The breathtaking beauty of the Middle East

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The idea of a holiday in the Gulf might bring to mind footballers’ wives and the crane-crammed skyline of Dubai, but there’s far more to the Middle East than that.

Whether you want to soak up the atmosphere on a city break, find adventure in the desert, or travel to some of the oldest and most spectacular sites in the world, there’s a reason why the Gulf is on most travel experts’ must see lists for 2016.

Syrian capital Damascus is emerging as the new Marrakech, “all crumbling city walls, amazing souks, mosques and coffee houses”, says Tom Marchant in The Observer. The six-hour flight (BA flies there daily) means it’s a viable option for a long weekend.

What’s more

The city’s first boutique hotel, the Al Mamlouka, has just opened in the Christian Old Quarter ( Refurbished in traditional style, some of the rooms feature200-year-old frescoes on the ceilings. For adventure and breathtaking scenery, head for the Sultanate of Oman. Offroaders are essential in this desert country and thrill-seekers may want to join the locals in the popular sport of ‘dune-bashing’, although a tour through the desolate landscape is just as thrilling.

At Jabal al Akhbar, known as Oman’s Grand Canyon, the views are “as breathtaking as in Arizona”, minus the tourists. Oman also boasts “some of the best beaches in the world”, says The Independent’s Anne Peketh, which you can enjoy at the “lip-smacking” Zighy Bay on the Musandam peninsula, says Susan D’arcy in The Times.

The resort offers a “glamorous 007 fix” of paragliding and sandboarding, along with pampering at the Six Senses spa and accommodation in your own private villa. The Private Travel Company offers a week in Zighy Bay from $3000. For family holidays, The Guardian tips Egypt as one of this year’s best destinations. With ancient Egypt back on the primary school curriculum, and the treasures of Tutankhamen on display in the UK for the first time in 30 years, children and parents alike may be keen to visit the Valley of the Kings.

Responsible Travel also organises 13-day tours taking in Cairo, Aswan, Luxor and the Red Sea, with transport ranging from sleeper trains to camels.

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