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Bethlehem‘s identity was set in stone some 2000 years ago when a certain baby was born in a manger. Since then, the cradle of Christianity has magnetised hordes of pilgrims (about one million yearly) who traipse through the Church of the Nativity (below). Yet in the last couple of years another more unexpected aspect has emerged, namely gourmet food.

A recent surge in enticing restaurants and even hip cocktail bars comes as a big surprise considering Bethlehem lies in the nominally Muslim Occupied Territories of Palestine. And, yes, some Westerners actually think it is in Israel. In fact that hideous separation wall (read my 2008 post about it here) divides the two states, in the process making Bethlehem virtually an island.

I’m back at base after an extraordinary whirl through the Middle East, from the citadel and souks of Aleppo, to the fabulous desert ruins of Palmyra, to the Ummayad mosque and caravanserais of Damascus, to Jerusalem with its manic religious intensity and finally the West Bank, that bleeding wound at the heart of the region. So much to say, so little time. For a peaceful starter, here is the interior of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.