A new series of walking trails through the Middle East is opening up trekking opportunities in a region more often seen solely as a historical destination. The Abraham Path traces the journey of the Prophet Abraham (revered as the father of monotheism by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike) from his birthplace in Şanlıurfa, Turkey, to his final resting place at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Traversing little-visited rural areas, half-forgotten ruins, and glorious, sweeping countryside, walking part of this trail shines a spotlight on the cultural and natural diversity of this ancient land.
The Turkish Path
Route: a 10-day, 170km trail through southeast Anatolia beginning in the village of Yuvacalı and ending at the town of Harran. The trekking difficulty is easy to moderate.
Highlights: for history buffs there are the ruins of Göbeklı Tepe (the world's oldest discovered temple), Harran's beehive house architecture, and little-known temples and rock inscriptions around Soǧmatar. Foodies will adore digging into feasts of homemade, organic local meals at the homestays while culture enthusiasts will appreciate this rare chance to experience rural Anatolian life. The walking itself is magnificent - across the vast big-sky country of ancient Mesopotamia.
Getting there: transfers from Şanlıurfa can be arranged when booking. Şanlıurfa GAP Airport has daily flights from Istanbul, and the city's bus station has regular services from towns throughout Turkey.
Accommodation: local homestay accommodation in villages along the way.
Best shortcut itinerary: don't have a spare 10 days? Walk the first four days of the trail from Yuvacalı, finishing at the mysterious and atmospheric ruins of Göbeklı Tepe.
Costs: from €45 per person, per day inclusive of homestay accommodation, meals (breakfast, dinner, packed lunch), and walking guide. A small extra surcharge can be added to have your luggage transported between overnight stays.
Booking: contact www.abrahamspathturkey.org for further details.
The Jordanian Path
Route: a five-day trail of 58kms through northwest Jordan beginning at Ajloun and ending at Shurahbil Bin Hassneh EcoPark in the Jordan Valley. The trekking is moderate to difficult with plenty of ascent and descent along the route and with days three and five classed as difficult.
Highlights: traversing the hill country of north Jordan, the path encapsulates this small nation's dramatic topography with scenery varying from undulating meadows and olive and fig orchards to the ridge of the Great Rift Valley with its soaring panoramas across the Jordan Valley below. There's plenty of history as well with Ajloun's Crusader Castle and the Byzantine ruins of Pella both part of the route.
Getting there: it's a 1.5-hour drive from Amman to the start at Ajloun. There are a couple of public minibus services daily from Amman, and more regular minibuses from Jerash. A taxi from Amman to Ajloun costs about US$30.
Accommodation: local homestays are available along the trail and there's an eco-lodge at Ajloun.
Best shortcut itinerary: just up for a one-day hike? Choose day five for the most stunning countryside. Begin at the eerie remnants of Pella and then journey through a stunning landscape of steep cliffs and farmland, topped off by gobsmacking views which tumble down to the Jordan Valley.
Costs: B&B accommodation at the homestays costs roughly US$28 per person, per night, and a local walking guide shared between a group costs US$70 per day.
Contacts: check out www.abrahampath.org/jordan for further details.
The West Bank Path
Route: an 11-day journey beginning in Nablus and traversing southwards for 182kms through the West Bank to Hebron. Trekking difficulty is mostly moderate with five of the days classified as moderate to difficult.
Highlights: a massive amount of history is bundled into this trek. For starters there's Jericho (one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world), the desert monastery of Mar Saba, Bethlehem and Hebron. Along with all the historic sites, the path's rural trails and homestay accommodation offer walkers a chance to experience a different perspective - rarely featured in the media - of this land.
Getting there: transfers to the start of the path in the West Bank town of Nablus can be arranged from Jerusalem.
Accommodation: a mix of homestays in the villages and locally-owned guesthouses and hotels in the larger towns.
Best shortcut itinerary: the trek between Nablus and Hebron can be cut down to seven days without sacrificing the major highlights and sights. If you don't have a week, the two-day trail from Bethlehem, through the desert to Hebron is a good alternative offering superb Rift Valley views, visits to desert monasteries and the opportunity to bed down in a traditional Bedouin Beit Shar ('house of hair' - a traditional tent made of goat hair).
Costs: accommodation along the way costs roughly US$30-40 per person, per night (including breakfast and dinner at the homestays), and walking guides cost US$120 per day.
Contacts: the Siraj Center runs 14-day tours along the Abraham Path (as well as shorter tours) including sightseeing time in Jerusalem. See www.walkpalestine.com for details. Also check out the Abraham Path website devoted to the Palestinian section of the trail, www.masaribrahim.ps.
The future of the path
The vision of a series of inter-linking trails allowing you to traverse non-stop from Turkey all the way down to Hebron may some way off in the future, but there are plenty of developments happening along the path in the coming year. A 50km path through the Negev in Israel and the Palestinian Territories should be ready by mid-2013 while progress is being made on both the Nablus to Hebron trail and the Jordanian path to make some sections able to be walked by fully independent trekkers. See www.abrahampath.org for new developments.