Plan a Next-Level Luxury Vacation in the Middle East and South AfricaBy Natasha Amar
A trip to the Middle East is synonymous with luxury travel, as cities in the region pull out all the stops when it comes to hospitality that makes visitors feel welcome and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that leave them awestruck.
Whether it’s contemporary museums inspired by the region’s heritage, shopping experiences fit for royalty, private seaplane or yacht trips, or memorable meals created by acclaimed chefs, these cities in the Middle East and Africa promise luxury trips you won’t forget.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
To delve into Amman’s vibrant and energetic arts scene is a highlight of any visit to the city. Downtown Amman is dotted with beautiful historic buildings now home to contemporary art galleries such as Nabad Art Gallery, where you can see the works of regional artists in a renovated 1930s residence in Jabal Amman.
A 20-minute walk away is Dar Al-Anda Art Gallery, housed in two restored villas also from the 1930s, where you’ll find contemporary works by Middle Eastern artists such as Bahram Hajou and Youssef Abdelke. Don’t miss the views of old Amman and the Citadel from the terrace.
At Beit Al Bawadi, shop for exquisite ceramics that combine Jordan’s rich artistic heritage and Arabian and Islamic styles with contemporary design sensibilities. The gallery was founded by a nonprofit NGO to promote sustainable community development.
Head to the spa at the Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa to float in the indoor Dead Sea salt pool and pamper yourself with one-of-a-kind treatments infused with Dead Sea salt minerals, such as the Dead Sea mud wrap or Dead Sea salt body scrub.
For a bit of culture, visit the Saadiyat Cultural District on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, home to museums, art galleries, performance venues and studios. The crown jewel here is the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the strikingly beautiful complex houses 23 permanent galleries, exhibition spaces, a children’s museum, restaurants, retail shops and more. Notable works include Gauguin’s “Children Wrestling” and Picasso’s “Portrait of a Lady,” as well as Osman Hamdi Bey’s “Young Emir Studying.”
Take to the skies on a private seaplane tour to feast your eyes on breathtaking views of the emirate’s islands, beaches, mangroves and architectural gems, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (which you’ll also visit with a private guide). Finish the tour with the Palace Cappuccino, a drink fit for royals that is sprinkled with 24-karat-gold flakes.
Live out your professional car racing fantasies at Yas Marina Circuit, a world-class circuit that hosts the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Feel the exhilarating rush on a 20-minute session as you drive beasts such as the Aston Martin GT4, Mercedes AMG GTC, Formula Yas 3000 or Ferrari 458GT under the guidance of expert instructors.
Admire the spectacular architecture of the Museum of Islamic Art that was designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect I.M. Pei and draws inspiration from ancient Islamic architecture, with geometric patterns adorning the interior. The museum’s collections include ceramics, glass, metal, manuscripts, textiles and more from around the world and span several centuries. Guided tours are available.
It’s worth making a reservation at IDAM by French chef Alain Ducasse, located on the top floor, to sample his Middle Eastern take on French Mediterranean cuisine.
Spoil yourself at The Pearl-Qatar, a Mediterranean-inspired, human-made island where you’ll find top-notch international and local brands in fashion and design. Here, the Qanat Quartier, designed to look like Venice, with canals meandering between colorful buildings, bridges and pedestrian streets, is a lovely precinct in which to grab a coffee from one of many waterfront cafés.
Meanwhile, Porto Arabia, with its climate-controlled shopping arcades, boardwalk and a gorgeous marina, as well as brands like Versace, Hermès and Elie Saab, is a worthy spot to loosen your purse strings. For stunning jewelry and watches, including custom designs, visit Alfardan Jewellery.
At Spanish brasserie BiBo Doha by three-Michelin-star chef Dani García, dine on food that is a nod to Andalusia’s seafaring heritage with fresh seafood such as lobster, king crab, tiger prawns and more. The tapas are highly recommended — try the smoked salmon tart, creamy ink croquettes and roasted potato with octopus.
Pack a picnic and head to Saudi Arabia’s lush AlUla Oasis to do the pleasant 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) Wadi of Hospitality hike under the tranquil shade of date palms, of which 2.3 million can be found in the area.
You’ll also find moringa, orange, grapefruit and lemon trees here, as well as mint, basil and other herbs. Visit Hijrat Nora Farm to learn more about the cultural significance of dates and sample different varieties with Arabic coffee.
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, the site of a Nabataean settlement that was second only to Petra, to marvel at the intricately carved facades of almost a hundred tombs. At AlUla Old Town, under the shadow of a 10th-century citadel, travel back in time on a wander around houses and shops along labyrinthine streets.
After that history lesson, get your adventure fix at Harrat Uwayrid, where you can go zip lining, drive dune buggies or ride a fatbike on golden desert dunes.
In Cape Town, go whale watching in style and marvel at fantastic coastal views on a three-hour luxury helicopter tour. Spot whales, seals and the occasional great white shark on your way to the private nature reserve of Grootbos. Here, enjoy a delicious lunch prepared from fresh, locally sourced, organic ingredients before returning to the city.
Charter a luxury yacht at the V&A Waterfront and enjoy jaw-dropping sunset views of Table Mountain over canapés and wine during a two-hour cruise around Table Bay. Most operators are happy to customize your trip by offering add-ons such as an on-board DJ or chef.
Hop onboard the Franschhoek Wine Tram and visit three wine estates in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley where you’ll learn about the region’s wine heritage, local grape varieties and viticulture practices, in addition to tasting premium wines and enjoying a three-course lunch.