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TEL AVIV doesn't exactly spring to mind when you're thinking about short breaks away.

But on the eve of 2000 - when an expected four million people are due to pack every hotel room ever built in Israel - what better time to go and enjoy a sneak preview before a new age begins?

El Al, the national carrier, is famous for its rigorous security. Make no mistake it's VERY thorough but there's no harm in that bearing in mind Israel's recent past.

It takes about five hours from Heathrow to Ben Gurion Airport, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Once there you get a feel of how small Israel is. The two main cities are only a short hop apart while nowhere is too far away for the adventurous.

Tel Aviv is modern - very modern. At the start of the century it was nothing more than a sand dune, but it has grown into a vibrant hubbub with a very high standard of living - lots of well-dressed locals, loads of flash cars and, seemingly, everyone with a mobile phone stuck to their ear.

That said, Tel Aviv is distinct and has loads to offer, like the sea for a start. Magnificent rolling beaches and a warm climate almost year round might be enough in itself.

Any visitor should take time out to see the Diaspora Museum, a simple but powerful history of the Jewish people over the past 2,500 years.

As a starting point for your trip it's difficult to beat. Our New York- born guide was a fountain of information who left you better equipped to understand the complexities of the country.

Tel Aviv is the established business and diplomatic capital, but it's increasingly become a cultural magnet for the very best in theatre, ballet and music.

You won't starve either. Israelis freely admit their food wasn't the most exciting a decade ago, but this has changed and now it caters for most tastebuds - Middle Eastern, French, Italian and Japanese to name but a few.

If you've never seen bumper to bumper traffic jams at 3am, Tel Aviv on a Friday night is the place to be.

Young Tel Avivis may have mastered the art of stretching a drink - usually a soft one - for several hours, but they love their dance music.

Dance aficionados (I'm not one) rave about the city's club scene. One venue in particular, Allenby 58, is rated among best on the planet.

Our New York-born host (a different one this time) kept buzzing on about ''concepts''. Aside from the traditional espresso bars and ice cream parlours, places were opening- and closing - all the time in a bid to feed a seemingly insatiable desire for night-time action.

Among recent additions to the 24-hour scene was a bar in honour of sex- change Eurovision winner Dana International where the all-male bar staff dressed as women. Concept, huh?

Other concepts included a pet bar (yes, you've guessed it) and a hairdresser which stayed open till the early hours doing up would-be clubbers.

Moving from late, raving Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the Sabbath is a truly stark contrast. You needed a good breakfast and our hotel provided it.

The Tower of David Museum, at the gateway to the Old City, was the perfect place to start, providing panoramic views and a first glimpse of places you first heard of at school.

We wandered through the Armenian quarter before going through the Jaffa Gate and into the Jewish quarter where you confront the Wailing Wall, the most holy site in Judaism.

After standing at the Wailing Wall and seeing the paper prayers - and a British Rail ticket - stuffed in every crack, we made our way to the Muslim quarter and dined on falafel in a simple Palestinian restaurant. It was superb.

The quartet was completed with a walk up the Via Dolrosa, the route Christ took is said to have marched to his crucifixion.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is arguably the most important shrine in Christianity, it was mayhem. …