Sharjah doesn’t dazzle with glitz but with sensitivity towards its history and culture, which explains why Unesco declared it Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998, recognition reaffirmed in 2014, when it became Capital of Islamic Culture. Once you have penetrated the traffic-clogged outskirts of town, the historic old town is easy to navigate on foot.
Once a walled, mud-brick way station along desert trading routes, Riyadh ('The Garden') is the Kingdom's political, financial and administrative capital and one of the wealthiest cities in the world. It also has a very Saudi subtext: nowhere are the contradictions of modern Saudi Arabia more evident than in Riyadh.
The village that has sprung up around Petra is called Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). It’s an easy-going assemblage of hotels, restaurants and shops stretching about 5km from ‘Ain Musa (Moses’ Spring) to the main entrance of Petra at the bottom of the wadi. Wadi Musa’s fortunes depend almost entirely on tourism.
Sur & the Eastern Coast
This easternmost region of the Arabian Peninsula holds some of Oman’s main attractions, including beautiful beaches, spectacular wadis, turtle-nesting sites and the strawberry-blond Sharqiya sand dunes. As many of the sites of interest lie en route rather than in the towns, it’s worth having your own vehicle, although tours cover the whole area.
The mountaintop city of Tsfat is an ethereal place to get lost for a day or two. A centre of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) since the 16th century, it’s home to an otherworldly mixture of Hasidic Jews, artists and devout-but-mellow former hippies, a surprising number of them American immigrants.
Wadi Rum & Around
Western visitors have been fascinated by the magnificent landscape of Wadi Rum ever since TE Lawrence wrote so evocatively about its sculpted rocks, dunes and Bedouin encampments in Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the early 20th century: The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow.
The Golan Heights
Offering commanding views of the Sea of Galilee and the Hula Valley, the volcanic Golan plateau is dry and tan in the summer, and lush, green and carpeted with wildflowers in the spring. Its fields of basalt boulders – and, on its western edge, deep canyons – are mixed with cattle ranches, orchards, vineyards and small, middle-class communities.
Around Tel Aviv
The greater Tel Aviv area, known as the Gush Dan region, comprises a web of affluent suburbs (mainly to the east and north) and not-so-affluent suburbs (mainly to the south and southeast). The highlight of the region is the long stretch of golden beaches between Tel Aviv and Netanya, which is particularly alluring around the upscale Herzliya Pituach.