5 escapes just 5 hours from Saudi
5 escapes just 5 hours from Saudi
Explore these fascinating corners of the world just a few hours from Saudi
Just as a spectacular events season ramps up in the Kingdom, you might find yourself looking for a bit of peace and quiet away from home.
We've rounded up five of the most interesting destinations to explore this month.
And don't worry, it'll only take you a couple of inflight movies to reach them.
Best For: Sun and sea
The sun lingers on in Cyprus for longer than most Mediterranean countries, courtesy of its southerly position, leaving its glistening shallows deliciously warm during “Velvet Season” well into October.
Even off-season, this large, mythology-steeped island continues to woo its visitors with hiking expeditions through the craggy Troodos mountain range, phenomenal cultural events, and historical marvels (notably the Tombs of the Kings and Aphrodite’s Rock, where a dip in the crystal clear waters surrounding it allegedly promises eternal beauty).
Larnaca personifies this mix of Cypriot charm, with its buzzy promenades dotted with cafés, restaurants, and walkers sauntering in the sunshine, ice creams in hand. Any visitor would be forgiven for spending the entirety of their holiday oscillating lethargically between the pristine soft sand and calm, glassy waters (particularly at Mackenzie Beach), but the cultural offering here is enough to peel even the most tenacious chillers off their sun loungers. The mesmeric Pierides Museum - Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation showcases various ancient artefacts once scattered across the island (and saved from tomb radars).
The medieval Larnaka (Larnaca) Fort, built by the Lusignans, puts on some concerts and performances in the balmy summer months. And the Byzantine & Christian Museum occupies a section of the Agios Lazaros (a bejewelled church dating back to the 9th century). Intrepid types can head underwater to scan the vibrant marine life surrounding the Zenobia (a cargo ship that famously sank in 1980) and even swim through parts of it with experienced guides.
STAY: Lokàl Boutique Hotel is a former 19th-century mansion that has received an avant garde architectural shake up, with a glass cubic pool perched on its roof and contemporary rooms that are cleverly carved into the building’s old bones. It’s the ultimate launchpad for the Old Town’s cultural maze, with Larnaka Fort an easy stroll away.
Best For: A burgeoning food scene
Famed for its thermal baths, warm people, and postcard-pretty Old Town, Tbilisi makes for a photogenic, soul-nourishing escape. Built along the Kura (Mtkvari) River with a dramatic mountainous backdrop, the capital’s pre-Soviet medieval buildings stagger down the hillside in fairy tale fashion, while towers and turrets keep watch over a bustling cultural labyrinth below. The resplendent churches, futuristic architecture, and Communist era sprawl blend to form the city’s unique character.
Head to the Old Town, with its curious -west architecture, ornately carved lathed balconies, and narrow, film set-worthy streets. While the past seemingly holds sway, the neighbourhood is the epicentre of Tbilisi’s hipster scene, where original design and food take centre stage. Georgia’s melting pot of cuisines (subject to the ebb and flow of empires throughout the centuries) can be savoured in its most authentic form at a string of rustic eateries such as Zodiaqo and Pasanauri. Dumplings and khachapuri (a cheese-filled bread, often with an egg) are a must-try.
For a modern twist on traditional dishes, dive into Tbilisi’s thriving foodie scene, where restaurants such as Unfound Door (try the chvishtari) and swishy OtsY (a knockout finedining spot beside the Gabriadze Theatre) are reimagining Georgian classics. And no trip to Tbilisi is complete without a long lunch at the quirky-cool Café Stamba, where both locals and visitors convene over adjaruli khachapuri and cockle-warming chicken soups, mopped up with freshly baked bread.
STAY: The House Hotel in Old Tbilisi perfectly embodies the city’s fusion of new and old. Cool, contemporary rooms nod to Georgian heritage with traditional custom-made murals, while the restaurant sources its stellar produce from local farmers.
Best For: Boho coffee culture
Travellers who may have mentally “ticked off” Istanbul are well-placed to return to Kadiköy and experience a less touristy side to the city. This burgeoning district (particularly the Moda neighbourhood) is charged with a cool, bohemian energy worth crossing the mighty Bosphorus for. Colourful streets are lined with new-age coffee shops, alfresco cafés overlooking the Marmara Sea, and understated spots that spontaneously lift with the odd DJ set. Once a relatively quiet, residential patch of Istanbul, Kadiköy seemed an unlikely contender for the city’s liberal epicentre.
Having sampled the first-rate mezze and fresh seafood on Koço’s sunny terrace, head to the café-cum-cultural hub arkaoda for some low-key Berlin-esque vibes (think DJs and plenty of dancing). A more high-octane affair can be found at Süreyya Opera House, though you’re really in Moda for the life-changing beef dürüm (at Basta! Street Food Bar), Kadiköy's antique shops on Tellalzade Street, and the cultural hobnobbing in Bant Mag. Havuz / Bin, where talks and screenings take place throughout the week, pulling in a hip crowd.
STAY: Wyndham Grand Istanbul Kalamış Marina Hotel’s interiors are a lavish launchpad to explore the neighbourhood from, even though a seriously luxurious stay may feel out of step with Kadiköy’s bohemian rhythm. The hotel offers smart digs to wake up in after diving into Moda’s edgy music scene.
Best For: Art and architecture
Amid all the Middle Eastern superlatives and shiny newness, Muscat’s antiquity is a veritable delight. Though this ancient city, known for its splendid mosques (particularly the marble-clad Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque with its Persian carpet) and as-old-as-time souks, is by no means opposed to change. Perfectly positioned between the mighty Hajar Mountains and the surreal waters of the Gulf of Oman, Muscat leverages its dramatic backdrop to set the stage for its superb cultural offerings.
Days spent perusing the latest contemporary art exhibition and Omani craft heritage collection at Bait Al Zubair, or the quirky prints and curios at Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art can peter out along the Mutrah Corniche as the lights dim to a syrupy glow. Walkers or cyclists can marvel at the row of historical latticed houses and mosques lining the waterfront, all of which look particularly enchanting as dusk reveals the inky outline of the mountains in the distance. One of these is Bait Al Luban, a stellar restaurant filling the bones of a traditional Muscat house, where just-caught seafood is grilled to perfection and meat is slow-cooked in a fire pit. Indulgent dinners can be walked off here with a stroll to the colourful (and slightly Wes Anderson-looking) Al Alam Palace.
Should those visiting Muscat wish to spill into the desert, epic bespoke journeys await with Hud Hud Travels, where luxury Bedouin-style tents unfold like origami in the most extraordinary landscapes, and guests can explore fortresses clinging to craggy peaks and race through salt flats, past flocks of flamingos.
STAY: The Chedi Muscat really raises the luxury bar, with its palm-flanked oasis-style pools and elegantly restrained and muted interiors.
Best For: Wildlife and outdoor adventure
Switch up the traditional Kenyan safari formula for an oh-so private property, woven into the evocative landscape near the foothills of Mount Kenya. Lengishu is an exclusive-use family home with soul-stirring views across 32,000 wild, scrubby acres of the Borana Conservancy (one of the country’s most successful rhino sanctuaries).
The immaculately designed interiors – a fresh, earthy spin on an olde world aesthetic – reflect the majestic landscape enveloping it, with windows blinking out over the valleys (where elephants and rhinos roam). A stay here guarantees a degree of privacy and flexibility that classic safari lodges are simply unable to offer.
Guests can choose their own safari itinerary without the restrictive drive timetables, and cocoon themselves in the exquisite, artisanal-spun rooms, with the wood burner staving off the evening chill and not another guest in sight. Alfresco copper baths positioned like roosting birds over the wildlife below are a memorable spot to stew in, having spotted a herd of lions or a slovenly leopard splayed out along a thick branch that morning. Sleeping up to 12 guests, Lengishu comes with an affable team of cooks and housekeepers, along with a guide and the house’s own 4x4 game drive.
Conservancy experiences here are second to none, with photogenic bush breakfasts, e-biking through the undulating landscape, night drives to spot honey badgers and leopards, and even bush walks for sundowners at the original Pride Rock, the inspiration for Disney’s Lion King.