Israel & the Palestinian Territories - Off the beaten track
If you thought Jerusalem was timeless, you'll be blown away by Akko. This stone fortress/city by the sea has had an exceptionally lively history under Alexander the Great, the Egyptians and the Romans, but its heyday was as the Crusader city of Acre. Old Akko is largely Arab, and as such has dodged development investment and large-scale tourism, and city walls separate Old Akko from the sprawling modern Jewish town to its north. Eight metres below present-day Akko is the subterranean Crusader city, a series of echoing vaulted halls which were once the quarters of the Knights Hospitallers. Opposite the entrance to the subterranean city is the Mosque of Al-Jazzar, with its distinctly Turkish green dome and pencil minaret. Just to the east of the mosque you'll find the souq, an unadulterated slice of the orient. Every October, Akko hosts a fringe theatre festival. There are a few places to stay and eat here, or you can make the 40-minute bus trip from Haifa.
Hula Valley & Nature Reserve
This beautiful valley between the Lebanese border and the Golan mountians is a unique wetlands wildlife sanctuary. The reserve is home to wild papyrus, pelicans, sea eagles, otters, jungle cats and boar. The Hula Vally also provides a migratory station for birds, with many coming from as far as Scandinavia, Russia and India. The reserve has a very good visitors' centre which explains the area's flora and fauna and also rents binoculars. To the south of the reserve is Dubrovin Farm, a reconstructed Jewish settlers' farm from the turn of the century.
Beautifully situated between the scenic mountains of Gerizim and Ebal, Nablus is the largest of the West Bank towns. It's a typical, bustling Arab town with an enchanting old quarter. The Nablus skyline is punctuated by 30 minarets - one of the most impressive belongs to the An-Nasir Mosque. A few doors up from the mosque you will find Touqan Castle, an old Turkish mansion. Although it's privately owned, you should be allowed to have a look at the garden and the exterior architecture. East of the mosque is the oldest working Turkish bath in the country. Built around 1480, the lovingly restored bath has a hot room, a massage room and a central hall, where you can recline on cushions while you sip black coffee or mint tea. Bathing hours are sex segregated. You can get to Nablus by bus or share taxi from East Jerusalem.
Before the Crusaders arrived and started tearing the country to pieces, Ramla was Palestine's Arab capital. Built in 716 AD, the city - to the south-east of Tel Aviv - is now bypassed by most travellers and pilgrims. Only a few worn Islamic monuments stand testaments to its former glories. However, the mix of an old Arab quarter of crumbling stone buildings set amongst green parkland and eucalyptus tree-lined avenues makes this a very attractive small town. The best day to visit is Wednesday, when the town's market is held. Frequent buses run between Tel Aviv and Ramla - it's a 45-minute trip.