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Turning on the news you’d be forgiven for thinking the Middle East is just a magnet for mortar that’s best avoided, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Away from the isolated hotbeds hit by turmoil in the past few years, there’s plenty of beauty to be found and good times to be had in this region full of natural and man-made wonders.


1. Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

Sharm El Sheikh’s screensaver-worthy beaches are enough to make you want to trade in your day job and sell coconuts.

Dubbed the ‘City of Peace’, due to all the peace conferences held here, this popular holiday town on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula is a safe bet.

But to really understand why it’s one of the Arab world’s most touristy spots, you have to strap on an air tank and descend into the deep.

Beneath the surface of the Red Sea lives the weird and wonderful – more than 1000 species are found in these other-worldly, nutrient-rich waters.

Those with a fish fetish can add crocodile fish, lion fish and reef shark notches to their dive logs.

If you’ve seen them all before, you haven’t encountered Egypt’s bizarre sunken treasures, such as that at Yolanda Reef, where the cargo from sunken ship the Yolanda has been since the Eighties.

The SS Thistlegorm, a British armed Merchant Navy ship, is also nearby.

The 128m-long vessel was carrying torpedoes, machine guns and iconic BSA motorbikes on its final journey.

On a swim around the boat, you’ll find radios, rubber boots, debris and silty machinery.

This is one of the world’s most fascinating underwater museums.Don’t swim?

Hire a quad bike or dune buggy and tear up the surrounding desert dunes instead.

Tours leave daily from the Naama Bay area and zoom groups around on 11-hour missions across the rugged terrain. Sites include St Catherine’s Monastery.

Apparently, this is where Moses was given the Ten Commandments by god (not a bad claim to fame).

Entering its gated walls is like stepping back in time.

Find black-robed monks, rickety buildings and sixth century artefacts here. It has to be seen to be believed.


2. Istanbul, Turkey

It’s hard not to be hypnotised by Istanbul’s daily call to prayer, Ottoman architecture and bubbling art scene – all making it one of the hippest destinations in the region.

Haggle for carpets at the Grand Bazaar or tuck into Ottoman-era royal cuisine at the Asitane restaurant (how about melon stuffed with mince and lamb stew?).

Wash it all down with a drink at Besinci Kat’s rooftop bar, lit with beautiful red lanterns. Bliss.


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