FAR off many people's holidaying radar Israel is much more than a news item. Brimming with history, culture and outstanding natural beauty this Levantine gem is a great place for a break any time of the year.

Arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, named after one of Israel’s founding fathers, we travel up to the hills of Jerusalem through mist filled valleys, along new highways and past rapidly expanding towns and villages.

For one of the most ancient cradles of civilisation the air of modernity is overwhelming.

Everywhere cranes pierce the sky denoting new building projects — New Jerusalem is not just a name or an ideal but a reality.

After a few hours respite in the spectacular boutique Bezalel Hotel in Jerusalem’s centre, we sampled our first taste of Israeli cuisine, joyously straddling the line between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.

Many restaurants dish out food in the Arabic style, filling your table to the limit with salads, fresh baked breads and what can only be described as the best hummus in the world.

Bear in mind that the vast majority of Israeli restaurants are kosher, meaning many food stuffs and combinations common in UK eateries are off the menu; but also guaranteeing that vegan options are abundant, much to my delight (yes I am one of those people).

This is not surprising given that Israel has the highest percentage of vegans globally ­— with 31 dedicated vegan restaurants in Tel Aviv alone.

Also vital to remember is the Jewish Shabbat which brings the nation's bustle to somewhat of a halt from sundown on Friday, only to burst back into life at sundown on Saturday.

The first half of our stay was spent in Israel's captial Jerusalem a hub of antiquity and the arts, and the fulcrum and heart of three of the world’s major religions.

The Old City is home to the Western Wall, the last remaining of the structure of Jewish Temple; the Temple Mount, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the dazzling gold capped Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam; and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

An exploration of these edifices is an essential and overwhelmingly spiritual experience.

After traversing between the Jewish, Christian and Muslim quarters, and through more than 4,000 years of history, encapsulating Judean, Roman-Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Ottoman and British periods of occupation — we arrived at the Machne Yehuda market.

At night the market is transformed from a bazaar selling all manner of fresh food and goods into the centre of the city’s night life — as spaces are cleared, tables and chairs laid out and many stalls become bars.

Israel has a flourishing cafe culture and nightlife with many people enjoying a drink with friends in the evening.

In both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv there are bars to suit all tastes, serving outstanding Israeli wines, craft beers and spirits, as well as European staples.

A lifelong rock and heavy metal fan I could not resist the opportunity to visit Tel Aviv's famous Rebel Bar ­— a welcoming and lively hangout, typifying the nation's perhaps surprisingly vibrant and thriving scene.

During our time in Jerusalem we also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial and research centre for the Holocaust.

Recounting Europe’s decline into mass extermination of its Jewish population, orchestrated by the Nazis, Yad Vashem serves as an eternal reminder that the past must not be forgotten and the slide into persecution and genocide can often be horrifyingly mundane.

Heartbreaking, stirring and perennially important the site also offers stunning vistas of the hills surrounding Jerusalem, both lush green and brimming with rapid development.

Our afternoon rounded out with a tour of the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral parliament and centre of the nation’s democracy ­— open to the public on Thursdays and Sundays.

As part of our trip, organised by the Israeli Embassy, we then spent two days on three of the country's most contentious frontiers and places of sublime scenery, in the border regions of Lebanon and Syria in the Golan Heights and the Gaza strip in the south.

In a moment of surreality, ten minutes drive from the Syrian border, in an area annexed by Israel and neighbouring territory which had been under the control of ISIS and rebel fighters until June; we ate a ranch themed restaurant complete with photos of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne adorning the walls, and Hebrew cover versions of the Beatles playing on the stereo.

After a beautiful drive via the Sea of Galilee we returned to the Tal By The Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv, where we had relocated the previous night.

Israel’s second city, Tel Aviv is a bustling metropolis bursting with culture, bars, restaurants and exceptional gold-sanded beaches, more akin to a Levantine Barcelona than any preconception of the Middle East you may have.

Here over the next two days we delved deeper into life in the city uncovering its rapid and seemingly exponential growth from little over 60 families on the outskirts of the ancient port city of Jaffa to a modern high-rise garden city via Bauhaus and irrigated orange groves — encapsulating the spirit and eclectic nature of this historic region.

*Flights to Tel Aviv are available out of Manchester through a number operators including Easy Jet, Air France, Lufthansa and KLM ­— though many require a layover.

*Sunshine was abundant throughout out our stay and even in November the temperature was a heady 25C. And although it does cool off in the winter months, averages easily reach of 30C in the summer.