The Middle East is a region of great natural beauty, with wild mountains and untouched beaches. It’s also steeped in ancient history, and boasts 21st century cities, world-class hotels and fantastic shopping.
From the glitz of Dubai city to the remote fjords of Oman, there’s huge diversity providing a massive range of holiday experiences.
We’ve come up some suggestions of where to send clients whatever type of holiday they’re looking for.
Oman: Best for diving
Why: Looking for an alternative to popular dive destinations on the Red Sea? Oman’s 1,600km coastline has underwater thrills for all levels, and you can have a go at everything from night to wreck diving.
From the capital Muscat there are over 40 easily accessible dive sites. For shallow, sheltered dives try Bandar Jussa, while Fahal Island has a couple of wrecks and a fantastic variety of coral. The Daymaniyat Islands have pristine coral gardens and extensive fish life, including plentiful shark species.
To the north of Muscat, the Musandam peninsula is a wild place with sheer cliffs, striking fjords, and equally dramatic diving. It’s a great place for experienced divers looking for adventure – the plankton-rich waters lure a huge array of marine life, from manta rays to sharks.
Who would it suit: Couples or groups of friends seeking deep-sea adventure.
Sample product:Regaldive offers seven nights at Nabucco Extra Divers Resort outside Muscat from £779 per person for half-board in October, including flights. A five-day dive package with 10 boat dives costs £150.
Dubai: Best for shopping
Why:Dubai is a serious shopper’s dream – there’s even an annual shopping festival each February. There are countless malls and souks offering a huge array of goods, from designer brands and electronic goods to gold, spices or rugs, at very attractive tax-free prices.
Label addicts should check out the BurJuman Centre or Wafi City. For great value fashion City Centre mall in Deira has over 280 outlets, while The Village offers something a little more unusual with plenty of independent shops.
The Gold Souk, one of the biggest retail gold markets in the world, is worth a visit even if you’re not buying. For textiles check out Deira Covered Souk, while the spice market’s narrow lanes, bursting with colour and scent, are an assault to the senses. Whichever souk you visit, be prepared to haggle – it’s part of the fun!
Who would it suit: Girlfriends on a weekend away.
Jordan: Best for history
Why: Remnants of ancient civilizations are scattered all over Jordan. The crowning jewel has to be Petra, the world-famous ancient city located in a narrow desert gorge. The first glimpse of the Treasury after a kilometre-long walk through a soaring chasm is simply breathtaking.
Amman was the country’s ancient capital and treasures include the Citadel, a complex of temples and palaces with a Roman theatre at its foot.
Another favourite is Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman towns in the world. The remains of its colonnaded streets, public baths and theatres offer a real taste of the ancient world.
Even a sun-and-sand hotspot like the Red Sea resort of Aqaba has its share of historic attractions – here they include the impressive Mamaluk Fort. Jordan also has a wealth of romantic castles – Crusader castles and forts line the King’s Highway, while Islamic desert castles stand testament to life in the 8th century.
Who would it suit: Anyone with an interest in the past.
Sample product: Longwood Holidays offers the seven-night escorted Jordan Discovery tour for £975 per person in October, with bed and breakfast accommodation, flights, guides and transport.
Abu Dhabi: Best for culture
Why:Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, is steeped in the heritage of Arabia but has its finger on the pulse when it comes to 21st century culture.
The Cultural Foundation lies at the heart of Abu Dhabi city’s cultural life, hosting concerts, plays and exhibitions. A mega-project is underway to turn Saadiyat Island into a world-class cultural destination too, with iconic museums and art centres planned, including outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim Musuems, designed by architects such as Frank Gehry.
For an insight into the past, the new Heritage Village on the Breakwater offers a taste of life before the oil era, highlighting Bedouin culture with workshops teaching traditional crafts.
You should also check out Qasr Al Hosn, the 18th century official residence of Abu Dhabi’s rulers, and head down to the dhow harbour to see traditional wooden sailing boats plying the Gulf against a backdrop of skyscrapers.
Who would it suit: Couples or groups combining beach with culture.
Sample product:Elegant Resorts offers seven nights at the Emirates Palace on the coast close to the city from £1,125 per person in October, for bed and breakfast accommodation, with flights and transfers.
Yemen: Best for adventure
Why:Yemen is one of the world’s least visited destinations, an exciting country with incredible sights and remarkable wildlife. The exotic capital Sana’a boasts stunning architecture and a thoroughly medieval atmosphere. Men wander through its towering mud buildings and ancient souks in traditional dress, complete with curved daggers.
Socotra Island, hundreds of kilometres off the coast, is an incredible haven for wildlife. Known as the ‘Galapagos of the Red Sea’, it’s home to 210 species of bird and 900 plant species (300 of which are found nowhere else in the world).
Back on the mainland there are mountains to explore, with interesting treks between villages on steep precipices, or lush oases in the midst of the desert.
Who would it suit: Anyone looking for a ‘land that time forgot’ experience.
Sample product:Explore Worldwide offers a 12-day group tour to Yemen in its Explore Beyond brochure, for £1,265 per person in October, plus £125 payable locally, including most meals and flights.