When I was 21 I hitchhiked to the Middle East, meandering through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Since then I have had a fascination for the region, although in 1963 I never got further east than Jordan from where I sent a postcard to my parents saying ‘We’re off to Baghdad tomorrow with the Iraqi army’. The lift never materialised which was, perhaps, no bad thing.
It’s sad that the Middle East is fixed in many people’s minds as one big war zone. Although there is, of course, much instability in parts of the region, it traditionally encompasses 18 countries and most of these are peaceful, extraordinarily rich in culture (both ancient and modern) and deeply hospitable. Some, such as Yemen and Oman, have lush green valleys and rugged mountains as well as miles of sand where camels provide the main transport. These are understandably two of our most popular guides.
In an increasingly commercial and homogenised world, Bradt Guides manage to still inspire a true sense of adventure. They are a firm favourite with our readers… and me.
Lyn Hughes, founder of Wanderlust Magazine
Our first venture into the Middle East was Lebanon, a quirky guidebook published in 1998, eight years after the end of the country’s 16-year civil war. It was the first guide to this little country which has so much to offer in terms of a sophisticated tourist structure, beaches, ancient ruins and even mountain skiing but which so often falls victim to its geographical location between warring neighbours. It was followed by a guide to Palestine at the end of the 20th century, during a period of hope and cautious promise. New editions of those two guides are now in print, as well as one to Israel. These near-East guides were relatively secure publishing decisions compared with what was to follow.
We published a guide to Iran and then, in 2000, we commissioned a guide to Iraq. It seemed a safe time. The Gulf War was over, the country’s marvellous ancient sites still intact, and tourism would help its recovery. Or so we thought. The manuscript was delivered in July 2001 – and in September of that year came the devastating attack on the World Trade Center. After 9/11 we assumed that we would have to cancel publication but we previewed the book at the Frankfurt Book Fair that year and it drew so much interest that we went ahead, bringing it out a few months before the outbreak of the second Gulf War. It became an instant best seller among readers wanting to know more about the country; even the Pentagon ordered copies. Now a more peaceful Iraq and calmer readership is ready for the latest revised edition.
If Iran and Iraq weren’t eccentric enough, we slipped in two city guides to Kabul and Baghdad (which The Times called ‘the bravest travel guide of the year’). No one can say we are not innovative! In the last few years, we have added further to our list of Middle East titles and it is now extensive – including Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Syria and Yemen.
Quite frankly, I am not quite sure how Bradt keeps doing this: maybe there is something in the water up in deepest Chalfont St Peter!