1 The Dead Sea
Venturing out of the Arabian Peninsula, the Dead Sea is a must-visit for anyone who wants to combine relaxation and incredible natural resources. The shores of the lake are the lowest land point on the planet and once you enter the water, its famously high salt content provides the buoyancy needed to peacefully bob on the surface.
If you don’t fancy a dip, you can always gaze out over this expanse of water while still benefitting from the mineral-rich mud – and this without even leaving your hotel, thanks to the abundance of amazing spa treatments on offer.
Although, of course, leaving the hotel allows you to explore the other wonders the area has to offer. If you’re staying in Jordan, a 30-minute drive south takes you to the Mujiz Nature Reserve where you can trek along the Siq trail and find the wildlife that the saline lake doesn’t allow. Also, on the beaches alongside the reserve, you can find bizarre and beautiful salt formations, and if you’re feeling adventurous, Wadi Rum is only a four-hour drive away.
NEED TO KNOW Return flights from Dubai to Amman on flydubai start from around Dh950. Rooms at Crowne Plaza Amman start from around Dh500 per night at (www.ihg.com).
2 Salalah, Oman
The city of Salalah is the second city of the Sultanate of Oman but when you’re there it can sometimes be hard to believe it’s on the same continent. This lush area is rich in greenery, with its misty oasis and palm-lined beaches.
As well as gushing over the greenery, a trip to Salalah could involve exploring wadis, visiting the Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve, going snorkelling, or dolphin watching from a boat.
Although visiting Salalah now would mean missing the Khareef (monsoon season), which ended in September, the area remains in bloom long after the rains have stopped – and going out of season should help you snag some bargain prices.
NEED TO KNOW A return flight from Dubai to Salalah on flydubai starts from around Dh850. Rooms at the Salalah Rotana Resort start from Dh610 per night www.rotana.com.
3 Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
The most local of our holiday spots, Sir Bani Yas Island is an island southwest of Abu Dhabi that doubles as a wildlife reserve and bird sanctuary.
This haven is home to over 1,300 animals indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula and is a fantastic place to see the wild side of the UAE. The sanctuary can be explored through a guided tour, but more adventurous holiday-makers may want to try mountain biking, kayaking, or venturing below the waves for some snorkelling or scuba diving.
If you stay on the mainland, the hotel offers day tours over to Sir Bani Yas, as well as day trips in the opposite direction, allowing you to discover the vast barren beauty of Rub Al Khali (the Empty Quarter) – a stark contrast to the nearby island.
NEED TO KNOW Jebel Dhanna Resort (Jebeldhanna.danathotels.com) is around four hours from Dubai by car and offers day trips to the island. Rooms start from Dh1,300 per night, but you can save 25 per cent by booking more than two weeks in advance.
4 The Jeita Grotto, Lebanon
The Jeita Grotto – located in Jounieh, just a 45-minute drive north of Beirut – is a geological wonder that is without doubt one of the natural highlights of Lebanon. The two palatial caverns that make up the grotto are the result of thousands of years of erosion and are adorned with stalactites (including the world’s longest at 8.2m) and stalagmites. Although you can walk through the upper cave, the lower one channels the subterranean Nar el-Kalb (Dog River) and is only accessible by boat. Once you’ve finished exploring this prehistoric underground space, you can always venture far above ground and take a cable car up 650m to Harissa where you can enjoy the view of the bay and city down below.
The best place to stay if you’re planning on visiting the grotto is Beirut, from where a day up to Jounieh can easily be organised. While you’re in Beirut, the Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve is about an hour’s drive away and the shade of the cedar forests create the perfect surroundings for hiking and biking.
NEED TO KNOW Return flights from Dubai to Beirut on flydubai start from about Dh900. Rooms at Le Bristol Hotel start from Dh500 per night (www.lebristol-hotel.com).
5 Egypt’s Western Desert
The final, and furthest, destination we’re recommending is a getaway where luxury is sacrificed for location, but it’s a sacrifice definitely worth making!
The Western Desert of Egypt is one of the driest areas of the Sahara and covers around two thirds of the country, and it’s in this expanse – about the size of Texas – that you’ll find the surreal White Desert with its towering statue-like calcium, the Black Desert with its black-topped hills, the hot an cold springs at Baharya Oasis, the haunting Valley of the Whales and the magical Djara Cave. And that’s just a small sampling of the wonders on offer. Of course, given its size, it’s impossible to explore all of the desert highlights, but luckily there are many tour companies that organise journeys into the desert and provide food, tents and transportation.
Western Desert Tours, for example, offers excursions focused on each attraction – Bharaya Oasis can be done in a day, while Siwa Oasis and the Great Sand Sea will take six days. Even better, all of these trips can be customised further to suit your interests.
NEED TO KNOW Return flights from Dubai to Cairo start from Dh1,650. To explore some of the tours available visit www.westerndeserttours.com.