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An oil-rich enclave of old Persia that’s something of the surprising laid-back liberal in this section of the Middle East, Bahrain is a great place to explore bona fide Arabic life. The country itself is spread over a handful of islands that rise to a dusty peak with the Mountain of Smoke, where collections of Stone Age caves belie Bahrain’s long and fascinating past. The onetime home of the Dilmun civilisation, an ancient country that’s thought to have dominated the lands of Mesopotamia between the 4th and 1st centuries BC, the land is now attracting everyone from UNESCO folk to dedicated culture vultures, who are turning to look at sites like Saar and the great bulwarks of Qal'at al-Bahrain fort alike. Uber-modern Manama, meanwhile, counterbalances the history with a medley of shimmering skyscrapers and UFO-like financial towers that booms each year with the country’s eponymous grand prix. Bahrain tour guides also recommend hitting the desert oases in Bahrain’s small, date palm-peppered back country, casing out the camel farms, haggling your way through the Bab el-Bahrain souk and unravelling the traces of British and Portuguese colonial past amidst its forts and old mansions.