There’s an old traveller’s proverb, which we just made up, that says every passing year should bring new friends to your home, cheese to your belly and stamps to your passport.
We can’t help with the friends or cheese (sorry), but we can help with the stamps. For the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday, predicted to fall around Saturday June 24, we’ve rounded up 14 brilliant breaks for the perfect long weekend sojourn.
Enjoy the food and nightlife of Beirut
Beirut is credited as having some of the best dining and nightlife credentials in the Middle East. What should not be overlooked, though, is its culture. The Lebanese capital celebrates Eid al-Fitr like few others, with decorations across the city, musical performances and traditional foods. Le Gray Beirut in Martyr’s Square is as close as you can be to all the action and, thanks to its central position, is just moments away from many museums, hip cafés, galleries and nightspots.
What to do: Yes, there are plenty of galleries and museums – Beirut National Museum, Beirut Art Centre and the newly re-opened Sursock Museum with its US$13 million (Dhs47.7 million) renovation are highlights – but the cultural attraction of Beirut is the city itself. It’s truly charming and buzzes with creativity.
Top tip: Armenia Street and Gouraud Street, the thoroughfares of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh, are the beating hearts of youthful Beirut. With their graffiti, galleries and a gamut of nightspots, they form the unmistakeable core of this brilliantly
buzzing and vibrant city.
Details: Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Beirut from Dhs4,000. Approx flight time four hours. www.etihad.com.
Go on a James Bond boat tour in Thailand
It’s not just bustling Bangkok that has a license to thrill in Thailand. You can book yourself on a blockbuster break to beautiful James Bond Island, in Phang Nga Bay, near Phuket. The idyllic island earned its eye-catching movie moniker after providing a stunning backdrop for two of the suave British spy’s most memorable big-screen outings, The Man with the Golden Gun and Tomorrow Never Dies. With its crystal clear waters, breathtaking beaches, sheer limestone cliffs and lush mangrove forests, this is a luxury getaway that has plenty of star appeal. You will be able to enjoy the scenery, too, without any dastardly Hollywood villains lurking about.
What to do: The best way to explore the island is by hitting the waters. Cruise past the jaw-dropping sights on a boat or clamber in a canoe to make the most of your location before relaxing on the pristine beaches.
Top tip: For easy access to the island, book yourself on a James Bond Island full-day tour, which lasts for ten hours, is rammed with activities on dry land and sea, and includes the option of a hotel pick-up.
Details: Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Phuket from Dhs4,410. Approx flight time ten hours. www.etihad.com.
Holiday like royalty in Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva is one of the world’s most expensive cities and one of the coolest, too. It’s a beautifully serene, lakeside Alpine city,
famed for the number of banking and governmental organisations that call it home. Capture the luxury of modern Geneva in the Belle Époque-inspired Beau Rivage Hotel. On the shores of Lake Geneva, it’s a luxury hotel with history, grandiosity and extravagance in abundance.
What to do: Check out the Jet d’Eau, the iconic fountain in Lake Geneva that jets water 140 metres into the air and don’t even think about leaving before you’ve indulged in the most classic of Swiss snacks, raclette and fondue. Try both at Les Armures, the restaurant attached to the five-star hotel of the same name.
Top tip: Geneva is a small city so you can see a lot of it in a few days. Use the remainder of your trip to escape city limits and hike the nearby mountain, Salève. There is a cable car and, on a clear day, views down to Geneva as well as across to the mighty Mont Blanc.
Details: Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Geneva from Dhs3,440. Approx flight time seven hours. www.etihad.com.
Sail on Italy’s beautiful Lake Como
About 90 minutes’ drive from Milan, the lakeside villas, hotels and restaurants on the banks of Lake Como are a magnet for rich, famous and stylish travellers from around the world. It has the charm of old Italy and the glamour of new, and typifies European elegance and tranquillity. The Grand Hotel Tremezzo is an Art Nouveau landmark that has been charming guests on Lake Como for more than a century. Enclosed in 20,000 square metres of parkland, it has pretty footpaths, gardens and Bellagio views that have inspired generations of artists and poets.
What to do: Ferry tours are a chance to savour the panoramic beauty of the lake, as well as visit the pretty towns of Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio and Cadenabbia.
Top tip: Eid coincides with Lake Como’s oldest celebration, the Festival of San Giovanni (Saturday June 24 to Sunday 25), which rejoices in the heritage of the region through food, art, dancing and fireworks.
Details: Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Milan from Dhs3,130. Flight time approx. 6.5 hours. www.etihad.com.
Take an island break in Bahrain
Bahrain is just over an hour’s flight from Dubai and is the closest island nation, making it easily reachable for a long weekend. Enjoy an enviable slice of luxury by checking into The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain. Here you’ll find plenty of restaurants, such as French eatery The Ritz Gourmet Lounge and Italian venue Primavera, as well as an excellent spa, plush gardens, a beach club and lagoon-style pools. It’s centrally located in the Seef district, making it close enough for idle exploration of the island’s attractions. Waterpark Wahooo!, Bahrain City Centre Mall and Bahrain Fort are all within a 5km drive and make for interesting tours, and the stylish lounge Bushido is just walking distance away.
What to do: Bahrain tends to be a few degrees cooler than Dubai, so beaching in private resorts is still an option over Eid. Manama is less hectic than other Arabian capitals and the slower pace suits visitors looking for traditional souks, old forts and heritage attractions.
Top tip: Bahrain is rightly proud of its Grand Prix, which was the first Middle Eastern track to be part of the F1 calendar back in 2004. While F1 weekend comes but once a year, there are brilliant driving experiences at the Bahrain International Circuit that you can try for yourself any time, including dragster racing and off-roading.
Details: Gulf Air flies from Abu Dhabi to Bahrain from Dhs1,040. Approx. flight time one hour.
Tick off another capital city in Skopje
Avid travellers aiming to collect passport stamps should overlook Macedonia at their peril. It’s landlocked so doesn’t have the coastal delights of nearby Greece, Montenegro or Croatia, but in Skopje, it has a capital as pretty and explorable as anywhere you could choose to stop over in. For a sense of comfort and familiarity, pick a big brand hotel such as the Skopje Marriott
It’s close to the city centre, making it a very handy base from which to explore the old town and beyond.
What to do: After an earthquake flattened around 80 percent of Skopje in the 1960s, it was left short on monuments and civic buildings. Since 2014, however, Skopje has been aggressively modernising and hundreds of millions of dirhams’ worth of new monuments have cropped up around the city. A brand-new Philharmonic Orchestra venue opened in May, adding to a growing list of attractions which includes the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia as well as impressive monuments to Skopje’s most famous personalities such as Alexander the Great. Despite this push for new sights and attractions, it’s the Old Bazaar, the largest in the Balkans outside of Istanbul, which stands out for most first-time visitors. Here you can haggle for local art or just enjoy a sip of the strong Macedonian coffee that is sold in surrounding cafés.
Top tip: Macedonia doesn’t have a sea to enjoy, however in the Matka Canyon there is a stunning artificial lake in which to enjoy a spot of that summer sunshine and outdoor hiking with incredible mountain views aplenty.
Details: Flydubai flies from Dubai to Skopje from Dhs2,154. Approx flight time five hours. www.flydubai.com.
Treat yourself to a different slice of Turkey
Turkey has suffered a tourist slump in recent years, due to a troubled political climate. It has lost none of its beauty, though, and for travellers looking beyond a city break in Istanbul, it’s the coastal resort of Bodrum that often calls. The region’s newest hotel, The Bodrum by Paramount Hotels and Resorts is a spectacular addition to the Aegean Sea holiday offerings. The Hollywood-inspired hotel opened at the end of May and aims to bring chilled-out Californian comfort to Turkey’s coast. Expect some movie star touches, too.
What to do: Not as crowded as some Mediterranean resorts can be, Bodrum has retained an old-school charm despite being popular since the ’70s. For family beach holidays with a sprinkling of history, it’s undoubtedly a good option.
Top tip: Between trips to fish restaurants, boutique lounges and markets, make time for photos on the ramparts of Bodrum
Castle. The 15th century monument is well maintained and has views across the historic harbour.
Details: Turkish Airlines flies from Abu Dhabi to Bodrum from Dhs3,300. Approx flight time ten hours. www.turkishairlines.com.
Visit an ancient civilisation in Greece
Nowhere does ancient quite as well as Greece does, and in Athens attractions such as the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus are still very much part of the tourist line-up. While the ancient is still very much part of everyday life today, there are new hotels emerging, nicely contrasting with the old ruins. Boutique offering Athens Was is a modern and elegantly designed property with direct views of the Acropolis. New and old Athens collide head-on, making for a very exciting presence in a hip area.
What to do: Visit ruins. They’ve entertained and enthralled visitors for thousands of years, so the least you can do is stop by and take a look. Your Instagram followers will thank you.
Top tip: Tuck into classic Greek dishes such as moussaka, kleftiko, taramasalata, gyros, Greek salad and grilled fish, all of which is enough to sustain a gourmet trip.
Details: Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Athens from Dhs4,180. Approx flight time five hours. www.etihad.com.
Book a break in Bali
The duration of the flight is long haul, but the sub-3,000 dirham price tag, which includes flights and three nights’ accommodation in a four-star hotel, makes it very appealing. Three days is nowhere near enough to appreciate the island, but for first-timers wanting to get a feel for it, this is a whistle-stop tour worth grasping. The package includes stays in Bali’s lively Kuta – at the Risata Bali resort – an area that entices with quality restaurants and vibrant nightlife.
What to do: The package includes an optional tour of the mountain town of Ubud. While we’re usually fans of breaking away from itineraries and doing our own thing on a holiday, this is one organised schedule you should grasp the opportunity to take. Not only will it drive you around 30km out of the city, it will transport you to the artistic centre of the island.
Top tip: We could never be friends if you make it all the way to Ubud and don’t walk through the famous Monkey Forest. Quite simply, it’s unmissable.
Details: Dhs2,870 (Qatar Airways flights and three nights’ accommodation at a four-star resort). Jun 23-27. Musafir, www.musafir.com (600 544 405).
Go on “surfari” in Oman
Tour company Aloha Arabia, a division of Fahrenheit Beachsports, organises regular surfaris around the Middle East. Forgetting the fact that we’re suckers for a good portmanteau, this is an excellent opportunity to catch a few waves and meet fellow board enthusiasts. The packages include three meals a day during the trip, surf lessons, board rental and a barbecue night with fellow surfers. Choose between camping or hotels and spend as much or as little time in the water as you want.
What to do: As well as surfing, you can try your hand at kitesurfing and more or less every other beach and watersport going, making for a great adventure holiday.
Top tip: Break the holiday up with a night in the capital, Muscat, before heading back home. There you can enjoy yet more of the famed Omani hospitality.
Details: Dhs1,450 (camping), Dhs2,500 (hotel). Oman Air flies from Abu Dhabi to Muscat from Dhs1,050. Approx flight time 1 hour. June 21-25. Aloha Arabia, www.alohaarabia.com (050 702 1798).
Marvel at animals in the wild in Kenya
Sharaf Travel is offering Eid packages for a Kenyan safari with a stay at a luxury tented reserve such as Siana Springs Camp. This Masai Mara resort has an abundance of flora and fauna, so you can expect to see big cats, elephants, giraffes, zebras and more.
What to do: Invest in a good camera, an extra memory card and spare batteries. A smartphone camera is all well and good for chocolate fountain selfies over brunch, but, when there’s a big cat stalking its prey just metres in front of your guided tour, you’ll want the best bit of kit you can afford.
Top tip: The Sharaf package includes a night in Nairobi. While the unquestionable highlight of this trip will always be an animal safari, take the opportunity to see East Africa’s most cosmopolitan city. Its food, art and shopping are interesting counterpoints to the natural beauty out of town.
Details: Dhs3,149 (Air Arabia flight and three nights’ accommodation at Siana Springs Camp and a Nairobi hotel). Jun 23-26.
Sharaf Travel, www.sharaftravel.com (04 397 6161).
Risk some rain for a glimpse of sheer beauty in the Maldives
Fair warning: the end of June is rainy season across much of the Indian Ocean and the Maldives are no different. If you’re prepared for intermittent showers, Flight Centre’s Eid break offers a stay on the Malahini Kuda Bandos private island. Rain or shine you’ll be able to enjoy watersports, the deluxe spa and palm tree views. Boat transfers to and from the island are included.
What to do: Not very much. We mean that in the best possible way. Holiday destinations such as the Maldives are not best suited to travellers who like a packed itinerary and lots of sights. If, however, you like to lie around doing very little, you may have found your next trip.
Top tip: Under no circumstances should you let the rain spoil your holiday. Just, maybe, take a book and a pack of cards with you.
Details: Dhs3,795 (flights and three nights’ accommodation at Malahini Kuda Bandos). Jun 22-26. Flight Centre, www.flightcentre.ae (04 362 3048).
See an up-and-coming city in Baku, Azerbaijan
There’s no better time to visit Baku in Azerbaijan. New money is flowing into developing the city, but its Old Town features plenty of heritage and charm. Eid coincides with a major feather in Baku’s cap – the Azerbaijan Grand Prix – which takes over town from June 23 to 25, and the associated pageantry will see performances by the Black Eyed Peas and Nicole Scherzinger as well as world-class motorsports.
What to do: Race attractions aside you should also be sure to see the seafront corniche where the fortress walls of the Old Town and modern skyscrapers of the new make a fantastic backdrop for an intriguing city of contrasts.
Top tip: After-race concerts tend to be some of the biggest parties of the year in any city. While F1 weekend won’t give you a true snapshot of Baku nightlife, it is an excuse to see major live acts over the Eid holidays.
Details: Dhs2,399 (Air Arabia flight and three nights’ accommodation at Hotel Old City Inn). Jun 23-26. Sharaf Travel, www.sharaftravel.com (04 397 6161).
Walk on the beach in Sri Lanka
Another package that might be best accepted with a weather warning is this Sri Lankan vacation put together by the Holiday Factory. This being Sri Lanka, however, there is plenty to do, even if the rain clouds are working harder than the sunshine. Central resorts in Kandy and the beach communities of Galle to the south or the capital Colombo may well be familiar, so why not discover the beach town of Negombo instead. Slightly off the beaten track, visitors can explore the many tree-lined beaches and markets.
What to do: Experiencing a city break and a rural escape on the same holiday is easily possible in Sri Lanka. Make sure you see capital city Colombo on your way out to other parts of the island.
Top tip: Sri Lanka usually relies on natural wonders to entertain visitors. On the outskirts of Negombo, however, you’ll find the island’s first theme park, Guruge Nature Park . Not as slick as the ultra-modern entertainment complexes of Orlando or Hong Kong, it does have old-school charm. A Jurassic Park zone offers kitsch fun and as well as rides, there’s paintball, themed areas and parkland to stroll.
Details: Dhs3,399 (Flydubai flights and four nights’ accommodation at Paradise Holiday Villa Negombo). Jun 22-27. Holiday Factory, www.holiday-factory.com (04 701 4000).