31. A new temple to Egypt’s past
The 2020 opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, two kilometres from the Pyramids of Giza, provides another compelling reason to visit Egypt. Set to be the largest archaeological museum in the world, it will house 100,000 artefacts including all 5400 objects from the tomb of King Tutankhamun (including clothing). Visitors will be greeted by none other than the 12-metre-high stone statue of Ramses II – one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs – that’s already been placed in situ in the light-filled, pyramid-shaped entrance.
This colossal $1-billion museum will span four millennia of the history of the planet’s first great civilisation as well as, literally, the area of 10 soccer fields. First announced in 1992, it was originally set to open in 2012, but is finally taking shape: the triangular design takes its cues from its famous neighbours and reaches the same height: visitors will be able to gaze out of its glass facades across to the pyramids.
There’s an allure to Egypt
32. Adrift in the Negev Desert
Israel is piquing the interest of an increasing number of travellers these days, who choose to look beyond its tumultuous history and fractuous present to see a land steeped in ancient lore and divine significance. Beyond the religious sites of Jerusalem and the modern buzz of Tel Aviv, the country possesses a rugged beauty that is encapsulated in the almost lunar landscape of the Negev Desert.
Tracking its existence through prehistoric ruins and biblical tales of Abraham, a modern chapter is about to be written with the arrival of Six Senses Shaharut in the Arava Valley. The 60 suites and villas spread across 18 hectares are designed to melt into the landscape rather than dominate it, while Six Senses’ rigourous respect for the environment will ensure its presence does nothing to damage its past or its future.
The rugged beauty of Negev Desert
33. (Really) Old meets new in Jaffa
Absorbed into the city limits of Israel’s youthful Tel Aviv in the 1950s, Jaffa is an ancient port town with atmospheric appeal. It’s now also a hotspot for luxury hotels with an indefatigably cool edge that are playing on the area’s rich history; three all-star properties opened in close proximity to each other last year. The 120-room-and-suite Jaffa, a Luxury Collection Hotel was converted from an ornate convent and hospital, with Arabic and neo-Roman flourishes, by architect Ramy Gill and British designer John Pawson; its features have been preserved and modernised, with artwork by Damien Hirst and contemporary Israeli photographer Tal Shochat.
A bar and lounge, called The Chapel, occupies an old prayer space. Nearby, The Setai Tel Aviv is based in a historic Ottoman prison and police station, stylishly updated with a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the Tel Aviv skyline. Just outside Jaffa’s city walls, meanwhile, is The Drisco. Like The Setai, it’s part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, and is the reinvention of Jaffa’s original luxury hotel. Built by American colonists, it operated between 1870 and 1940, and hosted the likes of Thomas Cook and Mark Twain in that time.
Jaffa is an ancient port town with atmospheric appeal
34. See the Dead Sea before it’s too late
Slathering yourself in mineral-rich mud before wading into the saline Dead Sea to float buoyantly, unnaturally, on its surface is one of the most unique things you can do. Full stop. That it sits at the lowest point on Earth – 430 metres below sea level – only adds to the surrealism.
But the Dead Sea is not actually a sea at all: it’s a landlocked salt lake between Jordan and Israel that is evaporating at an alarming rate: its surface level is dropping about a metre a year, and experts have predicted that it could be reduced to a puddle by 2050 – so get there while you still can. Choose a resort on either the Jordanian or Israeli side to reap the health benefits: not only does the combination of mineral-rich water, soothing mud and sun do wonders for skin conditions like psoriasis, but the oxygen-rich air, with its high barometric pressure, can be beneficial for asthmatics too. But that’s old news: it’s rumoured even Cleopatra used products from the area in her beauty regimen.
35. Dive the Red Sea in Jordan
Jordan’s window onto the Red Sea is just 27 kilometres of coastline, but provides a fantastic diving experience in this otherwise landlocked country, and an alternative diving holiday destination to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula – which you can see on the horizon.
Its waters are home to an ancient coral reef that seems to have resisted global warming-induced bleaching by having acclimatised to the naturally warm temperatures of the Gulf of Aqaba. Explore this colourful underwater wonder – with its resident lionfish, clownfish and coral groupers – by taking a boat tour from Aqaba. Offering another novel reason to visit Jordan, the country’s sole port city is also now home to an artificial reef and underwater museum made up of decommissioned military vehicles including armoured troop carriers, tanks and a helicopter.
Jordan’s window onto the Red Sea is just 27 kilometres of coastline
36. Yet another reason to visit Petra
A new museum has opened at the astonishing UNESCO World-Heritage site Petra – the ancient city famous for its unique architecture carved directly into the largely sandstone cliffs in the ravines and canyons of southern Jordan.
The Petra Museum was five years in the making and complements the sprawling archaeological site that was lost to the Western world for around five centuries by providing visitors with more insight about its magnificent ruins: from the emergence of the mysterious, once-nomadic Nabateans – who created one of the most astonishing prehistoric civilisations but about whom not much is known – to the sophisticated engineering that supplied water to the desert city. Carve out at least two days in your Jordan itinerary to do the vast site of Petra, and its new museum, proper justice.
Petra has an uncountable number of reasons to visit
37. Otherworldly Oman
My wife and I are the only two people bobbing in the sea along an expansive two-kilometre stretch of beach. Crabs are building sandcastles, and the only sound comes from the water gently lapping around us. Below the surface, fish occasionally dart past, their dark eyes standing out in the piercingly clear waters.
Turning to face the beach, a steep arc of jagged cliffs encloses the scene, creating a cocoon for the sand and sea. At either end, sheer mountains slice into the water, emphatically marking the line where the water world ends and land’s dominion begins.
A crimson mist, portending dusk, slowly darkens to violet then purple. The call to prayer echoes across the bay, providing a fitting soundtrack to this stark and evocative landscape.
This is Oman – or to be precise, Zighy Bay on the Musandam Peninsula, an unusual slice of land isolated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates.
After a two-hour drive from Dubai (it takes nearly six hours from the Omani capital of Muscat), we spend the last 10 minutes of our journey in an almost vertical climb, eventually stopping at a mountaintop lookout to absorb the view of the bay below.
Two villages are squeezed between the cliffs and the beach, their squat structures of sandy stone punctuated by ubiquitous date palms. Our driver asks whether we would like to tandem paraglide to check in; Six Senses Zighy Bay is that kind of resort. We choose four wheels instead of two wings.
The otherworldly beauty of Oman
38. The many merits of the Abu Dhabi Edition
Technically a chain hotel, the Abu Dhabi Edition is link number 10 in a scrupulously crafted micro-chain of boutique hotels in kicking hoods in places like West Hollywood, London and Bodrum (Turkey). A bird’s nest-ish white concrete lattice outer frame cloaks the edges of its two glass buildings – 198 hotel rooms and 57 serviced residences. It’s a patent foil to the cluster of skyscrapers across the emerald waters of Al Bateen Marina, one of Abu Dhabi’s more lively areas.
In a city not renowned for its design-led hotels, the Edition’s five-storey lobby is a foxy masterstroke of first impressionism; the irrefutable nucleus of this collaboration between boutique hotel guru Ian Schrager and Marriott International.
But don’t expect a hyper-mercurial Manhattan nightclub aesthetic from the man who was partly responsible for the once-exalted Studio 54. The lobby (actually, the entire hotel) has been labelled as minimalist; perhaps by those who’ve only given it a superficial glance.
At every point, the Edition’s staff are finely honed, bubbly, knowledgeable, familiar and chatty – almost too much so for a true introvert, but with Champagne-bucket-loads more personality than the overly stiff service that’s often associated with five stars.
The Edition’s five-storey lobby is a foxy masterstroke of first impressionism
39. Get to know Sharjah
The little-known emirate Sharjah – just half an hour north of Dubai – is something of an antidote to the gleaming skyscrapers of the region. It’s known to the art world for the Sharjah Art Foundation and its biennale but – despite laying claim to the UAE’s first airport – it hasn’t traditionally been on the traveller’s road map as far as a stop-over is concerned. But things are changing. Today, it’s considered the nation’s cultural capital, with the emirate’s largest and most ambitious historical preservation project at its centre. The Heart of Sharjah project aims to preserve and restore the old town of Sharjah and return it to its 1950s state.
A vital part of this project is Al Bait Sharjah, a Leading Hotels of the World property managed by GHM hotels that’s the sister property of Oman’s Chedi Muscat and the emirate’s first luxury resort. Converted from a collection of historic manor houses, Al Bait is an exercise in heritage revival with optimum elegance: its labyrinth of 45 rooms (replete with teak four-poster beds), restaurants, spa and wellness facility set around a series of beautiful quiet courtyards made for lounging and luxuriating in. Its name does translate to ‘Welcome Home’, after all.
The little-known emirate Sharjah is just half an hour north of Dubai
40. A museum worth stopping over for
Good design is worth going out of your way to see; so it doesn’t seem so outlandish to book a flight for the included 21-hour stop-over in order to see outstanding design, right? That’s the option travellers transiting through the Qatari capital of Doha have so they can stand in wonder at the new Qatar National Museum.
The vision of French Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the building is made up of a series of mammoth luminous cream discs that slot together to resemble a desert rose, the name given to clusters of gypsum and sand that form in arid desert landscapes. While the exhibits inside are compelling, standing dwarfed by Nouvel’s exquisite design as the unrelenting desert sun makes it glow bright is a sight well worth the long haul.