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Absolute luxury in Ancient Jordan

Ancient Jordan holds extraordinary treasures for travellers seeking an experience like no other. Joanna Tovia uncovers the highlights of this desert oasis… in absolute luxury, of course.

Beautiful Jordan is surrounded by nations making headlines for all the wrong reasons: Syria, Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Despite the troubles plaguing many of its neighbours, Jordan is a safe destination for those wanting to explore an ancient land in style.

Amman is the perfect introduction to this amazing country and evidence of its long history is everywhere – Jordan has an astounding 4800 archaeological sites. The Amman Archaeological Museum houses artefacts dating back from the Palaeolithic period more than 10,000 years ago and the panoramic views of limestone dwellings crowding the hillsides from its spot on top of Citadel Hill are fabulous.

For a taste of everyday life, mix with the locals at the souk (market). This is the place to shop for silver jewellery and local wares, and the pushiest the storekeepers get is to smile warmly and say in a quiet voice: “Welcome.” A favourite market sweet treat among locals is Knafeh, made with sheep and goat cheese, cracked wheat, a sprinkle of pistachios and sugar syrup. I follow the locals’ lead and devour it on the spot.

Sufra Restaurant, in the heart of the Old City, is a must for lunch or dinner. Set in the former living room of a grand mansion, our table is soon laden with mouth-watering traditional fare – hommus, baba ghanouj, flatbread and salads, followed by slow-baked meat, chicken and rice dishes.

The InterContinental Amman is a great central base with attentive staff and grand surrounds.

Petra bound

Palatial homes in walled compounds punctuate the vast stretches of desert landscape on the drive out of Amman. Bedouins, the once nomadic desert dwellers, have suddenly found themselves rich beyond their wildest dreams – land granted 70 years ago to encourage them to settle down and build the economy is now worth millions in and around Amman. Travel further out of Amman, however, and low-lying Bedouin tents of goat hair in impossibly barren surrounds become the norm.

On the way to Petra, Jordan’s absolute must-see attraction, stop off at Mount Nebo where Moses was said to look over the Promised Land, and drive on to the city of Madaba, famous for its mosaics and sixth-century map, housed in an old church. When hunger strikes, head next door. The outdoor terrace of Haret Jdoudna is a delightful, relaxing place to devour delectable dishes. From there, it’s a three-hour drive to Petra.

The charming Mövenpick Resort Petra sits at the entrance to the 2000-year-old Lost City, the indisputed crown jewel of Jordan. This hotel’s pool and spa provide the perfect tonic for tired feet after a day exploring Petra’s archaeological wonder.

The Lost City, or Rose Red City, is a jaw-dropping treasure to be savoured over at least two days. Take your time making your way past ancient tombs, carvings and statues, through the narrow siq to The Treasury. This magnificent, towering façade carved into the rockface is mesmerising, and the Bedouins offering camel rides, selling trinkets and making cups of tea just add to the atmosphere. I spend the day grinning from ear to ear.

If you’re feeling fit, walk 40 minutes beyond The Treasury to the majestic Monastery – there are 850 steps to climb but the rewards are well worth it.


Local know-how

Jordan’s customs are part of what makes a visit to this country so interesting. Arranged marriages are still the norm, religious observance is strong (hearing the call to prayer from the mosques five times a day is quite lovely), and the vast majority of women wear hijab. Jordanians are tolerant of other religions and cultures, however, so if you dress modestly, you won’t attract attention.

Many men wear the traditional Arabian dress – the ankle-length thawb (robe) and keffiyeh (headdress). About 90 per cent of Jordanians are Muslim and alcohol is forbidden by Islamic law, so social gatherings are filled with food, talk and music rather than drinking. Alcohol is, however, available at some restaurants and hotels for tourists.

Wearing a swimsuit at any of Jordan’s beaches on the Red Sea is fine but if you feel self-conscious lying on the beach alongside women clad in black from head to toe, many resorts have a private beach. The InterContinental Resort Aqaba has a 300-metre stretch of white sandy beach with sunbeds alongside the hotel’s freeform pool. Its InterFit spa will lull you into relaxation mode with treatments using Dead Sea minerals.

Dead Sea dream

Those health-giving minerals are yours in abundance at the Dead Sea itself, along with air that’s rich in oxygen. The Dead Sea may be at the lowest point on Earth but it’s sure to be one of the high points of your trip to Jordan. Covering yourself with black mud before floating in the super-saline water is an astonishing experience that will have you laughing out loud… and your nourished skin will feel amazing.

The Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea is an uber-stylish resort with direct access to the Dead Sea’s balmy and buoyant waters. The hotel’s Anantara Spa – one of the largest in the Middle East – is an utterly tranquil escape with natural Dead Sea water pools, Moroccan Hammam, and range of rejuvenating treatments.

Travel file

Movenpick Hotels
Kempinski Hotels
InterContinental Hotels

Getting there
Etihad flies from Australia to Queen Alia Airport in Amman via Abu Dhabi.
Etihad Airways

Other info
Jordan Tourism Board

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