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North Africa and The Middle East
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- North Africa Holidays & Middle East Holidays
The cradle of ancient civilisations, the sandy swathes of North Africa and the Middle East are home to fascinating cultures and some of the most hospitable people on Earth. Each of its countries is home to an epic: Egypt the mighty River Nile, Jordan the ancient city of Petra, Morocco the soaring Atlas Mountains, and Israel the Western Wall. This is a region where history is writ large across the very foundations of its construction, from the great Pyramids at Giza to the flagstones of Jerusalem. Abandon all thoughts of Aladdin (though the deserts of the Sahara and Wadi Rum really are that spectacular), and get under the skin of the states that gave the world the three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In great contrast to all this ancient history are the glittering high rises of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Parts of the city still cling to its humble beginnings, but rapid development has created an adult's playground of artificial islands, staggering buildings and glamorous stores and hotels. Across the border is the genteel Sultanate of Oman, a country blessed with an interior that's as richly beautiful as its splendid coastlines, with wadis speckled like oases throughout the dusty land. Qatar is a relative newcomer to tourism, with exceptional off-road driving and an attractive corniche. But it's a world away from the traditional North African countries of Morocco and Egypt, where switchback alleys, old-time traditions and bustling souqs still reign supreme.
North Africa & Middle East with A&K
If you wish to draw back the veil of the past and explore the treasures of an ancient land, then North Africa and Arabia is the perfect choice. The lands of Morocco, Egypt, Oman, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon each hold a different yet equally intriguing heritage within their borders; such a wealth of options that our expertise is invaluable.
On A&K's Morocco Holidays 2015, 2016 travel back in time and wander through the labyrinthine streets of Morocco's souqs where traders hawk their wares, old men sit and talk and women move silently behind shutters - scenes as ancient as time itself.
For millennia, the iconic sights encountered on our luxury Egypt holidays have held visitors in their sway, from the Pyramids of Giza erupting from a haze of heat to the white sails of a felucca floating down the Nile. We have recreated this fascinating Pharaonic past on our own elegant vessels, Sun Boat III and IV, with their private docks, evoking a glamorous era of travel.
We will help you follow in the footsteps of British explorer Thesiger through wadis, deserts and old forts to capture the stillness of Wahiba Sands in the Sultanate of Oman, one of the oldest civilisations in the Arabian Peninsula.
Or, for an ethnic melting pot of cultures, Israel's landscapes reverberate with history that has changed the world. Few countries pack as many hidden gems into such a small space, where archaeological sites dot the landscape echoing famous names and momentous events.
Jordan's greatest legacy is undoubtedly the ancient city of Petra, yet there is far more to this compact gem than the rose-red city alone. Our guides will explain how The Seven Pillars of Wisdom inspired T.E. Lawrence, show you where Jesus was baptised and reveal the secrets of Jerash.
North Africa Holidays & Middle East Holidays with Abercrombie & Kent take you to the heart of these amazing regions. Let our experts design your perfect North Africa Holiday or Middle East Holiday.
Our experts can tailor-make the perfect holiday to suit your individual requirements, however, if you need inspiration or a starting point, below are some of our suggested trips and experiences:
Nights: 10 | from £2,045
Ever since there have been travellers, there have been travellers in Egypt. Its unparalleled ancient sites have drawn the curious for centuries – and it’s easy to see why. Outside capital Cairo, the best way to experience the country is on a cruise down the Nile, an unfurling of classic tombs and temples, busy souqs, wafting palms and timeless riverbank life. Find out more
Holiday type: Tailor-made Set departure
Adventure & Culture | Voyages & Cruising
Call 01242 547 703 Enquire
Nights: 7 | from £1,545
The River Nile is the lifeblood of Egypt. It is along this riverbank than ancient civilisations thrived, and where modern Egyptians still live and farm as they have for centuries. A week-long cruise on this mighty waterway, stopping at temples, tombs and palm-frilled villages, is the best way to take the measure of this fascinating country. Find out more
Holiday type: Tailor-made Set departure
Call 01242 547 703 Enquire
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Here's a selection of some recent articles to whet your appetite:
Big Five: Island Escapes
Peter Island Resort & Spa, British Virgin Islands
Mountainous and jungle-cloaked with secluded coves and idyllic beaches, Peter Island has played host to an impressive array of visitors including explorer Christopher Columbus, Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro and footballer Rio Ferdinand. Reached only by boat or helicopter, the island began life as a resort in the 1960's and has always maintained a wonderfully laid-back and romantic atmosphere. With world-class diving, delicious private picnics, cooking lessons, horticultural tours and a blissful spa, there are plenty of ways to enjoy island life. We recommend heading to The Loop to watch the sunset whilst tucking into a fruit and cheese platter - delivered to you alongside your tipple of choice.
Constance Tsarabanjina Lodge, Madagascar
Located on a remote islet in the paradisiacal Mitsio Archipelago, Tsarabanjina Lodge combines castaway simplicity with Constance comforts to offer barefoot luxury at its best. Surrounded by vivid-blue waters, kaleidoscopic underwater scenery and powdery white beaches, you can do as little or as much as you like here. Take a trip to meet the lemurs on the nearby island of Nosy Komba, or watch the sun set behind the volcanic Frères islands to a ballet of tropical birds. When you're done with exploring and rejuvenated after a snooze in your private hammock, the beach bar is the place to be. It only closes when you're ready to leave, and the mango martinis are to die for.
Refugia, Chiloé Island, Chile
The largest island of the Chiloé archipelago - until recently one of the most isolated on earth - is a stunning natural wilderness. Rich in folklore, the island is a melting pot of ancient traditions and Hispanic culture, and there are charming little villages, costal treasures and three national parks to explore. Opened in 2012, Rufugia Lodge is the island's first luxury offering- an intimate 12-room gem with dreamy views over the water of Reloncavi Sound and the distant Andes peaks. Stylish yet homely: large glass windows make the most of the views, whilst the restaurant serves up delicious local fare accompanied by fantastic Chilean wines. From unwinding in the outdoor Jacuzzi to penguin safaris, rainforest treks and sailing trips; the experiences you have here are guaranteed to stay with you long after you return home.
Cappella Lodge, Lord Howe Island, Australia
Just two hours from Sydney, Lord Howe Island is one of Australia's best kept secrets. Subtropical, untouched and brimming with rare birds, flora and fauna: the island is a collage of soaring volcanic peaks, turquoise lagoons, lush vegetation and spectacular coral reefs. A real adventure playground, activities include bird-watching, surfing, guided hikes, snorkelling and diving, to name just a few. At the southern end of the island, the nine-suite Cappella Lodge provides a luxurious and eco-friendly base with beach-house chic interiors, a relaxed vibe and top notch contemporary Pacific cuisine. After an action-packed day, book yourself in for the three hour 'Dreaming' package at the Capella Spa - guaranteed to leave you feeling balanced and renewed.
Denis Private Island, Seychelles
With unspoilt surroundings, bags of character and the moto "The island is yours - Do as you will, without disturbing others", Denis Private Island is pure magic. Just half an hour by seaplane from the main island of Mahé, the 25 cottages are hidden among the lush foliage, just yards from the vivid crystalline waters. Spacious and elegant, the cottages offer privacy and comfort aplenty. We love the open-air bathrooms, and with no televisions, mobile phone signal or keys, this really is the place to simply kick back and unwind. A haven for turtles and rare sea birds, the wildlife is also a major draw; don a snorkel and head to the lagoon for encounters with triggerfish, clownfish, parrotfish, pirouetting rays and gliding turtles.
Big Five: Spring Breaks
Famous for its archaeological treasures, lip-smacking food and unmatched zest for life, Mexico is in full swing in Spring: celebrate the Spring Equinox at the spellbinding Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, witness the great Monarch Butterfly migrations in the highlands of Michoacan and tuck in at the Cancun and Riviera Maya Food and Wine Festival. February through to the end of April is also whale-watching season on the wild pacific coast of Baja California. One of the longest peninsulas in the world, here you can see a greater variety of whales and dolphins than anywhere else on the planet.
From the vast open plains of the Serengeti to the snow-dusted peaks of Kilimanjaro and the dazzling white beaches of Zanzibar, Tanzania has so much to offer. One of its biggest draws, the wildlife in Tanzania is spectacular; here you'll discover big game, flamingo-filled soda lakes and playful chimps. If you visit in the Spring you'll also find its plains are full of young, as many species - from the big cats to the plains game - give birth before the long rains begin. For the ultimate safari experience, we recommend topping off an exhilarating game drive with a reviving sundowner and a night spent out under the stars at our luxurious mobile camp.
With guaranteed warmth, a captivating culture and spellbinding landscapes, Morocco has all the appeal of an exotic location and yet is just a short-haul flight away. Arguably at its best in the Spring when the country is lush and green, and temperatures are comfortable, there is plenty to tempt you here from bustling cities to remote desert landscapes and the windswept Atlantic coast. Spring in the Atlas Mountains is particularly pretty, as the hills and valleys come into bloom against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Fabulous mountain retreats and guest houses provide comfort and relaxation, and you can stroll through the valleys and explore traditional Berber villages.
Although the Spring may not be the peak time to visit Cambodia weather-wise, the 'rainy season' is rarely as dramatic as it sounds. It generally means a tropical shower in the morning, clearing the air ahead of a glorious day on the beach or late afternoon - a perfect time to visit the spa. Hotel rates are often much lower and the crowds that descend on the country from December-February are long gone, leaving you to explore the countries mesmerising temples, relaxed leafy cities and a whole host of gorgeous, unspoilt islands in relative solitude. Experience castaway luxury at its best at Song Saa- Cambodia's first private island resort.
So much more than a beach destination, Turkey has stunning landscapes, a magnificent coastline, classical cities and an intriguing and unique culture. In Spring, the climate is pleasant enough to enjoy both the cities and the coast, and the landscape comes alive with flowers. A proud, historic city and Turkey's cultural capital, Istanbul is one of our favourite European cities, where time can be spent wandering the many districts, sharing delicious meze dishes and haggling with the sellers at the Grand Bazaar before an evening cruise to the 12th Century Maiden's Tower aboard a traditional kayak.
Big Five: Foodie Hotspots
It's hard to imagine a visit to Italy which doesn't involve indulgence. For the Italians, enjoyment of good food is simply a way of life. The principle of Italian cuisine is actually quite simple: fresh, natural ingredients prepared simply and with care. There are abundant food and wine-related activities on offer in the country. Some of our personal favourites are pizzamaking lessons in Rome, heading into the Tuscan woods in search of truffles and porcini mushrooms - and then preparing them with a local chef - and visiting wineries and olive oil producers for a glimpse into how the country's high quality produce is made.
Food is something of an obsession in Japan, and the cuisine is considered one of the finest and most unique in the world. The focus is on the freshest of ingredients and a delicate balance of flavours and textures. At high-end restaurants, food is elevated to an art form and is complex and technical yet tastes clean and fresh. At street level you can enjoy delicious yakitori grilled meats and bottled beer whilst sitting on makeshift benches. The cities of Tokyo and Kyoto are the best places to enjoy cooking courses, which we can easily arrange for you.
Home to around 50 of the best restaurants in the world, South Africa is no less than a foodie paradise. The South Africans have exacting standards, and the land produces an enviable bounty of delicious, quality produce which lends itself to fantastic and inventive cuisine. Private bush dinners prepared by your own personal chef come as standard, and there are innumerable Michelin starred restaurants and unique dining experiences to be had, not to mention private tours at some of the world's best wine estates. Le Quartier Francais, an exclusive boutique hotel situated in the heart of the Franschoek Valley, offers excellent cookery classes.
From sizzling street food to home cooked dishes and the finest royal cuisine, Vietnam's food is unfailingly delicious. Food is an integral part of everyday life in Vietnam, so much so that a famous proverb dictates that people should 'learn to eat before learning to speak'. Since good food is such an important part of a visit to Vietnam, we have designed a culinary tour to get you right to the heart of the nation's cuisine, offering the chance to explore local markets, learn about street food and enjoy cookery lessons with expert chefs and local families.
Forget all you think you know about Mexican food. The country has an incredibly varied and delicious cuisine, which displays indelible Aztec, Mayan and Spanish influences, as well as many more. The country's food varies from the most meticulous haute cuisine to weird and wonderful street food. The Oaxaca region is especially good for regional specialities, and you can enjoy a delicious meal courtesy of famous chef Alejandro Ruiz at Casa Oaxaca - featured in Thomasina Miers' 'Mexican Food Made Easy'. In the Colonial Heartlands, head to San Miguel de Allende and enjoy a lesson at the fantastic Sazon Cooking School.
Big, bold and beautiful: Welcome to North America
Vast, both geographically and culturally, North America is a place the just keeps on giving. Whether it's bear spotting in British Columbia, surf lessons in Santa Monica or sampling food pods in Portland, the United States and Canada offer more gob-smacking, jaw-dropping and thoroughly mind-blowing experiences than anywhere else on the planet.
THE PLACE TO BE
California's calling. Miles of golden sand and surf; laid-back, quirky cities from San Francisco to San Diego with the glamour of Los Angeles in between; the majesty of Yosemite, the wines of the Napa Valley…the Golden State has pretty much everything, and all on a grand scale. This really is the place to 'dream big'.
Off-the-beaten-path Oregon is one of our favourite states. Miles of rugged Pacific Coast, bordered by lush temperate rainforest makes it brilliant for leisurely coastal touring. Throw in the laidback city of Portland and wrap it all up in delicious local wines from the Dundee Hills, organic farm-to-fork food to make your mouth water, and humorous, charismatic people.
The birthplace of America is filled with rich history, cultural attractions, fascinating cities, scenic villages and outdoor adventures. The six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are renowned for their vibrant Autumn colours, but whatever the season, New England is a beauty.
The raw nature of Alaska is overwhelming. This vast state, once part of Russia, is home to towering mountain ranges, thick forests, mighty rivers, open tundra and tumbling glaciers. Wildlife viewing is amongst the best on the planet; from the brown bears of Brooks Falls to the whale watching of Glacier Bay.
Home to five national parks, Utah represents the best of the Desert Southwest. Nowhere else on earth offers landscapes as stark yet beautiful or as dramatic yet intimate. Our Mighty Five encompasses the iconic Wild West scenery of Monument Valley, the majestic canyons of Zion, the mysterious hoodoo rocks of Bryce, the white water rapids of Canyonlands and the natural bridges of Arches National Park.
Howdy Cowboy! They say it's like a Whole Other Country - and it is. The Lone Star state is home to vast open prairies and swaggering stockmen on the one hand - with glitzy Dallas and boho Austin on the other. There are dude ranches galore for the real cowboy experience.
British Columbia, Canada
An intoxicating blend of cosmopolitan and rural; wild and homely; sophisticated and sleepy, BC is a paradox. The towering mountains of the Coastal Ranges, the wilderness of Vancouver Island and the Great Bear Rainforest offer square mile upon mile to explore in splendid isolation, save for the grizzly bears you may see fishing for salmon.
Home of the Rocky Mountains, Alberta is a land of staggering beauty and awe-inspiring wildlife. A land where bears roam free, bison graze in boreal forests, moose amble through spectacular landscapes. From the dizzying mountains through crystal lakes to the open plains of the east, you could easily spend months in this province alone, fishing, walking, riding, ranching.
Set on Widgeon II, a re-purposed crabbing boat which was originally a World War II-era troop carrie, the unique setting of Tutka Bay's cooking school offers inspiration to explore Alaska's regional products such as halibut, salmon and oysters.
Take in the sounds and sights of Austin's historic 6th street. Located within the city's urban core in Downtown Austin, its jam-packed with eclectic bars and an ever changing array of live music spots.
A tranquil and luxurious resort, Amangiri (meaning 'peaceful mountain') is situated on 600 acres in Canyon Point, Southern Utah, close to the border with Arizona. Soak up mesmerising views from your own private deck over the colourful, stratified rock towards the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.
A collage of gemstone lakes, lush valleys, mighty waterfalls and glinting glaciers, Yosemite National Park offers adventure in spades. An early morning start, to avoid the crowds, is well worth the effort.
Tuck into seasonal Canadian cuisine at the Banffshire Club. Located at the Fairmont Banff Spring, famously known as 'The Castle in the Rockies', the hotel's signature dining room uses ingredients sourced from the best local and sustainable producers, farmers and growers. Try the Angus beef tartare with pepper cress and some smoked mustard. Delicious!
Experience the wild and rugged beauty of Canada's west onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. With domed glass windows curving high over your head, the Gold Leaf carriage offers the ultimate opportunity to see much of Canada's natural beauty and wildlife, including eagles, elk and black bears.
The 2014 Hot List
With British Airways now operating direct flights from Heathrow to Santorini and Mykonos from May this year, it's never been easier to discover Greece's captivating islands. The most westerly of the Cyclades, Santorini is associated with the misty tales of Atlantis. With an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, picturesque white-washed villages teetering on the edge of an extinct volcanic caldera, multi-coloured beaches of volcanic sand, and some of the oldest wineries in the world, we can't recommend it enough. Popular all year round, and in full swing during the summer months, the island can be busy but that doesn't take away from its magic.
With small-scale entrepreneurship now permitted in Cuba and the imminent scrapping of its two-currency system, you can feel change in the air all over the island, with an atmosphere that is, for the most part, incredibly positive. Fresh back from a trip there last month, our Latin America Product Manager, Lucinda Paxton, hasn't stopped raving about the food: "As state control over the country's food supply lessens, paladares and restaurants are gaining access to previously hard-to-find ingredients with lip-smacking results. I was amazed by the array of local fresh produce and innovative fusion dishes." When you're not busy discovering Cuba's food revolution for yourself, we recommend shimmying on down to one of the capital's top musical hotspots.
As its neighbour Myanmar continues to attract the crowds, with demand far outstripping supply in the best hotels, Laos, as Laos does best, remains as laid back and tranquil as ever. From kicking back with an ice-cold Beerlao at sunset by the river, in what might just be the world's most unhurried, friendly capital city, Vientiane, to trekking forest-topped mountains inhabited by remote hill tribes in the north, and discovering the cooler climes of the Bolaven Plateau in the south, Laos offers relaxation, culture and adventure in spades. Just make sure you get there before everyone else cottons on.
Straddling Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is home to otherworldly landscapes that to the north hide dinosaur bones and legends of cowboys past, and to the south the mythical granite towers and glinting glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park. If your new year's resolution is to get outdoors and be more active, then Patagonia has your name on it. One of the most remote and beautiful environments in the world, you can trek over glaciers, gallop over vast grassy plains, kayak across turquoise glacial lakes and revel in splendid isolation. It is also rich in wildlife and birdlife, so you are likely to spot condors, penguins, wild guanaco and even pumas, to name just a few.
A mesmerising mix of rich culture, welcoming people and staggeringly beautiful landscapes, Ethiopia tourism is set to sky-rocket over the next few years with a boom in small hotels and restaurants. From the ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to pristine national parks, and the buzzing restaurant and nightlife scene of its capital Addis Ababa, travel here is as rewarding as it is surprising. Located in Bale National park, the newly opened Bale Mountain Lodge is one of the country's first luxury wilderness lodges. The surrounding area is home to myriad rare species, including Ethiopian Wolves, and offers fantastic trekking opportunities. We'd recommend combining a stay with a visit to the tribes of the remote Omo River Valley, one of Africa's-and the world's-last great undiscovered places.
Big Five: Detox Destinations
Body Holiday, St Lucia
The Body Holiday is based on the principles of relaxation, restorative beauty, exercise and good diet - a holistic approach aimed at helping you feel refreshed and rejuvenated by the time you leave. The resort is set on a private cove in the north west of the island and has excellent facilities including an award-winning Wellness Centre. Treatments range from massages and facials to courses of Ayurvedic treatment, Reiki and sleep restoration.
Ananda in the Himalayas, India
Where better to cleanse body and mind than in the beautiful Himalayan foothills, on the banks of India's holy Ganges River? At Ananda, you can relax and rejuvenate surrounded by mountains and ancient sal forests. Inside the historic viceregal palace lies one of the world's leading spa hotels, where staff and facilities are dedicated to your wellbeing.
Txai Itacaré, Brazil
In this vast and beautiful country, it is easy to feel at one with nature. Txai Itacaré nestles amidst coconut groves and rainforest,looking out over a deserted beach on Brazil's undeveloped Cacao Coast. A rustic, ecofriendly resort with just 40 rooms, Txai places an emphasis on achieving harmony between man and nature - there are no TVs in the bungalows, and many of the spa treatments are derived from natural produce from the surrounding and plentiful Bahia region.
SHA Wellness Clinic, Spain
SHA was designed by prestigious Uruguayan architect Carlos Gilardi and prize-winning European designer Elvira Blanco Montenegro. Positioned on a beautiful mountainside overlooking the sea in the agreeably warm Valencia region, this pioneering hotel-cum clinic takes the idea of a spa retreat to thenext level. SHA aims to improve wellbeing with a combination of modern macrobiotic nutrition, natural therapies and a dynamic and practical education programme.
Como Shambhala Estate, Bali
De-stress and detox at Bali's revered spa resort, where resident experts including a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic doctor and nutritionist will assist you in your quest to get healthy. Built into jungle clearings above the Ayung River, beautiful Balinese residences and communal areas are surrounded by dense tropical gardens in Bali's serene rural heartland, near the arty hub of Ubud. The Como Shambhala philosophy is of proactive holistic wellness. Their vision encompasses healthy eating, exercise and self-development, including adventure and cultural discovery.
Big Five: Romantic Getaways
Here are just five of our favourite romantic getaways, guaranteed to awaken the senses, set the pulse racing and provide peace, privacy and special attention.
1. Vietnam >
Between its mountains, beaches, booming cities and cultural diversity, you're bound to find something that tempts you in Vietnam. Southeast of Hanoi is the remarkable natural wonder of Halong Bay, where the mystical limestone rock formations - which legend tells were formed by a dragon's breath - form a beautiful backdrop to a romantic overnight cruise on a traditional wooden junk. The southern highlights include the buzzing and cosmopolitan city of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon). Wide boulevards and French colonial buildings house world famous restaurants, designer boutiques and energetic nightlife.
2. Rajasthan, India >
India offers beautiful architecture, stunning landscapes, vibrant colours, varied art, dance and music, and delicious food. There is no better place to experience the romance of the country than Rajasthan, which practically drips with beauty. Head to the 'City of Lakes', Udaipur, which has a wonderfully romantic setting, and perhaps even treat yourself to a night at Taj Lake Palace which appears to float in the middle of Lake Pichola.
3. African Safari >
We think that the experience of seeing Africa's incredible wildlife in the surroundings of some of the world's best safari lodges and camps is romantic in itself. Our highly experienced guides can organise mobile camping in some of the most incredible and remote wildlife spots on earth, such as the Ngorongoro Crater. Sky beds also enable you to sleep out under the stars in the bush, an experience which may provide you with your very own private wildlife encounter.
4. St Petersburg, Russia >
For a spot of winter romance, why not head to deepest Russia, wrap up warm and explore one of Europe's most historic and cultural cities. Beautiful buildings in various shades - from pastels to deep hues - adorned with gold design provide a backdrop to the city. An important cultural centre throughout history, today you can enjoy everything from wandering around The Hermitage art museum - one of Europe's best - to world-class ballet or simply browsing the flea markets for art pieces.
5. Buenos Aires, Argentina >
The achingly cool and sleek Argentinian capital is a place where romance is in everything, from music, dance, literature and art to food, wine and architecture. The Argentinians are passionate people with a healthy appetite for the hedonistic side of life. No visit to Buenos Aires is complete without a private tango lesson, which we will be happy to organise. Further afield, you could head to a renowned winery for a private tour, or visit an estancia to enjoy a horse ride through beautiful scenery, privately guided by a local family.
Big Five: Music Hotspots
"Music is the universal language of mankind", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Here we present just five of our favourite musical destinations.
Music is the soul of Cuba and nowhere is it felt more intensely than in its magnificent, crumbling capital. The Caribbean's largest and most vivacious city, salsa, son, merengue, jazz and rumba ooze from every corner of Havana. Shimmy down to the Copa Room or Cabaret Tropicana to experience the pizzazz of a late-night cabaret show, or find your rumba rhythm on the city's streets. Regular rumba spots include Patio de La Rumba in Centro Havana, and the atmospheric and brightly painted alley, Callejón de Hammel. For the best salsa in town head to Club 1830 on a Sunday. Whatever sound you want to move to, our Cuba team know just the place.
The self-dubbed 'Live Music Capital of the World' doesn't disappoint. Music is everywhere in Austin, with indie rock, country, gospel, folk, blues, and even acoustic hip-hop lending it a unique 'Austin sound.' Famed for its ultra-hip live music venues, such as Antone's and Symphony Square, Austin attracts some of the world's best artists. Mostly, however, you'll find Austin musicians at clubs, coffeehouses, bars, and concert halls - not to mention at the airport or supermarket. South by Southwest and City Limits, held in March and October respectively, are two of the city's biggest music festivals, attracting both big names and budding unsigned musicians.
Although a melting pot of different cultures, the sounds and rhythms of Jamaica are unmistakable. The uniqueness and creativity of its music scene was epitomised by the legendary Bob Marley, who took the sound of his generation and turned it into an anthem for freedom in the 60s and 70s. Today, reggae continues to thrive and influence genres the world over. Staged annually in Montego Bay in the third week of July, Sumfest is one of the best reggae festivals in the world, hosting the hottest names in Jamaican music past and present. Other sounds on the island include mento, ska, dub, rocksteady, jazz and dancehall.
The birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music, the beautiful, baroque town of Salzburg is a classical music lover's paradise. Festung Hohensalzburg, the town's 900 year old medieval clifftop fortress, plays host to some of the world's most renowned ensembles and orchestras. With its opulent interiors and far-reaching views over the city's spires, the Salzach River and mountains, it is one of the most atmospheric places to hear Mozart's work today. You can also enjoy sumptuous candlelit dinner concerts in the St Peter Stiftskeller restaurant, where Mozart is performed by the Amadeus Consort Ensemble, dressed in historic costume. Dating back to 803 AD, it is the oldest restaurant in Europe.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
'Strictly' aside, you can't help but be seduced by the powerful rhythms of Tango. Real roots music, the world-famous music and dance genre originated from the immigrant populations of Argentina and Uruguay, before making its way from the brothels of Buenos Aires to Argentina's social elite. Sensuous, powerful and passionate, Tango has gathered strength over the centuries and continues to evolve today. Hit the cosmopolitan streets of Buenos Aires and you will no doubt hear the sounds of Neotango or 'electro tango' floating out of bars, cafes and of course the ubiquitous milongas (tango halls). At La Viruta you can take lessons, watch demonstrations, and test your moves on the open dance floor. If you're lacking confidence, then a couple of the house cocktails should do the trick.
Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
With cobbled lanes, quaint courtyards and remarkable sea views, the tiny islet of Sveti Stefan was once a fortified village and dates back to the 15th Century. Its rare pink sand beach was a playground for the rich and famous during the 1950s and 60s. Surrounded by ancient cedar and pine forests, and with pristine turquoise waters, this slice of Balkan paradise has since been restored to its former glory with the opening of a sumptuous Aman resort. There are a host of water sports on offer, and if you can bear to tear yourself away from your sun lounger the beautiful surrounding area is well worth exploring.
Pasikudah Bay, Sri Lanka
Having recently opened up to visitors, Sri Lanka's north east coast is home to stunning, palm-fringed, white sand beaches, with sea so calm and clear it's like stepping into a giant bath. Despite having one of the longest stretches of shallow coastline in the world, Pasikudah Bay remains largely untouched. Don a snorkel and you'll find yourself nose-to-nose with the multi-hued tropical fish and intriguing crustaceans of the sun-dappled Indian Ocean. Currently, just a few small boutique hotels are dotted around the bay, and we'd recommend you enjoy them while the area is still quiet and unspoiled.
Seal Bay, Australia
Just 15 kms off the south coast of Australia, Kangaroo Island is a wildlife haven - perfect if you like your beaches a little more rugged. Here you can see pink pelicans wheeling through the sky, sleepy koalas in the trees, and pairs of little penguins making their nightly pilgrimage to the shore in Penneshaw. Wallabies, brush-tailed possums, kangaroos and fur seals also inhabit the island. Although not a swimming beach, Seal Bay is home to Australia's third largest colony of Australian sea lions and offers some of the best beach walks we know of, bringing you up close and personal with these fascinating animals.
Taipus de Fora, Brazil
The Brazilian equivalent of the English expression 'just my cup of tea' is 'é minha praia' or 'that's my beach' - a wonderfully apt expression for a nation famous for its vibrant beach culture. A long sweep of pure white sand, located on the Bahia state Maraú Peninsula, Taipus de Fora is arguably one of Brazil's most magical beaches. With giant coconut palms, natural reef pools, crystal clear waters and a distinct lack of crowds, it's a fantastic place to kick back and relax caipirinha in hand. If you're feeling more adventurous, some of Brazil's best surf is just around the peninsula.
Manafiafy Beach, Madagascar
Renowned for the diversity of its flora and fauna - most of which can be found nowhere else on earth - Madagascar is a nature lover's paradise. With azure blue seas and miles of white sand fringed by lush tropical forest, the remote Manafiafy Beach, located on the south-east coast of the island, offers beachside escapism at its best. Well sheltered, the beach is an excellent spot for swimming and snorkelling. Meet the local fishermen bringing in their catch, explore the inland mangroves by canoe, catch a boat over to the nearby islands for picnic lunches, or take a night walk in the littoral rainforest. From June to November you can also view migrating humpback whales.
The Holy Land
by Ailine Fischer
Thank God, Allah, or maybe even Yoda for Marwan. Of all the countries I've visited, Jordan and Israel shout the loudest when it comes to the benefit of having experienced, knowledgeable guides. With ancient, modern and complicated history, innumerable religious sites and stories, and wonderful archaeological treats, it can all seem a little daunting. Thankfully, our guide Marwan soon put us at ease.
Our discovery of Jordan began in the far north with the city of Umm Qais, close to the borders of Syria and Israel. This was one of the cities of the Decapolis (a group of 10 autonomous cities within the Roman Empire) and the place where, according to the Gospels, Jesus ordered evil spirits out of two disturbed men, diverting them into a herd of pigs that promptly bolted and ran into the sea. Marwan's animated history lesson occupied most of the journey from Amman, north along the King's Highway - an ancient trading route - and through the heart of the fertile Jordan valley. Once there, we strolled around the soaring black and white basalt and limestone columns and across the auditoria of theatres large enough for audiences of 3,000 or more. We peered into pits where lions once waited to take on gladiators, and glimpsed the tips of columns sticking out of the ground like giant asparagus spears, hinting at unexcavated treasures below.
Marwan led us to a patch of high ground and gestured towards the valley below. "There (pointing to a hazy speck of blue) is the Sea of Galilee; over there (nodding towards dusty brown hills), the Golan Heights". History ancient and modern in the same breath; we stared in silence, unexpectedly moved by these places whose names were so familiar, so resonant.
We uncovered more layers at Jerash - perhaps the unsung glory of the Middle East. As we climbed towards the first temple and saw the scale of the Roman city spread out beneath us we were awestruck; "I just never expected anything like this", I kept muttering, humbled by the beauty of the huge oval forum, ringed with Ionic columns where, many believe, Jesus preached and healed. We wandered between colonnades and baths, temples and theatres, until the road rolled away across the hills to the horizon. Above our heads, clouds drifted across a deep blue sky, throwing shadows like swooping birds across the graceful Temple of Artemis.
Lingering in a street of shop fronts, I imagined them bustling with people, bartering and gossiping for oil and lamps, spices and wine. I fell behind the guide and Lynne, and missed about 200 years of history. That was to be the great quandary of this tour: did you stick like glue to Marwan, soaking up his informed and entertaining history lessons - or did you wander off quietly, listening for the roar of the crowd in the empty theatre, finding wild cyclamen and blood red anemones among the columns? Allowing time to do both is recommended.
"Today we're following in the steps of Moses", Marwan explained when we met him the next morning. "Except, he took 40 years, and we must do it in one day". We drove through a wealthy Amman suburb, and out of the city, our appetite whetted for Israel by the detailed map of Jerusalem at the incredible Byzantine mosaics of Madaba. It took quite some time for Marwan to drag us away from Mount Nebo, the mountain shrine, where after 40 years in the wilderness Moses saw the Promised Land. "And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo...And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Ran. And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea"; the words I'd heard came to life as I looked out across sand-coloured hills cut by deep gullies, rolling down to purple plains and the River Jordan on the horizon.
The desert castles of Kharraneh (the most complete of the Omayyad castles); Azraq (where T. E. Lawrence had a base); the crusader castle of Kerak - all are spectacular. Seven floors high with solid defensive towers and narrow slit windows, the fortress of Kerak is a powerful statement of military strength, but it felt dark and crude after the grace of Jerash and Umm Qais. On the way to Petra, I led the charge on a visit to Shobak Castle, much to Lynne's dismay, but surely its wild, remote surroundings would spark the imagination of even the most castle-weary?
At dawn the next morning we entered the mouth of the Siq, the mile-long fissure in the rocks that lets the outside world into the hidden city of Petra. Already it was buzzing with tourists. Wedged among a party of Chinese visitors, their cameras flashing in the dim light, I was swept along towards one of the Wonders of the World. At first, there was a chink of morning sunlight, then I made out a column, a pediment - and, suddenly, the torrent tipped us out into a great pool of people gawping in wonder at the magnificent facade of the Treasury building, carved into the high rock face before us.
A cacophony of voices - tourists calling to one another, hawkers selling 'genuine' relics, tour guides shouting in a dozen different languages - bounced off the rocks. It was all strangely atmospheric - perhaps this was what the city was like in its heyday, whe the Nabateans of Petra controlled the trade routes, and caravans from Arabia, Syria and Persia passed through here. But Marwan knows Petra, and soon we were breaking away from the crowds and scampering up rocks to explore ancient cave dwellings. The beauty and mystery of Petra deserves a slower pace, and Marwan allowed us that.
We headed north, excited about the crossing into Israel, and enjoyed an obligatory dip in the saline waters of the Dead Sea - at the lowest elevation on earth. When I say dip, of course, I really mean a rather amusing bob, as Lynne and I tried to master the buoyancy of the water.
by Lynne O'Connell
I remember whiling away hours as a child leafing through the beautifully illustrated pages of my bible, captivated by the stories inside. I don't consider myself religious, but I do remember loving this book, and I've remained fascinated by the history, architecture and art that the bible has left in its wake ever since. And so, it was with great excitement, as well as a little apprehension, that I had packed my bags for Jordan and Israel.
Bethlehem - located in the Palestinian territory - was one of our first stops over the border. As I stepped inside the lantern lit Church of the Nativity, I was struck by the peaceful atmosphere. We were lucky enough to catch a service alongside a large group of pilgrims for whom the visit obviously meant a great deal. As we got so close to the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born, people looked utterly awe-struck, some even wept. I asked how they knew it was the right spot, and the majority answered that it wasn't really important-something to ponder (the first of many things) as I walked through the tiny Door of Humility.
In the afternoon we visited Yad Vashem the Jewish people's memorial site to the six million lives lost during the Holocaust. As expected it was deeply emotional; as we were guided through the building we found ourselves unable to speak. At its conclusion, the museum spills out - quite deliberately - into gardens with views over villages of free Jewish people. Trees have been dedicated to some of the people who helped the Jews during the war, such as Oskar Schindler, made famous by the 1993 film Schindler's List.
Our first night was spent at the charming American Colony Hotel. As I wrote up my notes by the pool, the call to prayer rang out from the nearby Mosque. Day one and I was already beginning to get a good sense of just how wonderfully diverse Israel is.
The last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Masada is well worth a visit. Often heralded as a symbol of humanity's continuous struggle for freedom from oppression, the tragic last days of the rebels here is the sort of story that stays with you. As we walked around this site, looking down at the Roman encampments that you can still see the outlines of, we began to understand how it must have felt to be surrounded with no way out.
The Old City of Jerusalem is a real treat. As we zigzagged through the Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim quarters we soaked up the buzzing atmosphere, colourful wares and delicious smelling street-food, before taking in some of the city's most iconic landmarks: the Western Wall - the Kotel - and the Dome of the Rock. After the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, a breezy boat trip across the Sea of Galilee was most welcome.
As you travel around Israel, you are often stopped and checked, particularly when passing to and from the West Bank. Although alarming at first, it soon became the norm. It also took us a while to get used to the young people carrying fire arms; military service is compulsory here for everyone who reaches the age of 18, and that is simply part of life in the country. At the Gardens of Gethsemane I spotted a sign that read: "no bicycles, no swimwear, no smoking, no guns, no picking flowers".
A story is an account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious. Whichever way you see it, the stories of old which have emanated from these mysterious lands have shaped cultures and influenced thinking. There were too many recognisable references to mention; how many times have you heard "the feeding of the 5,000", for example? There is no way of getting away from religion here, and why would you want to? Our journey may not have been as epic as Moses' or Joshua's, but our memories will stay with us for just as long.
We suggest Highlights of Jordan and Israel as the perfect itinerary to experience both these destinations.
Alternatively enjoy the best of Jordan with this amazing offer;
Luxury Jordan Offer - Save 35%
8 Days from £1,435 per person, including international direct flights with British Airways, accommodation, breakfast and private transport throughout.
Including 2 nights at Crowne Plaza Amman, 2 nights Mövenpick Resort Petra and 3 nights Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea. Visiting all the highlights of this fabulous country including Amman, Jerash, Mt Nebo, Madaba, Kerak, Wadi Rum and the awe-inspiring Petra. As well as flights, private driver throughout, local guides (Jerash & Petra) and breakfast.
The services of one of our private expert Abercrombie & Kent guides travelling with you, is also available for the additional special rate of £160 per person. Valid for travel 1st April - 30th November 2014. Subject to availability. Terms & conditions apply.
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The entire programme, accommodation, guides and general service were all of the highest order.
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