Weekend wonders

Farzana Ali and Colwyn Kidger search out some of the best places to visit when you’re in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of Dubai.
Weekend wonders
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By Farzana Ali and Colwyn Kidger
Sat 11 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

Farzana Ali and Colwyn Kidger search out some of the best places to visit when you’re in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of Dubai.

1. Loved Lawrence of Arabia? Wanted to be Indiana Jones? For an unrivalled holiday that's fit for the big screen, head to Petra

As one of the most archeologically dazzling countries in the world, most visitors to Jordan head straight to the country's most famous landmark, Petra, with its unrivalled monuments carved into the cliffs.

Be sure to pack your walking shoes as the stroll along the warm sandstone canyons can be challenging, but luckily the reward of the splendour of the Treasury Monument (or Al-Khazneh, as it's known locally) towering before you, makes it all worth while.

And while the Street of Facades and the 8,000-seat Roman amphitheatre and royal tombs are awe-inspiring, it'll be the stunning views from the top of the 2,000-year-old monastery ruins that will really take your breath away.

Reserve:Movenpick Resort Petra

Ever wanted to stay at one of the Seven Wonders of the World? You can at the Movenpick which is right at the entrance to the historical city of Nabatean.

Travel Notes:Only three and a half hours away from Dubai, www.movenpick-hotels.com 2. With its lush landscape, and exotic wildlife, Kenya's Masai Mara is the perfect place for an adventure

You can't go to Kenya and not go on a safari, so head to the country's most famous wildlife reserve, the Masai Mara, where wildlife on the open plains awaits.

However, if it's buffalos, monkeys, and leopards you're after then Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, which sits on a mountain forest, is a must to check out.

If that isn't enough of an adventure for you, head to Tana River to go white water rafting and visit the amazing Fourteen Falls waterfall in Thika.

Reserve:Kichwa Tembo

You might feel as though you should have brought a pith helmet as you arrive at Kichwa Tembo Resort in the Masai Mara Reserve,  right on the edge of a riverine forest and overlooking the plains of the Mara - because it's just you and wild Africa.

You know that nature is right on the doorstep as you hear the sounds of the wild echo throughout the private luxury tented safari camps.

Travel Notes:The capital of Kenya, Nairobi, is just a five-hour flight from Dubai.

www.kichwatembo.com 3. If it's hustle, bustle and movie glamour you want for a weekend, then Mumbai will not disappoint. Vibrant and busy, be prepared for some surprises... 

With Mumbai being the centre of Bollywood, you're never far from an A-list party, so head to one of the many bars and clubs to see how the big names like to spend the hot nights.

For a history lesson, make your way through the snake charmers at the lively Gateway of India or hop on a boat to Elephanta Island and the sixth-century Hindu cave temples of Maharashtra. But if it's fresh air and a true taste of India that you're looking for, head to Chowpatty Beach for some tasty bhelpuri.

Reserve:Taj Mahal Palace

With its crystal chandeliers, marble ceilings and hand-woven silk carpets, you can't help feeling like one of the many Maharajas who have stayed there. A Mumbai landmark with uninterrupted views the Gateway of India, it's the royal base fit for a princess.

Travel Notes:Only two and a half hours away.

www.tajhotels.com 4. Fancy Egypt but don't want the craziness of Cairo? Head to the Sinai Peninsula for Sharm El Sheikh

The bustling town may have started life as a small fishing village, but Sharm is now one of the most sought-after water sports destinations in the world. Whether you're above or below water, the crystal clear seas offer an incredible world with some of the most amazing marine life to explore.

For those not so keen on getting wet, horse riders, golfers and those seeking desert safaris and Bedouins won't be left wanting either in this idyllic family holiday spot. And if it's just a beach and party holiday you're looking for, Na'ama Bay has everything for the night owls.

Reserve:Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh

For five-star luxury nestled perfectly between the sea, desert and mountains, the Four Seasons offers legendary Middle Eastern hospitality in a spectacular Egyptian setting overlooking the Red Sea.

Travel Notes:Fly direct to Sharm El Sheikh which is only three and a half hours away.

www.fourseasons.com/sharmelsheikh 5. For something completely new, head to Yerevan, Armenia. Nestled between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, it really is a unique and surprising getaway

Home to several temples, monasteries and cathedrals, including the 2,000-year-old Garni Temple (or Zvartnots Temple), which is claimed to be the oldest national church in the world, Armenia has a rich and varied history that has left a legacy of magnificent churches, fortresses and monasteries in its capital city of Yerevan.

Or if you're looking for something a little more outdoorsy, why not take advantage of Armenia's rocky landscape and go hiking with breathtaking routes available, whatever your skill. Or if none of that tickles your fancy, head to the country's Cognac region and spend a weekend tasting Armenia's finest brandy.

Reserve:Marriott Hotel, Yerevan

Right in the centre of all the action, the Republic Square, the Marriott also has impressive views of Mount Ararat.

Travel Notes:Yerevan is just a three-hour direct flight away with Air Arabia.

www.airarabia.com

www.marriott.com 6. Already been to Muscat? Done the dolphins at Musandam? There's more to Oman, so why not enjoy a tropical treat and head to Salalah

Lesser-known in Oman's guide books, tropical Salalah is a perfect green getaway from the dry heat of the UAE. If you can pull yourself away from the beautiful blue waters and beaches of Taqah, head to Sultan Qaboos' Palace and the Salalah Museum to take in the local history.

And while Haffa Souq lets you stock up on everything from dates and handmade trinkets to frankincense, you'll find the real thing on a trip out to see the frankincense trees in Wadi Dawkah.

Reserve:Hilton Salalah

On the shore of the Indian Ocean with the Omani Mountains behind, whether it's a family getaway or romantic escape you're after, the Hilton Hotel Salalah is the top spot to take it all in. When you're not sunning yourself on the white beaches, you'll be gazing  at the greenery of the beautiful tropical plantations of the Dhofar region, and forgetting you're still in the Middle East.

Travel Notes:You can drive (but it'll take you 12 hours) or hop on a plane for 90 minutes.

www.hiltonworldresorts.com 7. A world away from Dubai, Sri Lanka's blend of Dutch and English history, along with incredible local charm, make this lush tropical island getaway the perfect cup of tea

Whether you hop on one of the many colourful tuc tucs or chose a more modern mode of transport to get around the island, Sri Lanka's winding coastal roads will have you entranced from the moment you land in Colombo.

With palm-lined white beaches that are perfect for beach slugs and surfers, the country also has an incredible history, including the famous city of Galle and its jewel, the Galle Fort.

No longer a lookout point for passing ships, the World Heritage site is one of Sri Lanka's most famous monuments, along with the famous Temple of the Golden Tooth in Kandy and, of course, the miles of tea plantations, including the Handunugodar Estate in the south, famed for producing the world's most expensive tea, white tea, which has never been touched by human hands. Have a sip and sit back in the land once known as Ceylon.

Reserve:The Fortress, Galle

Offering a special blend of colonial history and Asian influence, the new Fortress hotel, near Koggala Lake and right on the shores of the Indian Ocean, is a five-star indulgence.

Sink into a Jacuzzi bath in one of the Ocean rooms or the plunge pool in your Ocean Loft and snooze on the most luxurious Frette linen. And when you're not sampling the spicy Sri Lankan menu on offer or taking in the nearby historical sites, indulge in a bespoke ayurvedic massage at the Fortress's Lime Spa... sublime.

Travel Notes:Columbo is just four hours away with Sri Lankan Airlines.

www.thefortress.lk 8. Who hasn't been to Istanbul? Exactly. So why not try Ankara and enjoy some capital charm

With so many museums, art galleries and archaeological remains dotted around this city, you certainly won't be bored.

For a unique history on Turkey, visit Anitkabir Museum, or get some art appreciation by taking a trip to the Resim-Heykel Museum to wonder at the huge selection of paintings and sculptures.

And, of course, a visit to Ankara wouldn't be complete without a touch of Roman splendour and the city's citadel, Roman theatre and the temple of Augustus.

Reserve:Sheraton Ankara

To be in the centre of all the action, make sure you stay at the Sheraton which has the city's history and bustling nightlife right on its doorstep.

Travel Notes:Seven hours away with a quick stop in Istanbul.

www.sheratonankara.com 9. With an incredible history that stretches back to the Ottoman, Roman and Egyptian Empires, it's no wonder Damascus is the ‘Fragrant City'

It's over 4,000 years old, so when in Syria's capital, it is essential to soak up the history and visit all the top spots, including the Umayyad Mosque - the Grand Mosque of Damascus, which is one of the oldest and most important Islamic sites and said to be the home of the head of John the Baptist!

From there, visit the 250-year-old Azem Palace and The National Museum of Damascus to check out the priceless artefacts of ages gone by, or escape to the apricot and almond orchards that have made Damascus famous.

Reserve:Le Meridien Hotel

If you're heading to one of the world's oldest inhabited cities, you want to be sure you're staying in the very heart of it, and for breathtaking views of the Kassioun Mountain and the ancient bustling business district, Le Meridien is a favourite for visitors. Just minutes from must-see sites like Hamedieh Souq and the National Museum, you'll get your fill of history (and luxury). Travel Notes:Syria is just over three hours away.

www.starwoodhotels.com 10. Whether skiing, shopping or sightseeing, Lebanon has it all, and the 5,000-year-old ancient city of Beirut is a perfect escape

The city is known for its party scene, so hitting the dance floor is essential. Head to the hotspots like the Sky Bar and White, if you want to be seen with the beautiful people.

If you're looking for more of a historic and cultural weekend, head to Byblos Castle to admire the 12th-century ruins (followed by lunch in the beautiful port), and be sure to check out the stunning mountain Jeita Grotto caves in the Valley of Nahr Al Kalb, and take the cable car up to Harissa to visit Our Lady of Lebanon statue for unrivalled views over the bustling city.

Reserve:InterContinental Phoenicia

It was a haunt of the rich and famous in the 60s when Beirut was known as the "Paris of the Middle East".

Despite being devastated by the ongoing conflict, when the hotel opened its famous doors once again in 2000, it quickly retained its title as Beirut's "White Lady" - the most glamorous and luxurious spot in Beirut, with views across the Mediterranean you can't find anywhere else. Travel Notes:It is just over three hours to Beirut with Emirates Airlines.

www.phoenicia-ic.com

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