with chic, modern design. www.cosmohotel.com.hk
Blow-out Mandarin Oriental: For an iconic, luxury place to stay, this classic hotel in the heart of Central on Hong Kong Island can’t be surpassed, easily living up to its international reputation. www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong
How to get there Direct flights are available from Dubai and Doha with Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Qatar Airways (you’ll need to have a stopover if flying from Abu Dhabi), with flight times of seven to eight hours.
Getting around Purchase an Octopus card for a cash-free way of paying for the MTR, buses and trams, as well as a number of restaurants and stores. www.octopus.com.hk
Money matters Local currency: Hong Kong Dollar Exchange rate: HKD1 = Dhs0.47 / QR0.47
What to see Tokyo The Japanese capital is mesmerising, so before you board the Shinkansen bullet train make time to explore the Imperial Palace, home to the Japanese emperor, admire the city’s oldest temple, Sensoji, scale the iconic Tokyo Tower and discover the height of fashion and cool in hip Harajuku.
Kyoto With its countless temples, shrines, and still-working Geisha district, the old Japanese capital provides a taste of traditional Japan. The stunning Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, tops the to-do list, closely followed by the immaculate Zen gardens of Ryoan-ji Temple, the wooden teahouses and geishas of Gion district, and, for a bit of variation, the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
Nara Japan’s first capital isn’t on the Shinkansen line, but it’s worth spending a day or two at this compact city filled with gems. The hugely impressive Todai-ji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world, housing the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, is also an essential stop.
Where to eat Budget Kanda Yabu Soba: This Tokyo favourite has been around for well over a century and specialises in soba – delicious buckwheat noodles served hot or cold. Diners can pull up a chair or go for a more traditional approach by sitting on tatami mats on the floor. 2-10 Kanda Awajicyo, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, www.yabusoba.net (+81 3 3251 0287).
Blow-out Misoguigawa: Kyoto’s Misoguigawa specialises in French cuisine served in the traditional Japanese kaiseki way – think small tapas-style dishes, where less is more and presentation is everything. Sanjo-sagaru, Pontocho-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, www.misogui.jp (+81 75 221 2270).
Where to stay Budget Hotel Siesta: Welcome to capsule living, one of the cheapest (and oddest) accommodation options in Japan. This Tokyo hotel, a stone’s throw from Ebisu station, offers tiny ‘rooms’ stacked one on top of another that are just large enough for one person to sit up in, with each capsule containing a TV and alarm clock. www.siesta-en.com
Blow-out Park Hyatt: Fans of the critically acclaimed film Lost in Translation will already be familiar with this luxury Tokyo hotel. Located in Shinjuku, views stretch across the city all the way to Mount Fuji in the distance. tokyo.park.hyatt.com
How to get there Emirates, JAL and Etihad Airways fly direct to Tokyo from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with only indirect flights available from Doha. Expect flight times of around ten hours.
Getting around For the ultimate in high-speed rail travel, board the bullet train. The Japan Rail Pass is your best bet. www.japanrailpass.net
Money matters Local currency: Japanese Yen Exchange rate: JPY1 = Dhs4.59 / QAR4.55
What to see First-timers… Kuwait boasts pretty much everything you’d expect from a large, bustling, cosmopolitan city. Before heading off to explore, take in the views from the iconic Kuwait Towers. Then make for the picturesque Corniche, home to the impressive sail-shaped building that is the Scientific Centre (www.tsck.org.kw). It’s worth the visit just for its aquarium.
Back for more… Try the House of Mirrors for an arty, slightly quirky experience in Qadisiya. A whopping 77 tonnes of mirror and 102 tonnes of white cement were used to create this small residential museum. You’ll be amazed by Italian-born artist Lidia Qattan’s creations. Ring ahead to make an appointment. Entry is free, although a gift of some kind always goes down well. House 17, Street 94, Block 9, Qadisiya (+965 2251 8522)
Where to eat Budget Souq Al-Mubarakia: Kuwait City’s old souk – deliberately left untouched by the 21st-century developments that surround it – is home to not just bargain textiles, trinkets, dates and spices, but also a variety of cheap and cheerful eateries serving simple yet tasty Arabic fare.
Blow-out Al-Boom: Named after the traditional vessels that once sailed the Gulf, this unique venue is housed within a landlocked replica of the largest dhow ever built. Diners choose from a selection of exquisitely grilled fish, seafood and steaks, along with a full salad bar and delectable desserts – all within the dhow’s handcrafted and beautifully decorated hull, complete with lanterns hanging from the beams. www.radissonblu.com/hotel-kuwait/dining/al-boom
Where to stay Budget Le Royal Tower: Offering affordable yet comfortable accommodation in a great central location, this four-star hotel on Fahad Al-Salem Street ticks all the boxes. Rooms are spacious with great amenities, the hotel’s Cascade restaurant caters to individual tastes via its live cooking stations and there’s even an outdoor pool if you need to cool down. www.leroyalkuwait.com
Blow-out Hotel Missoni: It’s not just fans of Missoni who will be wowed by the colourful designs at this stylish five-star hotel, where light and airy interiors combine with beautiful textiles, art works and furnishings. The stunning rooftop pool and spa allow for ultimate relaxation, while dining options include Italian restaurant Cucina and sweet-flavoured Choco Café. www.hotelmissoni.com/hotelmissoni-kuwait
How to get there Direct flights are available from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha with Fly Dubai, Emirates, Gulf Air and Qatar Airways, with flight times of around 45 minutes.
Getting around Being such a compact city-state means you’ll never spend too long getting from one place to the next. Buses do operate extensively, but taxis are the easiest option.
What to see First-timers… Boasting a mammoth list of iconic buildings, museums, galleries and tourist attractions, London has something for everyone – which means deciding what sites to include during your stay in this vibrant city comes down to your personal interests. Art and culture vultures shouldn’t miss the likes of the Tate Modern, South Bank Centre and British Museum, while families will find there’s plenty to keep the kids happy at the Science and Natural History Museums and the Tower of London.
Back for more… If you’ve already ticked off all the big, most popular sites, why not delve deeper with an enthralling four-hour walking tour of East London’s street art, where you can discover the latest and greatest in the Shoreditch, Hoxton and Brick Lane areas? With such a dynamic, ever-changing scene, each tour is one of a kind. streetartlondon.co.uk/tours
Where to eat Budget Stockpot: The menu at this delightful Soho institution has barely changed since the 1960s. Pasta and Anglo-Continental dishes are the mainstay, from spaghetti bolognese to fishcakes. A meal for two with drinks and service will cost you around £20. 18 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TN (020 7287 1066).
Blow-out Viajante: Everything about Nuno Mendes’ restaurant is hip and there’s a sense of fun here, in part due to Mendes’ infectious enthusiasm, and the food is genuinely creative and accomplished. It’s quite unlike anything else in the city. Expect to pay around £100 per head for dinner. www.viajante.co.uk
Where to stay Boutique 40 Winks: Situated in trendy East London, the family home of interior designer David Carter has become the B&B of choice for movie stars and fashionistas. The 'micro-boutique hotel' looks extraordinary and is very cool, each stay made individual by the owner’s commitment to his guests – you’ll feel you're staying with a friend rather than just renting a room. www.40winks.org
Blow-out Stay at one of Europe’s original ‘grand hotels’ at The Langham in the West End – a place heads of state, celebrities and tycoons have called their temporary home since 1865. Everything about this five-star hotel is grand, luxurious and harks back to a bygone era while still embracing all modern technology and amenities. You’ll be royally spoilt. london.langhamhotels.co.uk
How to get there Direct flights are available from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha with British Airways, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Royal Brunei Air, Etihad, Qatar Airways as well as BMI, with flight times of seven to eight hours.
Getting around The London Underground, or ‘Tube’, makes travel within the city easy and relatively quick (though expect extra crowds due to the Olympics). Unless you’re only in town for the day, pick up a pay-as-you-go Oyster card. www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster
Money matters Local currency: British pound Exchange rate: GBP1 = Dhs5.78 / QR5.73
What to see First-timers… Perinet is the closest, most accessible national park from the capital Antananarivo (also known more simply as Tana), and will reward you with sightings of the largest lemur, the indri, plus a host of other indigenous flora and fauna. A short one-hour flight north to Diego Suarez lets you explore the protected national parks of Montagne d’Ambre and Ankarana, where you’ll wander into scenes straight out of The Lost World, after which you’ll want some down time on the paradise island of Nosy Be.
Back for more… The island’s south is less visited than the centre and north, but it’s just as worthy of your attention, boasting a semi-arid landscape of alien formations, baobab forests and spiny bush. Infrastructure is in its infancy across Madagascar, but especially so in the southeast, so be prepared for long (and rather bumpy) journeys.
Where to eat Local Malagasy cuisine is simple yet wholesome and tasty. Expect marinated or cured meats cooked in spicy sauces and flavoured with leaves and herbs, and invariably served with rice, the nation’s staple – try dishes such as ravioto and vary amid ’anana. Fish and seafood also feature highly on the menu, and there’s nothing better than dining on catch that’s so fresh it was probably swimming an hour earlier. For dessert, it’s fresh fruit all the way, flavoured generously with vanilla – this is one of the Indian Ocean’s Vanilla Islands, after all.
Where to stay Budget Accommodation in Madagascar is generally great value compared to other islands in the Indian Ocean. Options are numerous around the larger, more popular national parks, but harder to come by the further you head off the beaten track. Where prices are low, expect basic rooms and facilities, with hot water a luxury. But if you’re on Nosy Be, you’ll find excellent value for money at Vanila Hotel & Spa. www.vanila-hotel.com
Blow-out Out and out luxury is hard to come by in Madagascar, but there’s certainly no need to slum it. The island of Nosy Be is popular for lazy beach holidays and offers a host of upmarket resorts. But for the ultimate getaway, head to your own private island and soak up the true Robinson Crusoe experience. Constance Lodge Tsarabanjina, a short speedboat ride from Nosy Be, is just the ticket. tsarabanjina.constancehotels.com
How to get there Direct flights aren’t available, but Kenya Airways and South African fly to Antananarivo via Nairobi and Johannesburg respectively, with Air Mauritius connecting to the Madagascan capital, too. Expect total journey times of around ten to 11 hours.
Getting around With so few tarmacked roads in Madagascar that you can count them on two hands, you’ll need a sturdy 4x4, a knowledgeable driver and a guide.
What to see First-timers… The quintessential beach escape, the Maldives conjure images of palm trees, white beaches, cobalt blue ocean and colourful coral reefs beneath the waves. Indeed, life on these 26 atolls is about enjoying life’s simple pleasures. But if you can tear yourself away from your beach towel or sun lounger, the Maldives also offer some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world, where you’re guaranteed unrivalled visibility and bath-warm waters.
Back for more… If you’re looking for an experience beyond palm trees and sundowners, head to the Maldives’ capital, Malé, an island that’s smaller than the neighbouring airport island. Here is where all of the islands’ imports are received and bartered over, where the nation’s politics and reforms are debated and where its people go about their business far removed from the blissful existence that sun seekers and tourists come here for.
Where to eat Budget Royal Garden Café: This welcoming café in Malé serves up Italian, American, Indonesian and Indian fare in friendly surrounds. It’s in a traditional ganduvaru house with stylish decor and a pleasant garden for al-fresco dining. H, Esjehi Gallery, Medhuziyaarai Magu (+960 332 0288)
Blow-out Ithaa: Offering guests the unforgettable experience of dining 16 feet below sea level, Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, is the world’s first all-glass undersea dining establishment. The menu offers contemporary European dishes, but it’s the unique setting you’ll be talking about. conradhotels3.hilton.com/en/index.html
Where to stay Budget Summer Island Village: Believe it or not, you can do the Maldives on a budget – relatively speaking at least – and this wallet friendly resort in the North Malé Atoll is a great example. Guests can choose between water bungalows and standard and superior rooms, all of which are simple yet still comfortable. The island is a particular hit with divers. www.summerislandvillage.com
Blow-out Naladhu: Welcome to paradise on earth. With just 19 intimate beach villas on the whole island, guests are assured privacy and exclusivity at this achingly beautiful resort in the South Malé Atoll. Each villa has its own House Master, or butler, plus guests can take advantage of the resort’s own yacht, The Horizon. www.naladhu.com
How to get there Direct flights to Malé are available with Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha respectively. Expect flight times of around four hours.
Getting around Nowhere in the Maldives is more than a 90-minute flight from Malé, which make seaplanes, or air taxis, the preferred mode of transport. That said, taxi boats are also common, especially if travelling to the North and South Malé Atolls.
Money matters Local currency: Officially it's the Maldivian Rufiyaa, but the US Dollar reigns supreme in the Maldives Exchange rate: USD1 = Dhs3.67 / QR3.64
What to see Active Fanned by offshore winds throughout the year, the island of Masirah offers both beginner and experienced kite surfers ideal conditions in beautiful, otherworldly surroundings. German-run Kiteboarding-oman.com offer enthusiasts expert tuition in a shallow lagoon, full gear hire and accommodation in Bedouin-style tents should they require it. Plus there are all sorts of other kite-centred activities, including kite buggying. www.kiteboarding-oman.com
Wildlife Each year Masirah welcomes loggerhead, green, hawksbill and olive ridley sea turtles onto its beaches to nest, making the island one of just a few special places on the planet where these endangered species can be seen in their natural habitat. Either organise a guide to take you to see them as they lay their eggs in the sand, or head out onto the beaches on your own – just remember to follow the strict rules designed to protect these wonderful creatures.
Where to eat Masirah is off the beaten track and as such dining options are limited. Don’t expect fine-dining in luxurious surrounds, but do expect to find cheap and cheerful eateries, serving delicious fish and seafood caught fresh out of the waters surrounding the island. If you are pining for some international fare, however, head to the four-star Swiss Belhotel Resort a short drive from the main town.
Where to stay Budget There’s good camping to be had on the island, with isolated sandy beaches perfect if you’re after privacy and a good dose of the simple life. Just beware that the winds can pick up suddenly, often reaching 30 knots, so be sure to pitch your tent properly.
Blow-out With only a handful of hotels on the island – and most of them rather basic – there’s only one place to go if you’re after a few home comforts and luxuries: the Swiss Belhotel Resort. The hotel’s 20 rooms are comfortably furnished, have modern amenities and boast views overlooking the large pool and beach beyond. PO Box 135, Al Aijah, 414 Masirah (+968 25 504274).
How to get there It's a four- to five-hour drive to Masirah from Muscat, across empty desert landscape. At Shannah Harbour you'll need to catch the car ferry across to Masirah. There's no real timetable, as ferries only leave once they're full.
Getting around You’ll need your own transportation – ideally a rugged 4x4 – as there’s no public transport on the island.
What to see Essential activities Board a traditional dhow and cruise along the fjords of Musandam in style, visiting famous Telegraph Island, once a point along the British Empire’s telegraph cable stretching from Bombay to Basra. Many dhow companies let you spend the night on board, serving you all meals and hopefully anchoring at spots where the phosphorescence puts on a show. Keep your eye out for dolphins, which can be found playing in the waves in these parts all year round. The Peninsula also offers easily the best diving in the entire region, with great visibility, healthy coral reefs and a magnificent array of sea creatures. Fishing enthusiasts won’t be disappointed either.
Essential sights The Hajar Mountains make for an exciting road trip, each turn opening up to glorious views, with numerous rock art sites along the way. You’ll need a sturdy 4x4, but there are plenty of tour operators who offer day trips, such as Khasab Travel and Tours (khasabtours.com). Jebel Harim, meaning ‘Mountain of Women’, is the highest point on the Peninsula, rising to just over 2,000 metres, and is worth a safari too.
Portuguese-built Khasab Castle, meanwhile, dating back to the 16th century, makes for an imposing sight. Finally, make for the village of Kumzar, only accessed by boat as it’s on an island – it offers a taste of life as a humble fisherman.
Where to eat Budget Al Shamaliah Grill Restaurant: A good cheap and cheerful option that serves up grills and juices as well as Indian fare. You’ll mostly find locals dining here, and exclusively local men at that, but don’t let yourself be intimidated. Khasab – left from main mosque by the souk (+968 9203 7849).
Midrange Dibba Restaurant: Offering all-day hotel dining, the Golden Tulip’s restaurant buffets are pretty standard, so we’d recommend opting for the seafood and barbecue grills instead – the hammour is top notch. www.goldentulipkhasab.com
Where to stay Budget The Khasab Hotel: This basic, good value hotel is located in the centre of town. There’s a pool with barbecue facilities, an onsite restaurant and a kids’ playground. Rooms and apartments are simple yet comfortable. www.khasabhotel.net.
Blow-out Six Senses Zighy Bay: This gorgeous village-style resort, built in traditional, low-rise style, is a haven of luxury, comfort and good taste. There’s a spa, plenty of leisure facilities, a private beach, various restaurants and bars. www.sixsenses.com
How to get there Fly Dubai and Qatar Airways fly direct to Dubai from Doha in under an hour. Driving from Dubai, follow the Emirates Road north, past Sharjah and through Ras Al Khaimah, after which you’ll need to cross the border into Oman and follow the coastal road north.
What to see First-timers… Sensory overload is a common experience among those recently arrived in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. The streets are buzzing with activity, traffic and apparent chaos, and exploring the city’s many sights is a constant thrill. Start your wanderings in traveller-friendly Thamel, then get your bearings at central Durbar Square, keeping your eye out for markets, temples, monasteries and stupas. Don’t miss the magnificent Swayambhunath complex, also known as Monkey Temple, on a hilltop overlooking Kathmandu Valley; the 2,000-year-old Swayambhu Stupa will blow you away. And to glimpse the highest point on the planet, charter a plane for a short flight over mighty Everest.
Repeat visitors… Easily reached from the capital is one of the country’s most popular nature reserves, Chitwan National Park, where you’ll find the endangered Indian one-horned rhino and a vast array of flora and fauna. If you’re eager to spot some of the magnificent creatures, including the Bengal tiger, allow yourself time for several safaris.
Where to eat Budget Yak Café: This no-frills café run by Tibetans attracts a good mix of travellers, trekkers, sherpas and locals. On the menu is Tibetan and South Indian fare, plus delicious momos – dumplings filled with various meats and vegetables – washed down with free-flowing tongba, a millet-based alcoholic brew. Kwa Bahal, Thamel.
Upmarket Bhojan Griha: Located in the beautifully renovated, 150-year-old former home of the King of Nepal’s royal priest, this higher-end restaurant serves tasty Nepalese dishes. Diners can sit on cushions on the floor in traditional Nepalese fashion, or on Western-style chairs. The restaurant also places great importance on its environmental and social responsibilities, so you can eat with a clear conscience. www.bhojangriha.com.np
Where to stay Budget Kathmandu Guest House: This budget option in Thamel offers a variety of accommodation to suit all wallets. It’s also home to various bars and dining options. www.ktmgh.com
Blow-out Dwarika’s Hotel: A beautifully furnished hotel in Kathmandu, just staying here gives you a taste of the county’s culture and heritage, with artefacts dating back to the 13th-century displayed throughout. Each of the individually designed rooms offers a traditional Nepalese flavour, enhanced with luxurious, regal amenities and comforts. www.dwarikas.com
How to get there Fly Dubai, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways fly direct to Kathmandu from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha respectively, with flight times of just over four hours.
Getting around Walking – trekking to be more accurate – is the most common way to get from A to B, but a faster option is hiring a car and driver, while domestic flights and buses are good for longer journeys.
What to see Essential activities Unless you suffer from a fear of heights (and flying), you’ll love the thrill of taking to the skies in a microlight with the Al Jazira Aviation Cub – or, indeed, powered parachuting (www.jac-uae.net). The views of this northern emirate will blow you away, not to mention the adrenaline. The thrills continue with water skiing at the Ras Al Khaimah Water Ski Club, where there’s a complete slalom course to really test your skills, with all equipment provided (07 236 4444). And if you’re willing to brave the heat, there are miles and miles of wilderness just waiting to be explored by mountain bike, with a welcome chance to cool off at Ice Land waterpark (www.icelandwaterpark.com).
Essential sights The ‘Grand Canyon of the UAE’, also known as Wadi Bih, stretches from Ras Al Khaimah all the way to Dibba in Oman. This nature highlight makes for a wonderful visit as you become one with the mountains. Also worth a look, and a dip, are the Khatt Springs, sulphuric hot springs that are said to have therapeutic properties. While we can’t vouch for that, they certainly are relaxing – relaxation that continues at nearby Golden Tulip Khatt Springs Resort & Spa (www.goldentulipkhattsprings.com). Back in Ras Al Khaimah, stop off at Al Qasimi Palace, which, despite costing Dhs500 million in the late 1980s, was abandoned after eerie things began occurring within. Spooky.
Where to eat Budget Al Jazeera: This restaurant at Al Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort serves mouth-watering Lebanese dishes. You’re sure to love the Arabic music and belly dancer, too. www.alhamrafort.com
Blow-out Saffron: The Banyan Tree’s signature Thai restaurant is open just for dinner. Romantic tables look out onto the resort’s watering hole, where the local wildlife add to the magical experience. www.banyantree.com
Where to stay Midrange Bin Majid Beach Resort: There’s a sauna, Jacuzzi, tennis court, fitness centre and an array of watersports to keep you occupied at this four-star property. Choose between a chalet or cabana. www.binmajid.com
Blow-out The Cove Rotana Resort and Spa: This spacious, family-friendly property boasts beautiful, local architecture with cobbled paths leading over bridges and past lagoons from one Arabesque villa to another. Two outdoor pools, a private beach and fitness centre should keep you nicely occupied. www.rotana.com
How to get there Fly Dubai and Qatar Airways fly direct to Dubai from Doha in under an hour. If you’re travelling by car from Dubai, take the Emirates Road (E11) towards Sharjah and keep following signs to Umm Al Quwain. It’s about an hour from Dubai Airport.
What to see First-timers The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, set up in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned baby orangutans, is a fantastic way to meet these endangered animals in their natural habitat. Boardwalks lead visitors through the lush jungle of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve to viewing areas, where twice a day the orangutans can be seen gathering at nearby feeding platforms, the grownups munching on bananas, the smaller fur balls filling up on milk. Long-tailed macaques also regularly make an appearance.
Repeat visitors If you’ve seen the Men of the Forest but still want to experience the wildlife and unspoilt nature of this beautiful part of the world, why not join an organised jungle trek or an adventure tour along the Kinabatangan River? Try one of Uncle Tan’s tours (www.uncletan.com), and discover the amazing creatures at home in the mangroves and on the banks of the river.
Where to eat Budget Kah Hiong Ngui Chap: This Kota Kinabalu institution is as authentic and local an experience as you could ever hope for. It’s cheap, it’s no-frills and it’s all about a certain beef soup called ngui chap. Jln Lintas Block A, Kolam Centre Phase 2 (+60 19 870 0080).
Blow-out Peppino: This classy Italian restaurant at Shangri La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa in Kota Kinabalu is sure to hit all the right spots. Contemporary, chic surrounds, with works by local artist Martini Asap adorning the walls. The experience won’t come cheap, but it’ll be one to remember. www.shangri-la.com/kotakinabalu/tanjungaruresort
Where to stay Budget Kinabalu Daya: This midrange hotel run by Best Western benefits from a central Kota Kinabalu location. Rooms are nothing spectacular, yet still everything you’d expect for the price, coming with all modern amenities. www.kkdayahotel.com
Blow-out Banga Raya Island Resort: Tucked away on its own island just off the coast of Borneo is this stunning resort. Accommodation comes in the form of 47 timbered villas, each with views of the emerald waters of the South China Sea. Raised walkways lead through the jungle to the resort’s hilltop spa and down to the white sand beach. You won’t want to leave. bungarayaresort.com
How to get there Direct flights to Kota Kinabalu aren’t available, but various airlines offers flights with a stopover, including Royal Brunei via the Brunei capital and Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur. Expect a total journey time of around 12 hours.
Getting around Internal flights connect Sabah’s larger settlements, while buses also do so, but at snail’s pace. Alternatively, Kota Kinabalu’s multitude of tour operators can take the stress out of travelling across the region.
What to see First-timers… With the region famous for its frankincense, no visit to Salalah is complete without a stroll through Al-Husn Souk to make a purchase of this aromatic resin that’s been traded in these parts for more than 5,000 years. The lighter and larger the clumps, the better and more expensive, with Silver and Hojari frankincense most highly prized. Salalah’s Museum of the Frankincense Land offers an interesting insight into the precious commodity’s history and origins, but to see the trees for yourself, head to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Frakincense Park of Wadi Dawkah.
Repeat visitors… There’s much to keep the curious visitor occupied in Salalah itself, the Sultan’s Palace (still visited by Sultan Qaboos in summer), Salalah Gardens and Tomb of Nabi Umran, with its 33-metre-long sarcophagus, all worth a visit. But make sure you head beyond the city to experience the nature and wildlife of Dhofar at its best – Wadi Darbat’s magnificent valley is lush and green in the summer, when heavy rainfall creates gushing waterfalls, while the four-kilometre-long beach at Mughsayl Bay is one of the country’s most beautiful, attracting not just locals out for a stroll but also a great variety of birds. Just watch out for the numerous blow-holes that drench unsuspecting visitors.
Where to eat Budget Udupi: A simple restaurant in the heart of the city serving authentic Indian vegetarian dishes that won’t disappoint. It’s open for lunch, too, with great value thali. July 23 Street.
Up-market Palm Grove: This restaurant at the plush Hilton Salalah attracts not just guests but locals too. With a beautiful setting and panoramic sea views from the outdoor terrace, it’s a great place if you're a fan of fresh seafood. www1.hilton.com
Where to stay Budget Haffa House: This four-star property is conveniently located close to Salalah airport and offers comfortable rooms with all the modern amenities you’d expect from an affordable, functional hotel. haffahousesalalah.com
Blow-out Marriott Salalah Resort: Kick back at this out-of-town luxury hotel’s Frankincense Spa by Chavana or in the 2,000sqm pool. All rooms are located close to the beach and dive centre, and there’s a wide choice available. There are a number of restaurants, too, such as Sumhuram, an all-day diner with buffet, and Al Dana seafood restaurant, plus various bars. www.marriott.com
How to get there You can drive to Salalah, but you’re looking at a mammoth journey of at least 15 hours one-way. Flying is therefore preferable, with Oman Air connecting Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha with Salalah via Muscat.
Getting around Hire a car – ideally a 4x4 – to give yourself the freedom to explore.
What to see First-timers… You can’t really go wrong, no matter which of the Seychelles’ islands you end up on. You’ll have impossibly soft white sand, impossibly topaz-coloured waters, impossibly lush green jungle and palms and very few people with whom to share all this stuff of dreams. The main islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue are good starting points, though, with Mahé alone boasting no fewer than 65 beaches, one just as perfect as the other. On slightly smaller La Digue, the main form of transport is still an ox-cart, which gives you an idea of just how laid-back and wonderfully slow life is in the Seychelles. Find your spot, plant yourself in the sand and relax.
Back for more… Those keen to do a bit of exploring can pick up a brochure detailing some wonderful walks through lush terrain at the Botanical garden in Victoria, Mahé’s capital. Also on the island is the worthwhile Morne Seychellois National Park, which stretches all the way from mangroves on the coast up to Mahé’s highest peak, 905-metre Morne Seychellois. But if you just can’t tear yourself away from the beach and that crystal clear sea, why not plunge beneath the waves? Many resorts come with dive centres attached, and there’s plenty to see – including whale sharks twice a year, in August and then again from October to January.
Where to eat Budget Boat House: This easygoing restaurant in Beau Vallon on Mahé serves a good mix of Creole and Western dishes, with a big dollop of local atmosphere and cheer. It’s nothing fancy, but Boat House is hugely popular both with visitors and locals. Beau Vallon, Mahé.
Blow-out Cyann: For the best in haute cuisine, check out this romantic restaurant at the Constance Ephelia Resort on Mahé. The cuisine is French-inspired with Seychellois and Asian hints, plus there’s a sushi bar, extensive grape cellar and a chef’s table. epheliaresort.constancehotels.com
Where to stay Budget Le Relax Hotel & Restaurant: Nowhere in the Seychelles is what you’d strictly call budget, but this three-star hotel on Mahé won’t break the bank and yet still offers comfortable accommodation with modern amenities, including a pool. www.lerelaxhotel.com
Blow-out Frégate Island Private: A 20-minute flight away from Mahé, this private island retreat is, according to its owners, ‘precious yet not unattainable’, but you’ll need to have deep pockets to make this your Seychelles home. The 17 villas are all stunningly furnished and positioned to offer you the most magnificent views. This is as exclusive as it gets. www.fregate.com
How to get there Emirates, Etihad Airways, Air Seychelles and Qatar Airways fly direct to Mahé from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, with flight times of just under five hours.
What to see Sardine Run Hurry! Between May and July each year, millions of sardines head north along the east coast of South Africa, from Cape Point up to the northern Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal coast. Their epic journey, known as the Sardine Run, involves such large shoals that they can be seen by satellite from space – picture a mass of fish up to 15km long, 3.5km wide and nearly 40m deep! Hundreds of predators join the action in search of a quick, easy meal and true dare devils get into the water for a closer, adrenaline-pumping view. Numerous tour and dive operators organise trips to take in this incredible event, so make sure you shop around.
Shark diving Not one for the faint hearted, cage diving with the great white will leave you breathless, exhilarated and most likely trembling. White Shark Ecoventures are just one of a host of companies that offer the experience. Based in Gansbaai, a two-hour drive from Cape Town, thrill-seekers are taken out in a specially equipped boat and then dropped into a cage at the side of the boat when sharks are sighted, and it’s all done under the strict supervision of an experienced dive master. www.white-shark-diving.com
Where to eat Durban Cargo Hold: For seafood and views with a, erm, bite, this restaurant in Durban is aboard uShaka Marine World’s so-called Phantom Ship and offers diners the unique experience of dining on excellent food in the company of sharks. www.ushakamarineworld.co.za/restaurants/cargo-hold
Cape Town Savoy Cabbage: This fine-dining establishment's menu changes daily according to what’s fresh. If you’re new to South Africa, don’t miss the chance to sample local game such as wildebeest, springbok and zebra. www.savoycabbage.co.za
Where to stay Durban The Quays on Time Ball Square: This five-star hotel situated along the palm-lined canals of Durban in KwaZulu Natal offers luxury accommodation with spectacular views over Durban Bay. www.quays.co.za
Cape Town Mount Nelson: Set within lush green gardens at the foot of Table Mountain, and within a short stroll of the downtown area, this plush hotel offers fine-dining restaurants, bars and one of the city’s best spas. www.mountnelson.co.za
How to get there From Dubai, Emirates and South African fly direct to both Cape Town (ten hours) and Durban (eight hours). Etihad Airways flies direct to Johannesburg from Abu Dhabi and Qatar Airways from Doha to Cape Town via Johannesburg.
Getting around There are several long-distance bus operators connecting larger cities, but the best and way to get around is by hiring a car.
Money matters Local currency: South African Rand Exchange rate: ZAR10 = Dhs4.43 / QR4.39
What to see First-timers… Reached in six hours by car from Colombo, coastal Yala West, or Ruhuna, is a beautiful area of lowland dry scrub punctuated by rocky outcrops and arguably the best national park in Sri Lanka. Wildlife lovers flock here for the chance to see the Sri Lankan leopard, a sub-species endemic to the country – and there’s a good chance of spotting one of these magnificent cats, as the park is home to around 30 of them. Other common wildlife sightings include sloths, sambar deer, spotted deer, buffalo, mongooses, golden jackals and various monkeys, plus 220 different species of birds.
Back for more… Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, a five-hour drive from the capital and situated in the wet southwest of the island, is the country’s premier rainforest, where the trees – half of which are endemic and found nowhere else on the planet – rise up to 45 metres. Some of the larger wildlife in the park include leopards, purple-faced langurs and barking deer, while twitchers will be pleased to hear that Sinharaja offers some great bird watching, attracting endemic birds that include the red-faced malkoha, green-billed coucal and Sri Lankan blue magpie.
Where to eat Budget Green Cabin: This Colombo institution has been around for over a hundred years, serving up Sri Lankan light bites, curries and a wide variety of baked goods for lunch and dinner. 453 Galle Road, Colombo 3 (+94 11 258 8811).
Blow-out Spices: The buffet at this fine-dining restaurant at the Hilton Colombo brings together cuisines from across the world – Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, European – in a scrumptious spread. And the Sunday brunch takes things one notch higher. www1.hilton.com
Where to stay Budget Grand Oriental Hotel: With a grand history stretching back to 1837, this iconic hotel in the capital was once the home of a Dutch governor and military barracks. www.grandoriental.com
Blow-out Amangalla: In the historic southern port of Galle, this luxury colonial-era resort is housed within the ramparts of the 17th-century, World Heritage-listed Galle Fort. Rooms look out onto the hotel’s 200-year-old gardens and the harbour beyond to complete the five-star experience. www.amanresorts.com/amangalla
How to get there Fly Dubai and Emirates fly direct to Colombo from Dubai, Etihad from Abu Dhabi and Qatar Airways from Doha, with Sri Lankan Airlines flying from all three airports. Flight times are around five hours.
Getting around While buses and trains connect all areas of Sri Lanka, these can get rather crowded. For short stays, hiring a car and driver is probably the best option, with reasonable prices.
Money matters Local currency: Sri Lankan Rupee Exchange rate: LKR100 = Dhs2.85 / QR2.82
What to see First-timers… If it’s baroque and neoclassical architecture, winding canals, unrivalled museums and galleries, and magnificent summer palaces you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. The State Hermitage Museum houses an incredible array of art treasures, so is rightly the first and main stop for anyone new to St Petersburg, while your next stop should undoubtedly be Peterhof – a series of palaces, gardens and fountains grand enough to rival any in France.
Back for more… Those who think they’ve seen everything there is to see in St Petersburg (and we seriously doubt it), can look beyond the city to the 18th-century Pavlovsk Palace – a favourite weekend destination among residents. Built on land gifted by Catherine the Great to her son, this stately property is filled with artworks, paintings and grand imperial furnishings, while the surrounding English gardens are perfect for afternoon picnics.
Where to eat Budget Bliny Domik: Get acquainted with Mother Russia’s delightful take on the pancake, the humble, bite-sized blini. Served with all manner of toppings, from savoury meats and cheeses to sweet jams and fruit, the blinis at this popular restaurant are consistently tasty, but there are lots more Russian dishes to savour, including vareniki and pelmeni dumplings, pirozhki pies and more common fare. 8 Kolokolnaya ulitsa, Nevsky Prospekt (+7 812 315 9915).
Blow-out Caviar Bar & Restaurant: Tuck into the finest sturgeon roe at the Grand Hotel Europe’s Caviar Bar & Restaurant, a sleek art deco-styled venue filled with marble, where waiters in red and black serve diners to the classy sounds of the resident musicians. www.grandhoteleurope.com
Where to stay Budget Arbat-Nord: Offering clean, comfortable, affordable accommodation in a convenient location, this newly built hotel is a good lower-end choice. Rooms offer all the expected amenities, plus balconies with pleasant views over Naberezhnaya. www.eng.arbat-nord.ru
Blow-out The Angleterre: The five-star Angleterre offers modern luxuries and amenities with classic style and timeless charm. It was the preferred accommodation among poets and artists in the 1920s and remains popular, with its central location overlooking St Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest in the city. www.angleterrehotel.com
How to get there Direct flights are only available with Emirates from Dubai, with a flying time of just over six hours, but various other airlines offer flights with one or two stops.
Getting around St Petersburg’s ornate metro is cheap and easily navigated, although stations are spread out, so expect to do plenty of walking.
What to see First-timers… Recognised for its medicinal qualities for over 2,000 years, a trip to the Dead Sea is one of the best ways to rejuvenate and escape everyday stresses. With countless spas and relaxation centres, the inland lake draws visitors from across the region. Salt levels are over four times that of normal seas, creating an environment that provides healing properties for a number of complaints. Devoid of marine life due to the high salinity, treatments and therapies on offer include massages, body scrubs and invigorating hydro-pools. However, the main draw is the sea itself, where you can relax in the warm buoyancy of its smooth waters.
Back for more… Sitting in the hills above the Dead Sea, in Wadi Zarqa Ma’in, is Hammamat Ma’in. Thermal springs that range in temperature from 45°C to a scorching 65°C steam and burst from the ground with varying ferocity. This creates a number of natural bathing pools, rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. Numbering almost 60, the springs escape down the hillside as waterfalls, streams and mere trickles. This popular destination also allows visitors the use of its ancient Roman Baths for a small fee.
Where to eat Midrange Il Terrazzo: Located in the Marriott Dead Sea Resort & Spa, this casual and friendly restaurant offers a wide selection of wood oven-baked pizzas, antipasti and authentic Italian pasta dishes. Al-fresco dining can be enjoyed on its terrace overlooking the Dead Sea. Marriott-jordanvalley.com
Blow-out The Codes Thai/Asian Fusion Restaurant: With great views, this fine-dining, à la carte restaurant serves Thai Asian fusion cuisine with contemporary flavours and fresh spices in a smart environment. www.kempinski.com
Where to stay Midrange The Mövenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea: Created to replicate a traditional Arabic village and set on the northern shores of the Dead Sea, this resort offers breathtaking views and extensive spa facilities. A selection of nine restaurants and bars set in stylish surroundings makes for a uniquely eastern experience. www.moevenpick-hotels.com
Blow-out Kempinski Hotel Ishtar: Set among lush gardens with waterfalls and lagoons, privacy is the order of the day at this exclusive spa resort. Relax among the ancient olive trees, enjoy a spot of yoga and meditation or slip into one of the numerous whirlpools, steam rooms and saunas on offer. www.kempinski.com
How to get there Fly Dubai, Royal Jordanian, Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways all operate direct flights to Amman from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, with flight times of around three hours.
Getting around While it's easy to hire drivers, renting your own car is the most convenient option, but make sure you’re experienced if heading out into the desert or off-road.
What to see Mangroves Although it’s small, there’s plenty to see in Umm Al Quwain. Al Sinniyah, the largest of the emirate’s islands, is noted for its wildlife and lush mangroves – you can arrange a sightseeing tour with Flamingo Beach Resort (www.flamingoresort.ae). The same resort also organises crab hunting trips, which involve wading through knee-deep water, brandishing a spear. If you’re successful, they’ll cook your catch for dinner. More mangrove exploration is offered by Noukhada (noukhada.ae), only this time from the wobbly comfort of a kayak. Your guide will lead you to the best, most beautiful spots, sighting green turtles, black tip reef sharks and flamingos – lots of flamingos – along the way.
Essential stops Falaj Al Mualla is a fertile oasis town in the Al Batha Valley. With plenty of camels strolling about, the scenic desert landscape and an old watchtower make for a pleasant day out, plus some great photographs. Al Dur, meanwhile, is one of the UAE’s largest pre-Islamic sites. Excavations have uncovered ancient tombs, stone houses and glassware from Egypt and Syria. Back in town, it’s also worth visiting the Umm Al Quwain Museum, housed in what used to be the emirate’s ruler’s home. And if it gets too hot, head to Dreamland Aqua Park – it’s quieter than some of the country’s other, more famous waterparks, but it’s great if you’ve got young ones in tow.
Where to eat Serving up international fare, there’s something to suit every palate at this restaurant at Barracuda Beach Resort, and prices are more than reasonable. www.barracuda.ae
Umm Al Quwain Beach Restaurant: You’ll find Lebanese favourites, with shisha and a band that plays on Fridays during lunchtime, at this popular restaurant at Umm Al Quwain Beach Resort. www.uaqbeachotel.com
Where to stay Budget Pearl Beach hotel: If you’re after a beach escape with none of the fuss, Pearl is a good option. There’s an outdoor pool and a restaurant that specialises in seafood. Rooms come with a balcony, but make sure you ask for one that overlooks the ocean. www.pearhotel.ae
Blow-out Banyan Tree Al Wadi: Technically in neighbouring Ras Al Khaimah, this achingly beautiful desert resort is breathtaking. All villas are tucked away between the rippling dunes and come with their own pool. It’s back to nature stuff but in the most luxurious way possible. Plus the resort can organise falconry courses, horseback and camel riding. www.banyantree.com
How to get there Fly Dubai and Qatar Airways fly direct to Dubai from Doha in under an hour. If you’re travelling by car from Dubai, take the Emirates Road (E11) towards Sharjah and keep following signs to Umm Al Quwain. It’s about an hour from Dubai Airport.