A! List Guide to the Middle East

Staycations are the eco-friendly travel option - and with so much on offer there's no need to stray far from home
Thursday , 21 July 2011

Middle East
Sitting where Africa, Asia and Europe congregate, this region is where the east, literally and figuratively, meets the west. Dig into Egypt’s history, brace yourself for a desert safari and be rendered speechless by Petra, the ancient rock city of Jordan.

Petra, Jordan
Listed by the BBC as one of the 40 Most Unforgettable Places In The World, Petra is the embodiment of raw, harsh, natural beauty. Now a UNESCO heritage site, the city was once the center of caravan trade in the Middle East as a rest stop between the Gulf Of Aqaba and the Dead Sea, with Gaza in the west and Damascus to the north. Remnants of its longstanding culture are visible even today, in the majestic ruins that visitors can still visualise as the great fortress that Petra once was.

The most famous ruin in Petra is Al-Khazneh, The Treasury, said to hold the fortunes of a Pharaoh. Bedouins have oft tested the theory of the Pharaoh’s treasure, but the legend has yet to be proven and remains an enigma that captivates thousands of tourists each year. Ad-Deir, The Monastery, is the largest; a grand mountain facade that is an 800-step trek from the ground.

The base of the rocky ruin has several stalls with food and drink, a welcome treat in the sweltering sun. While one won’t find many restaurants in the ancient city itself, a few minutes’ drive to Wadi Musa will put you in the centre of an area buzzing with excellent food and friendly service.

Travel Note
A number of hotels have sprung up around the area, most of them located in Wadi Musa in the eastern part of Petra. For 5-star comfort and familiar hospitality, the Marriott is situated overlooking the spectacular ruins.


Doha, Qatar
One of the most rapidly growing cities in the Middle East, and recently on the map as the host of the FIFA World Cup 2022, Doha is modern yet retains its cultural roots. Its numerous museums and heritage sites pull visitors towards the city daily.

Particularly enticing is the Museum Of Orientalists, which showcases a huge collection of Oriental artwork and the Cultural Village, which encompasses libraries, galleries and museums, as well as restaurants and cafes for a mid-aft coffee break.

If you’re staying at the Sheraton (and we recommend you do – the Aztec pyramid shape leaves you with a story for the grandkids) head down the corniche as it nears sunset, for a truly Gulf-style experience.

You’ll smell the alluring wafts of fruit-flavoured smoke long before you arrive at the grand, stone structure that is Ras-Naswa, one of the most picturesque shisha cafés in Doha. Relax facing the waterfront and order a hubble bubble along with some traditional local cuisine and take in the sights and sounds of the city.

Travel Note
Make a reservation at Pampano, at The Pearl Qatar while you’re in Doha. It was the recipient of the Restaurant Of The Year Award in 2011, and serves some of the best fine dining Mexican you’ll find.


The Westin Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & SPA, Dubai
A charming and tranquil beach resort situated amidst the hustle bustle of Dubai’s everyday life, The Westin Mina Seyahi is a diamond in the rough. Drive through its pristine gates and enter a world of luxury, class and comfort, with its impeccably tasteful décor and simple, elegant furnishing.

The Westin Mina Seyahi features some of the city’s most popular restaurants. The beach facing Bussola is an all time favourite with residents and guests, its delicious Italian cuisine as pleasing to the palate as its ocean view is to the eye. With the Hunters Room and Grill serving up perfectly cooked Australian and American beef, and Blue Orange to take your taste buds on an oriental journey, guests are spoilt for choice.

The clear waters of the Gulf tug at the hearts of every visitor to Dubai, and the Westin’s private beach is the perfect place to enjoy the calm, shimmering waves while basking under the clear skies and perpetually shining sun. After a day spent soaking up the beach vibes, head to the Heavenly Spa, which will allow you to unwind with rejuvenating aromas and relaxing massages. Make sure to book an appointment in advance!

Travel Note
The Westin Mina Seyahi is located just a few minutes drive away from shopping malls, restaurants, bars and other tourist attractions in Dubai so don’t be afraid to venture outside its gates for the day!


Desert Palm, Dubai
In a city where the words ‘bigger,’ ‘better’ and ‘more gold’ are typical briefs for architects and designers, it’s refreshing to come across a boutique hotel that’s so effortlessly cool. Even though it’s only a 40-minute drive outside Dubai, Desert Palm, part of the Small Luxury Hotels Of The World, feels worlds away from Sheikh Zayed Road’s skyline. As you drive up the tree-lined avenue to the courtyard with its fountain and sculptures, you know you’ve arrived somewhere different.

A gracious frangipani-scented lobby leads onto the restaurants, bars and the infinity swimming pool, which is languidly sprawled out above the beautifully kept polo fields. Epicure Gourmet Market overlooks the pool and polo fields and its fresh deli style menu is hugely popular for breakfasts and lunches.

Spend your afternoon at the divine Lime Spa, a sophisticated sanctum with highly qualified therapists where relaxation facilities include an ice cave and laconium too.

Travel Note
Sunset chukkas on the rooftop terrace are the only way to wrap up the day.


Shangri-La’s Bar Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Muscat
The longest and loveliest stretch of beach in oman, visitors are, quite frankly spoilt, with the resort extending no less than 580 metres of white silicone sand to its pampered guests. They’ve thought of everything: while the surrounding mountains and ocean breeze already mean it’s much cooler here than in its neighbouring Gulf states, the good people at the Shangri-La have ensured that even when the temperature gage takes strain, you don’t. All you have to do is grab a rubber ring and float down the lazy river – a temperature controlled mote-like waterway. Now that’s what we call a pool party.

And with three hotels in one, it’s the perfect getaway for absolutely everyone. The exclusive Al Husn proffers the largest and poshest rooms in Oman, while Al Bandar, with its eight restaurants, is ideal for those who like their entertainment on tap. Al Waha, the largest of the three, is welcomingly family-friendly.

Travel Note
From January to June, there’s the opportunity to witness Greenback and Hawksbill sea turtles nesting, laying eggs or hatching on the hotel beach.


Six Senses Spa At Hotel Missoni, Kuwait
The opening of hotel missoni kuwait whipped the Middle East into a frenzy of excitement. Now they’ve gone and added one of our favourite spa brands to their already ravishing property. The brand spanking new Six Senses Spa has a total of 13 treatment rooms with separate areas for men and women, as well as – get this – its very own bridal suite! Aside from Six Senses signature treatments and traditional Asian therapies, you’ll also be treated to locally inspired treatments, using organic ingredients such as dates, olives and Arabic spices. The ultimate revitalising escape, detox and weight loss programmes are also on offer along with harmonising treatments like cupping, bamboo massages and cold glass therapy. Whether you and your hubby are looking for a pampering break or just a perfect girlie weekend away, this cutting-edge designer hotel is designed to impress those who like to treat themselves.

Travel Note
The second-ever Hotel Missoni opened in Kuwait in February 2011, two years after spellbinding guests in Edinburgh. The hotel even throws in a complimentary Maserati chauffeur service from the airport. Va Va Vroom!

www.hotelmissoni.com, www.sixsenses.com

Le Gray, Beirut
There’s something thrillingly vicarious about floating in a see-through swimming pool. The piece de resistance of boutique hotel Le Gray is its diaphanous, chlorine-free pool on the roof top terrace. Situated in the newly revamped downtown, Le Gray personifies the city’s dedication to recreating Beirut as ‘The Paris Of The Middle East.’ In the 90s Downtown was deserted, just over a decade later, it’s emerged as Beirut’s most fashionable neighbourhood.

CampbellGray are also behind London’s The One Aldwych, Dukes Hotel and Carlise Bay in Antigua. Mr CampbellGray is personally involved in his hotels’ concepts, collecting over 500 pieces of art for his Beirut establishment, meaning no two rooms are the same. Make sure to lunch in Byblos near the ruins and dine at Abdel Waheb, one of Beirut’s best restaurants. And pop in at Birdcage in the upcoming fashion district Saifi Village!

Travel Note
One of the best evenings of your life will be at Music Hall and don’t forget to top off the night at Sky Bar, one of the hottest nightclubs in the world!


Centre Court Boutique Hotel, Fujairah
Nuzzled into the Hajar mountains this unique property provides the perfect break for sports enthusiasts – playing sport, that is, not sitting in front of the telly watching it. For hyperactive couples, on whom relaxing beach holidays are totally wasted, we’ve found your dream weekend away. With six floodlit international size ATP tennis courts, a health club, swimming pool, squash courts and multi purpose air-conditioned indoor sport’s hall, those fitness vacays you’ve been fantasising about, start now.

Perfectly equipped to fulfil all your health and fitness needs, enjoy a post-workout revitalising juice from The Centre Court Café. Of course, when you’re burning so many calories, you’re allowed to treat yourself – the fish and chips here will make your taste buds sing. With just 14 elegant rooms in pretty manicured gardens, it’s an intimate break miles away from the big smoke.

Travel Note
Your fitness feats don’t have to be restricted to the resort; in nearby Dibba you’ll find stellar scuba diving opportunities too.


Intercontinental Muscat, Oman
it’s prime location on al sultan qaboos street says that you’re perfectly placed to take in all of Muscat’s most celebrated sights, such as the stunning Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Bait Al Zubair Museum – which displays the finest collection of privately owned Omani artefacts – and the Amouage Perfume Factory where you’ll learn about the art of making the world’s most expensive scent. You’ll garner plenty of Brownie points with family and friends back home if you splurge on a shopping spree in Muttrah Souk – just 15 minutes from the hotel, it offers tourists a cornucopia of exotic sounds, smells and flavours and is the best place to purchase frankincense, perfumes, spices, dates and authentic souvenirs. Haggling is obligatory!

Travel Note
The helpful concierge at the Intercontinental has great tips. They’ll also provide you with some recommendations for nearby dining, but if it’s fresh coffee and pastries you’re after, look no further than the hotel’s Majlis El Shams.


Hatta Fort Hotel, Hajar Mountains
A perfect weekend getaway from dubai, the Hatta Fort Hotel is nestled in the magnificent Hajar Mountains. The resort covers several hundred acres of manicured grounds amongst the rocky peaks, and gives guests the option to experience chalet-style rooms or private villas.

There are two restaurants located on the premises of the hotel. Jeema, an international gourmet eatery, offers stunning views of the jagged mountains while the alfresco Café Gazebo serves light bites throughout the day and looks over one of Hatta Fort’s swimming pools.

Those interested in more vigorous activity have the option of golf at the driving range and 4x4 guided tours of the region. You can also try something out of the ordinary by learning archery from one of the experienced instructors.

Travel Note
Instead of a room or villa, try booking Hatta Fort Hotel’s Winnebago, a caravan home with a driver. The Winnebago has a master bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, as well as a microwave, TV and fully functional air-conditioning.


The Chedi, Muscat
Imagine A Hotel Where You’re guaranteed a zen experience so effortlessly relaxed and stylish that you’ll instantly be swaddled in calm. Even those who are wound up tighter than a tourniquet will be amazed at how quickly they’ll loosen up.

A designer location surrounded by the Hajar Mountains, here the pristine lawns seem to stretch indefinitely into the infinity pools, which in turn stretch out into the Arabian Sea. Allow yourself to get lost in the maze of pathways and greenery; signage does not fit in with the hotel’s minimalist designs, but there’s no hurry to get anywhere.

If you’re not already in a stupefying stupor, at their Indonesian inspired spa The Spirit of Bali is the two-hour signature treatment that will completely zone you out. After a poolside sundowner head to ‘The Restaurant’ with its four different kitchens where you’ll enjoy an excellent meal no matter which part of the globe you order from.

Travel Note
Upgrade to a suite and enjoy regularly replenished complimentary drinks and snacks in your room.


Six Senses Zighy Bay, Zighy Bay
A MIDNIGHT DIP IN THE AUBERGINE coloured ocean will light up your limbs in an iridescent silver light. This magical effect is thanks to the water being packed with phosphorescence. Then again, everything about Zighy Bay is incandescent.

All the villas are ocean-fronted, but if you request one on the shoreline, you’ll step out of your infinity pool and straight onto the beach’s sugary sands. Built from untreated stones and surrounded by stick fences, this rustic charm belies understated luxury.

At 247 square metres, the smallest villas are bigger than most city apartments. Their open-planned design leads onto an outdoor majlis and dining terrace, with indoor and outdoor rain showers and a bath big enough for two. The craggy mountains, narrow fjords and serene sea are always within your line of vision.

The resort’s new dive centre allows you to get within touching distance of the whale sharks, moray eels and turtles residing in Oman’s bona fide Bay Of Plenty. They also offer dhow boat trips, cultural tours and award winning pampering at their spa.

Travel Note
Sure, you can arrive in a 4X4, or even a speedboat, but why not make a bombastic entrance on a paraglider?


Al Bustan Palace Intercontinental Hotel, Muscat
It is worth visiting the al bustan palace for its spectacular atrium alone. If you don’t want to endure any long-term injuries from straining up to the ceiling, then grab an Arabic coffee and some dates in the lobby to take in the atrium in a leisurely fashion. It’s a magnificent mosaic walled space in cooling creams with chandeliers that look like giant icicles floating above your head. It may be Muscat’s grand old dame, but the rooms have been renovated to great affect and all have sweeping sea and mountain views.

Travel Note
Don’t miss dinner at traditional Omani restaurant Seblat Al Bustan, a tented Bedouin village set-up that comes complete with music, dance, henna and handicrafts. There are also excellent Chinese and French restaurants on offer as well as a wonderfully romantic beach pavilion for candlelit dinners à deux.