Fun, sun and history - the region has it all, says Karl Cushing
From the Wild Wadi Waterpark to the wilds of Oman’s ‘Grand Canyon’, there’s plenty to take your breath away in the Middle East.
Escorted and private tours can help clients get under the skin of the region’s rich culture. Balmy beach stays and luxury hotels offer relaxation on tap, but if an adrenaline rush is what’s needed, there are thrills both man-made and natural to be found.
Whether clients want to concentrate on one type of holiday or mix and match a range of experiences, the Middle East’s breadth of product and great air links make it an easy spot to tailor make to their exact needs.
Deserts provide perfect adventure playgrounds, and in Dubai ‘wadi bashing’ jeep safaris are a regional staple. Hayes & Jarvis’s Glimpses of Dubai (from £150) bundles a four-wheel-drive dune safari and traditional Arabic camp dinner with a creek cruise and city and souks tour.
For a twist, try one in Abu Dhabi (a half day with Premier Holidays starts from £64) or Qatar, capping it off with a luxury Bedouin camp sleepover in the southern desert.
In Oman, the atmospheric 1000 Nights Camp at Wahiba Sands, offered by Bales Worldwide, makes a good desert base from which to take camel safaris, camp under the stars or sandboard on the dunes.
For a taste of Dubai in the sky, Premier Holidays offers Seaplane Tours (from £240), while Kuoni’s Modern Dubai excursion includes a trip up the Burj Khalifa (full day, from £75).
Dubai is also a real go-to destination for theme parks and attractions, home to everything from indoor ice rinks and skiing to KidZania, Dubai Dolphinarium and the recently souped-up Jumeirah Sceirah at Wild Wadi Water Park. Of its 30-plus Dubai options, Attraction World’s Aquaventure & Lost Chambers ticket at Atlantis The Palm never loses its appeal (£50 adult, £40 child, valid for two consecutive days).
Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is helping the emirate rival its neighbour. It’s home to the Yas Links Golf Course, Yas Marina Circuit and go-karting circuit, Ferrari World, and the recently opened Yas Waterworld. Premier Holidays offers Ferrari World tickets for £49.
Finding luxury beach spa resorts in the UAE is like shooting fish in a barrel. Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace and St Regis Saadiyat Island are popular, while Dubai’s standouts include The Address, Jebel Ali Golf Resort, with its 800-metre private beach, and Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, a top seller for Hayes & Jarvis.
If you’re a Virgin Holidays customer you’ll receive complimentary unlimited access to Wild Wadi Waterpark at Dubai’s Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. After those thrills you’ll be relieved to know the hotel is home to one of the region’s largest spas and even a snow room for chilling out.
When it comes to indulgent pampering amid the dunes, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi in Ras Al Khaimah is hard to beat. It’s one of Premier Holidays’ best-sellers, and a key property for Kuoni. This desert resort with a large spa sits in its own nature reserve where guests can spot gazelle, camel and oryx, but if clients pine for sands by the sea they can head to the hotel’s private beach, a 20-minute transfer away.
And don’t forget the smallest emirate, Ajman. “It’s home to the longest unspoiled beach in the UAE, and the Kempinski Ajman takes full advantage of its secluded surroundings,” says Gold Medal product manager Joanne Lowery.
Jordan offers something a bit different, with its strip of Dead Sea coast resorts, including a Marriott and Movenpick (pictured below). The mineral-rich mud is famed for its beneficial properties, and hotel spas feature many treatments using it.
If it’s refined opulence you’re after, Oman’s dreamy coastline around Muscat scores big, with minimalist chic at the Chedi and more opulence at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, where Virgin Holidays offers three nights’ B&B from £839 in June, including Oman Air flights and transfers. Or for barefoot luxury, Western & Oriental offers a double dose by twinning Six Senses Zighy Bay on the Musandam Peninsula with Dubai’s Al Maha desert resort.
Jordan’s reputation as an adventurer’s paradise was trumpeted last year, with the country celebrating the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery of the ancient city of Petra. It was also 50 years since the release of the classic film Lawrence of Arabia, and budding Peter O’Tooles will find many tours exploring this exotic destination.
The desert valley of Wadi Rum has history stretching far back beyond TE Lawrence to prehistoric times. Explore’s nine-day Jordan Adventure follows a classic itinerary, visiting Wadi Rum, Petra and other historical highlights including Kerak Castle and the Roman ruins at Jerash.
If Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t do it for your clients, send them in the footsteps of BBC presenter Kate Humble down to Oman’s ancient Frankincense Trail. Among the crumbling caravanserai forts that line the route they’ll get a taste of the entire region’s past, when camel trains were the local lifeblood.
More insights await in Oman’s capital Muscat, home to sights such as the Grand Mosque, Mutrah Souk and Bait Al Zubair Museum.
For a fuller cultural experience, add a side trip, such as Kuoni’s full-day Nizwa, Bahla & Jabreen Forts or Desert & Wadi tour (from £119).
For culture on the doorstep of a luxury hotel, they can explore Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque and the Heritage Village on Dubai Creek. Alternatively, Qatar’s capital Doha boasts the Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, Waqif souk, and Katara Cultural Village.
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