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Five Exotic Short Break Destinations

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Fancy somewhere out of the ordinary for your next holiday? If you have plenty of time and money you'll find no shortage of exotic far-flung destinations. But if you know where to look, you don't need to cross continents to find exciting, colourful and culturally-rich cities. Here are five exotic short breaks all within five hours flying time of the UK.

Fes, Morocco
Although it's just a three-hour flight from the UK, landing in Fes is like stepping back into history. It is a sprawling tangle of medieval streets and houses that weave together to form a vast ancient city. The most spiritual of Morocco's five Imperial Cities, Fes is actually three different cities: 9th-century Fez el Bali, 13th-century Fez el Jedid and the modern Ville Nouvelle.

Like its better-known sister Marrakech, there are plenty of beautiful riads offering comfortable accommodation. However, the similarities end there. Fes is more alien, more exotic - venture out into the 9,000-street medina without a guide and you will invariably get lost.

It's also home to the oldest university in the world, the Karaouine, which - rather like a Moorish Oxford or Cambridge - is a collegiate university, with medersas, or college buildings, dotted among the streets. Some are open to the public, and boast beautiful stucco, mosaics and tiling.

If it all gets a little too much, the Ville Nouvelle feels like a slice of modern French life, with sleek brasseries in among the madness.

Jerusalem, Israel
One of the most holy cities in the world, Jerusalem is becoming increasingly accessible for UK visitors, with budget carriers such as Easyjet flying into the city, and companies such as Discover Egypt now offering short-break packages.

Divided into four sections, Jerusalem is a vast city, but most of what visitors want to see can be found in the Old City - a UNESCO World Heritage site. Labyrnthine streets and alleyways link the four quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian. It's a great place to wander - although essential to go with a guide.

Visit the Wailing Wall, barter for beautiful silks and ceramics in the Arab souk, and climb the ramparts to get a different perspective. The city is home to two of the most religious sites in the world: the Garden Tomb - the location of the tomb of Jesus - and the Dome of the Rock, where Mohammed ascended to heaven.

Chaotic, vibrant and utterly unique, Jerusalem is an unforgettable place to visit. Flying time from the UK is approximately five hours.

Baku, Azerbaijan
First impressions of Baku may not be exactly overwhelming - the road from the airport is lined with vast piles of rubble, menacing oil derricks and thick smoke. But once you are through the industrial area everything changes, and a city of Parisian-style boulevards opens up, leading down to the sparkling Caspian Sea.

Baku is a city in transition, with areas like the Old City undergoing impressive restoration works. Artists are opening up galleries and studios in the rock-built houses, and former caravanserais - staging posts that date back to when the city was a major stopping point on the Silk Route - are being converted into restaurants and cafes.

The 12th-century Maiden's Tower is a must-visit, as it offers wonderful views of the city from the top, along with the Palace of the Shirvan Shahs - and no trip to Baku is complete without a tasting of caviar, one of the city's most famous exports. Flying time from the UK is approximately five hours.

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
A favourite with artists and writers for more than a century, including Paul Klee and Andre Gide, Sidi Bou Said is a town on the northern coast of Tunisia, 20 minutes drive from Tunis airport (2hr 50 mins flying time from UK).

A lattice of cobbled streets knit together the famous whitewashed houses, with their neat blue shutters and doors, some of which house artists' studios and galleries. The town is also home to many Tunisian politicians and social elite but in spite of this, a delightfully hippyish feel remains.

There's plenty of shopping potential, with ceramics and carpets, jewellery and clothing all on offer (be prepared to barter). But one of the greatest pleasures in Sidi is simply settling in at one of the pavement cafes, sipping strong Tunisian coffee and watching the world go by.

The town does fill up with day-trippers, but by late afternoon the streets fall quiet again. Staying a night or two gives the chance to experience Sidi in the evenings, when it is at its best.

Yerevan, Armenia
The capital of Armenia, arguably the most overlooked country in Europe, Yerevan is a charming city, with far more to offer than its ex-Soviet tag suggests. The wide boulevards are dotted with pavement cafes, and in the evenings, open spaces such as Republic Square fill with local families promenading, street entertainers and backgammon players.

Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity, and the city's most famous museum, the Matenadran, has a spectacular collection of ancient manuscripts, calligraphic letters and bibles, with hundreds dating back to the medieval period.

Food is another big part of a trip to Yerevan. The city has a complex, part Middle Eastern, part European feel and this is represented in its cuisine, with lots of grilled meats, spiced pastries and fresh salads. In the late evenings, smoky jazz clubs are revealed behind hidden doors and there's a delicious sense of being somewhere both very different and completely undiscovered. Flying time from the UK is around five hours.

* Mark Hodson is editor of 101 Holidays