Explore the heady hubbub of Istanbul and the ancient ruins of Ephesus and Troy.
Sail across the Dardanelles to wander and reflect at the war graves of Gallipoli. Stroll through Damascus, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Take in the great Greco-Roman ruins at Palmyra in the Syrian desert. Visit the stunning crusader castle of Krak des Chevalier and the ancient wonders of Allepo. Experience the red granite and sandstone desert of Wadi Rum and the astounding archaeology and architecture of Petra. Enter the Holy Land and discover Jerusalem, a city of enormous significance to Christians and Muslims alike. Visit legendary Bethlehem, Jericho, Masada and the Dead Sea, before flying to the bustling metropolis of Cairo. Take in the Pyramids, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings and a leisurely cruise on the Nile from Aswan...
Aya Sofya, Istanbul, Turkey
A city that straddles two continents and a vast swathe of history, the great capital Istanbul, still known as Constantinople and Byzantium to some, is perhaps best represented by the Aya Sofya, one of the world’s finest buildings. First a church, later a mosque and now a museum, the Aya Sofya’s majesty is both physical and conceptual; it embodies the history and cultural revolutions of the region like no other edifice can. Stand beneath the mighty central dome of Turkey’s most beautiful building for a humbling experience: the soaring structure seems to float above the rest of the building, while the light filtered through each of the dome’s 40 windows illuminate the intricate weave of golds and blues around you. Elsewhere, the building houses a breathtaking collection of mosaics – look out for the fabulous, millennium-old mosaic of Christ, Empress Zoe, and Constantine IX, the detail of each absolutely extraordinary, the colours still splendid. Afterwards, get yourself a mezze plate, munch away on luscious Levantine cuisine and wander the grandest of grand bazaars.
Aleppo Souk, Syria
It’s said that to see the centre properly you must stand at the edge, but in Aleppo its best to dive right in and let the centre swallow you – Aleppo’s medina and souk are a cavalcade of Syrian commerce and hallowed ground for the curious visitor. Beneath the grand minarets and citadels of Aleppo’s old city, a casual tour of this fantastic bazaar, souk, market, whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it, is a rich reward of evocative lanes and colourful stalls, replete with the scent of spice and shwarma. This is no souk-safari laid on for tourists, but Aleppo’s true heart – the self-confident, sensory-overload bustle you are greeted with in the old town is just Aleppo going about its daily business, as it has done for several millennia.
Mysterious Petra appears out of nowhere – a remarkable, rose-red city hewn from sandstone cliffs by the Nabataean people. This magical site is now regarded as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. The treasury building is its icon, the facade the intricately carved delight seen on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. However, the city is bigger than this one archaeological treasure, bigger than one might imagine, with carved waterways and sculpted buildings spread out over a large area. Explore the main sights in the early morning before the crowds arrive then drift out to find your own magical corner where few venture. Find your own Petra and a place to soak up this magical realm.
Dead Sea, Israel
See the top religious, historical and cultural sights in Israel, a land at the nexus of many tumultuous and significant moments in the past and no doubt others in the future, and you’ll probably be ready for a full body float in the wondrous Dead Sea. Laze away in the sun, perhaps with a book in hand, for the most perfectly sculpted armchair anywhere – the high salt content of the sea means it is super buoyant – pushing a limb underwater is like trying to push an inflated ball under the surface of a pool. With this super buoyancy comes other surprises –your fat and any part of your body not solidly attached to bone will try to float to the surface, giving the less taut and lithe amongst us bellies and chests to rival Buddha. Remember not to get your eyes wet either – with that much salt it doesn’t just sting for a little bit!
Nile Cruise, Egypt
Cruise down the Nile and bask in beautiful Egyptian sun on deck and watch life along the waterway drift by as it has done since time immemorial. The River is a ribbon of life across the region. Everything centres and thrives around this enormous byway, and being amongst it gives the best views of the regions machinations and beauty. It’s the best way to travel between the great ancient sights too. Step off along the way and see the treasures like the Valley of Kings and the temples of Karnak and Edfu and delight in the languid river vibe of Aswan before getting back aboard Peregrine’s exclusive cruise boat, the recently refurbished Melodie. Enjoy private cabins and bathrooms, fantastic friendly staff and a few fun nights and surprises along the way…