The thriving region of the Middle East isn’t just home to vast desert landscapes and ancient civilizations, there are also special spots off the beaten track that showcase another kind of beauty for the wanderlust seekers out there. Would you believe that scattered along several Arab nations are some of the most beautiful waterfalls, glistening rivers and endless hiking trails waiting to be explored by nature seekers or travelers who crave a relaxing experience away from the hustle and bustle of daily city life.
With temperatures at a satisfying low, there is no better time than now to hit up these unique spots. If you are one of those people in search of a unique experience in the region, we’ve picked out some of the most beautiful and offbeat towns and villages that are the perfect trip.
Along the Walnut River (Nahr El Joz) sits the small, quaint village of Kaftoun, making up one of the many towns that belong to Lebanon’s Koura District. Its the ultimate spot for nature enthusiasts as it is not only home to vast amounts of overarching trees, all along the village are special hiking trials with the best one being the trail along the Walnut River where you’ll come across old watermills and bridges.
For the adventure seekers out there who are up for a little challenge, a great way to get active would be to scale up what is considered Lebanon’s longest flight of stars nicknamed Stairway of Heaven with a total of 788 steps. Once at the top, you will surrounded by endless, unobstructed views of rich greenery on all sides.
For a calmer, more relaxing experience, you can set up a mini picnic near the river and enjoy the fresh breeze that will stream in through the trees. Beyond nature, the town also caters to avid history buffs as it is home to an Orthodox Monastery called Our Lady Of Kaftoun, carved onto the surrounding rocks as well as a church that features 13th Century mural paintings.
Ait Ben Haddou ( Morocco)
Imagine a town made entirely of towering sunbaked clay houses, that is exactly what Ait Ben Haddou is all about. Sitting on the foothills of the southern slopes of the High Atlas within Morocco’s Province of Ouarzazate. It is considered a prime example of southern Moroccan architecture that consists of multiple dwellings grouped together and housed within defensive walls. Visitors who will come across these houses will be able to witness how life was like back in the 17th Century making them feel like they are travelling back in time.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is not just one visited by tourists, it also served as the location for many films like the Gladiator, Aladdin and even famous series Game of Thrones during the scene when Daenerys Targaryen arrived at the gates of Yunkai in order to take over the city and free the slaves. Dropping Ait Ben Haddou a visit will make you relive all your favorite scenes from those special films and shows.
Sidi Bou Said (Tunisia)
Known as Tunisia’s ultimate picturesque seaside suburb, the town of Sidi Bou Said is marked by white washed houses embellished with sky blue wooden doors and wrought iron windows. This town that is perched on a steep cliff and surrounded by captivating views of the Mediterranean sea is the perfect cure from the typical hectic city life. Anyone visiting this town can enjoy a leisurely stroll along its cobbled streets where they will stumble upon art shops, charming cafes and bustling souvenir stalls.
The entire town lives and breathes an air of art and creativity as in the past it was home to many famous painters, writers and journalists including the Nobel laureate André Gide. Beyond the artistry, you can also catch picturesque views by strolling up the Mausoleum of Abu Said el Baji where you will be able to witness unobstructed views of the Gulf of Tunis, as well as the Carthage and even Tunis itself.
For the ultimate Sidi Bou Said experience, it is recommended that you hit up the Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra, a restored 20th century house that was specially built for Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, a French painter and musicologist known for his multi-volume work that traces the history of Arab music.
As Salt (Jordan)
Considered one of the most underrated gems in Jordan, As Salt is an ancient charming town built atop three hills in the Balqa highland of west-central Jordan. This very town saw the likes of Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks as well as Ottomans ruling its land and was also known to be big producer of salt. Today, it is home to old yellow limestone houses, with arched windows and domed roofs as well as a treasure trove of ancient relics and monuments that represents its rich past.
When visiting As Salt it is recommended that visitors explore its rich history by hitting up the As-Salt Museum. The building that houses the museum was originally an old house that today is home to a collection of artefacts from different time periods that date back to more than 3000 years ago.
City walks are also among the popular activities most visitors love to take part in especially walking along one of the many open markets of this ancient town. For a more scenic route, you can try the Harmony trail where you will come across alleys and secret routes that will reveal old houses decorated with charming doors and hanging branches.
When you think of Dubai, you wouldn’t think of lush greenery, sloping mountains and pristine crystal blue waters but that is exactly what you’ll be able to experience at Hatta. This island enclave 134 km east of Dubai sits along the Hajjar mountains that border Oman. It is the ultimate escape destination as it exudes a laid back style of life unlike the bustle of UAE’s biggest cities. Since 2021, this project has been creating quite the buzz but now, visitors can come and experience everything that it has to offer.
The mountain town has something for everyone whether its mountain biking along the meandering pathways of hills, wadis and farmland or a much needed nature trek along the winding wadis at the foothills of the Hajar mountains. Kayaking along the turquoise-hued Hakka lake is another fan favorite activity especially for natural lovers. Even when the sunsets, guests can still have an enjoyable experience by laying under the stars at the dedicated Hatta campsite or Hatta Caravan Park.
By visiting any of these unique towns, you’ll get to experience something new while at the same time getting a much needed break from the typical fast-paced life we are all accustomed to.