The Middle-East is bulging with mythical places alongside hidden treasures. Here's our subjective bucket-list:
From sand dunes to high tech metropolis in hardly a century: we present to you Tel Aviv! It’s bustling, it’s open-minded, it’s vibrating to the sounds and smells of its rooftop bars, delicious fusion restaurants and amazing nightclubs... There’s something in the White City for anyone: whether it is art and history you’re into, eclectic parties and soft sand beaches or Bauhaus architecture and top-notch cuisine. Moreover, Tel Aviv is home to some exclusive luxury beach hotels.
"Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem" - the Talmud.
How can you tell a tale of a place built and rebuilt so many times, inhabited by so many civilizations, divided between so many religions? Walking the streets of Jerusalem is a unique and intense experience. It’s like traveling in time through one of the richest and the oldest cities in the world - the City of David shows first signs of settlement in the 4th millennium BCE.
The Old city features historical marvels and spiritual landmarks such as King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, the recently restored Roman Cardo and, of course, the sacred Western Wall.
One should not pass out on the newer part of the city though with the bustling Mahane Yehuda Market to partake in the authentic Middle Eastern cuisine that the city is famous for; the impressive Yad Vashem Museum, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust; and the exciting Israel Museum, with a vast priceless collection of archeological finds and artifacts.
The Northern Coastline
Throughout history, Israel’s Mediterranean Coast has been ruled by various empires, which created a fascinating mosaic of historic sites and diverse cultural landscapes.
Take Caesarea for a start, named Best tourist spot in the Middle East in 2020. And we can easily see why. The well-preserved ruins of the ancient Roman capital stand next to some of Israel’s most beautiful beaches.
Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, located on the slopes of Mount Carmel is also not to be outdone. Home to both Jews and Arabs, it’s a melting pot of culture and ideas. It is most famous for its magnificent Bahai Gardens and Shrine – a world heritage site that is home to the Baha’i faith. You’ve probably heard little about it, but with some 7 million followers, it’s the world’s fourth and latest monotheistic religion. And of course you can also visit one of the excellent wineries while in the area.
And how not to fall in love with Akko? This charming old port city has seen them all: Byzantines, Crusaders, Islamic and Ottoman rulers,... Walking its cute little street feels like walking an open-air museum. Although the most impressive part lies below the surface, where the remains of the underground city dating from the Crusader times are to be found. If there, don’t miss out on a late lunch of deliciously cooked fish at Uri Buri Restaurant.
Last stop, right before the border with Lebanon, you’ll find the incredible grottos and caves of Rosh Hanikra, resulting from a centuries-long dance between land and sea.
Whether you're a true believer or history aficionado, a trip to the Galilee is a must.
The first mandatory stop would be Nazareth, the town where Jesus spent his childhood. There you can visit the mythical Basilica of Annunciation, established over the site where tradition holds to be the house of Virgin Mary, and where angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she would conceive and bear the Son of God. In wintertime, the city holds a lovely Christmas market, featuring the biggest Christmas tree in the Middle East! It is also famous for its street food, so if you’re around you should definitely treat yourself to some sambusak or sweets like baklava and knafeh - a typical warm dish of orange noodles, sweet sheep’s cheese and syrup.
Continue to Tiberias, the lively resort town on the Sea of Galilee. Yes, we’re talking Jesus-walking-on-water Sea of Galilee. Stay at one of the luxury hotels on the shore and enjoy a delicious fresh fish meal paired with some local wine while drinking in the view.
You can drive along the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum and the ruins of the ancient synagogue where Jesus taught. Next to it you also have a picturesque Greek Orthodox Monastery, with a nice peaceful view on the lake, especially recommended at sunset. Go on to Tabgha and visit the Church of Multiplication of Loaves and Fish with the beautiful mosaic floor. And, if you’re up for a spiritual experience, pass by Yardenit, the famous baptismal site located where the Jordan River flows out from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.
Proceed North to visit the gorgeous Banias Waterfall, go birdwatching at Hula Lake, enjoy the fascinating landscape while horseback riding or learn about the wildlife and fascinating history of the region during a jeep safari.
Often overlooked even though it covers half of Israel, the Negev desert is largely worth the trip. From ruins to natural phenomena over super luxury hotels there’s something here for everyone. The star of the region would of course be Ramon Crater, the world's largest natural erosion crater - which is to say not caused by the impact of a meteor nor a volcanic eruption: 40 km long, 2-10 km wide and 500 meters deep. Nothing beats taking a swim on the edge of the makhtesh at the Beresheet Hotel in Mitzpe Ramon...
On the way, don’t miss out on a hike on one of the trails along the Ein Avdat stream in the Zin Valley. Along the path you’ll meet springs, groves of trees, wildlife, and stunning views.
A bit before the southern tip of the country you’ll find the gorgeous Timna National Park and Mount Timna, likely to be the most ancient copper mine in the world - you can see smelting furnaces dating back to ancient imperial Egypt. Highlights include the lake and Solomon’s Pillars, perfectly formed sandstone columns. The amazing geology and landscape with uniquely colored sand of the park are the result of strips of volcanic magma frozen into the cliffs. In the area we could not recommend enough a relaxing stay at the brand new Six Senses Shaharut, nested in a dramatic cliff and offering a panoramic view over the valley.
If you’re the adventurous type the Negev offers a plethora of thrilling activities: sandboarding on the dunes, rappelling down the cliffs of a crater, mountain biking or quading from valley to valley,... And for the astrophiles and star-gazers amongst you, the desert sky, exempt from any city lights, will make your heart sing! Each year, the meteor shower occurring around mid-august draws thousands of Israelis and tourists alike to desert.
The Dead Sea & Masada
Who’s not familiar with the picture of someone floating on water while reading a newspaper? The hypersaline waters of The Dead Sea - that is actually a lake - are world renowned for their therapeutic benefits. This all-year-long sunny destination is indeed quite a particular one: lowest point on earth (400m under sea-level), weaker UVB rays, slightly higher oxygen volume than at sea level, higher atmospheric pressure, sky roquetting mineral levels,... And of course picture-perfect turquoise water with white salt rocks. The plus: you can choose the Israeli side as well as the Jordanian side to stay at one of the luxury spa-resort with a private beach.
On your way to the Dead Sea you should not miss out on the mountain fortress of Masada, one of the greatest Jewish symbols of hope and pride. Indeed, being besieged by the Romans, the Jewish zeelots living up the mountain top, choose collective suicide over surrendering to the Empire. Besides this, the ancient fortress, built in 30 BCE by King Herod, is also a masterpiece of engineering for the time and offers a stunning view over the biblical Moab Mountains, the Dead Sea and neighbouring Jordan.
The Red Sea
Both the Southern tip of Israel and Jordan, give you exclusive access to the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea and a true divers’ paradise. The marine life and coral cliffs are just breathtaking. You can also find a few surprising things underwater like a tank or a plane, all covered in coral and inhabited by colorful fish. And the better part: if you’re not really accustomed to diving, you can reach most spots just by snorkeling. Nonetheless, you can decide to just enjoy some other watersport, the beach, the swimming pool and some delicious food. You will find pleasant resorts in both Eilat and Aqaba, though the later has a few amazing ones, like Al Manara and Hyatt Regency, that are hard to compete with.
First shown to the world thanks to the popular Indian Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, then elected one of the Seven New Wonders of the World in 2007, by now the ancient city of Petra has become a true bucket-list destination. You might ask yourself: “Is it not a bit overrated?”. Not the slightest! The red-rose city is truly worth the detour. You will probably come for the compulsory picture of the Treasury but leave bewitched by your walk through the Siq and the accomplishment of the Nabataean civilization that carved the whole city in the rock and managed to protect it from the floods and invasions for 5 centuries.
The dramatic landscapes, the everlasting open spaces, the steep bare mountains, the enormous sand dunes, the many shades of red and orange sandstones, will make wonder if you’re still on this planet… Wadi Rum, is also known as the “Valley of the Moon” and was the set of quite a few movies amongst which The Martian, 2 Star Wars Episodes and the new Aladdin Movie.
Apart from the stunning views, the best this dessert has to offer is for sure the unmatchable Bedouin hospitality. Hopping in the back of a local driver’s off-road vehicle for an adventurous ride through the valley and staying at one of the luxurious desert camps in a Panoramic dome under the stars, is one experience that you’re unlikely to forget.
Amman is one of those cities offering top modern-day entertainment alongside some remarkable ancient treasures. Although it only officially became Jordan’s capital in 1921, the area has been described as a significant site since the Old Testament. A day (or a few days) in Amman would be a perfect combination of daytime visiting the Citadel and its palace, al-Qasr - featuring Roman, Byzantine, and ancient Islamic remains- the Great Temple of Amman (thought to have been a temple of Hercules), the Blue Mosque, the Jordan Archaeological Museum, the Roman Theater (2nd century CE) and the souqs; and nighttime spend in some smart restaurants, fancy art galleries, surprising nightclubs, and ultra luxury hotels like The St. Regis.