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Spectacular Syria

Welcome to the most ancient city on earth. To a land of sand and souks, where travellers are seldom seen and you can slip through the narrow alley ways into treasure-filled bazaars; stand in fountain courtyards and feel suddenly, as if you’ve stepped back in time.

Syria comes as a bit of a surprise to tourists. (Maybe you thought I was talking about Egypt?!) It’s famous for Damascus – credited as the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth (going since around 10,000BC). And retains that sense of romance and the Orient with its former trade routes, spectacular desert scenery and atmospheric souks. Yet relatively few people have discovered it.

Stuffed full of history, Syria has seen everyone, from the Greeks and Romans to the Arabs and the Crusaders. Temples, castles and mosques all huddle side by side. And overlooking them all, on a hill high above the valleys of central Syria, over 900 years since it was captured by Crusaders, stands Krac des Chevaliers, one of the finest preserved military castles in the world.

Food is an event in Damascus. From street vendors dishing up mounds of mouth-watering falafel and shwarma kebabs, to a dazzling array of mezze: stuffed vine leaves, bowls of hummus and freshly cooked flat-breads, grilled meats and vegetables, and vibrant salads served in family homes. My sweet tooth can’t resist the pastries filled with cream, and pistachio soaked in honey, and candied fruit.

The ancient city of Aleppo, another well-known stop along the Silk Road, is home to one of the largest and impressive mosques in the world, lost amongst the stalls and traders of the souks of the old city.

Just a day trip away, the Church of St Simeon is well worth a wander. It commemorates the mystic saint who spent nearly 40 years sitting on top of a stone pillar.

For something magical, go deep into the desert to the ‘lost’ oasis of Palmyra. Once one of the greatest trading centres in the ancient world, it was only ‘rediscovered’ in the 1750s and not much has changed since then. Once a meeting point for caravans bringing silk from China and spices from India to Europe, Palmyra was also a great city. And you can still see the monumental ruins today, including the huge temple of Ba’al which rose around 100 AD.

So when should you go? As Syria is still a bit off the beaten track, there is no tourist high season. What you want to watch out for is the weather. Avoid the hot dry summers and cold winters. Spring and Autumn are wonderful times to visit.

Linda Harris is the Region Manager for Africa and the Middle East.

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Road to Damascus

Middle East | 8 days
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Krac des Chevaliers - Syria
Syria is a country full of history with Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Crusaders all leaving their mark.

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