Stacie Harvey, senior retail consultant at our Bury st Edmunds travel agents, journeyed to Jordan to visit the ancient city of Petra. Here is how she recounts this magical experience…
Operator/Host: Cox & Kings
(Hotel names/Ship name): Marriott Hotel Amman, Petra Marriott, Four Seasons Hotel Amman
Airline: British Airways
Duration: 6 nights
This is a large self-service lounge with runway views, which offers the standard facilities you would see in a lounge; self-service food, hot & cold options, a self-service bar for alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks, an abundance of seating areas, showers and even a pressing service. It’s a very nice place to relax; away from the hustle and bustle of the busy airport.We arrived at the premium check-in area of Heathrow’s terminal 1 and were swiftly checked in. There are now plenty of self-service check-in options at this terminal, as well as the opportunity to check your bags in as normal; making it much easier and swifter to securing stow your luggage. On most of their European, mid & long haul flights, British Airways offer an Economy and Club Class service. We were travelling economy but were lucky enough to still receive passes to the excellent club lounge.
The journey time to Amman was roughly five hours and ten minutes, as we all enjoyed a comfortable flight. Amman is the modern and ancient capital of Jordan and is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the World. The city has an eclectic mix of modern buildings and ruins of the ancient past, which blend in nicely with each other like they were always supposed to be side by side.
The modern era of Amman began in the late 19th century when a colony of Circassian emigrants was resettled by the Ottomans in 1878. Amman was made capital in 1921 when the founder of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Emir Abdullah ibn Al-Hussein, responded to the Great Arab Revolt and the establishment of the State of Transjordan. It has since grown rapidly and is now a modern, thriving city will well over two million inhabitants.
Having landed in the capital, we were transferred to our initial accommodation; taking around forty-five minutes in total. Our destination was the Marriott Hotel Amman, which is rated five stars and located in Shmeissani, one of the city’s busiest areas. It has easy access to all the historical sites and downtown areas districts of Amman.
All the rooms are equipped with twin or queen beds, with air conditioning, international TV, payable Wi-Fi, and a full bathroom with bath & shower. The Marriott also offers a variety of dining & bar options to suit all tastes These include: a Champions American style sports bar, a Mediterranean restaurant and the Library Cigar Bar, where you can smoke shishas and rent a cigar box; something that is very popular with the local residents.
There is a fully equipped health club with indoor and outdoor pools. The outdoor swimming pool is closed annually during the winter season – October to mid-May, but the indoor hydro-pool is open all year round.
The next morning, we awoke early for a lovely buffet breakfast; offering a nice mixture of hot and cold dishes. Afterwards, we proceeded with a short hotel inspection of The Marriott, before starting the drive to Petra. On the way, we stopped off a Karak Castle, which was about a two-hour drive, to have a look around and learn all about its history.
The Castle of Karak started to be constructed during the reign of the Crusader King Fulk of Jerusalem (1131 – 1143) and was built to protect and control the lucrative trade routes that ran through the area between Jordan and Arabia. Reynald de Chatillon, known to many as the Elephant of Christ, acquired the castle through his marriage to Stephanie Outre Jourdain in 1177.
Following the Crusaders’ crushing defeat by Saladin at the battle of Hattin (1187), the troops stationed at Karak held out for over 8 months (choosing to sell their wives and children for food during this time) before finally capitulating. Later, in the 13th century, the castle’s fortifications were extended and improved by the Mamluke Sultan Baybars and today Karak Castle still remains one of the largest and most complete castles in the eastern Mediterranean.
After looking around this historical site, we continued our journey to Petra, a further distance of 150 km and approximately two and a half hours more driving. This may put certain travellers off, but the breathtaking scenery along the desert highway never ends, with huge canyons, dams, hills and valleys making the time go by in flash and offering up some great picture moments along the way.
Surprisingly enough, Petra has been inhabited since prehistoric times. This ancient city was half-built and half-carved out of the existing rock by the Nabataeans and made to be an important intersection between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia. Situated between and Red and Dead Seas, surrounded by mountains, riddled with passages and gorges, and hidden from above, it is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites and one of repeated pilgrimage for many people around the world.
A lost city for a thousand years, Petra was not fully uncovered until 1958; the rugged hills, which protect the buildings and tombs, make this an extraordinarily peaceful place.
It is no longer possible to ride on horseback through the Siq (main entrance), and so most people walk. There are a few horses with carriages available if you feel that the walking is too much, however, it’s not suggested as the treatment of the horses is not very nice. I would also suggest taking some lunch with you, as there are only two choices for food down at Petra and both extremely expensive. It was about £20 for a sandwich, crisps & a drink. There are also toilets at the site but I would recommend taking wet wipes and sanitizer gel as they are not the cleanest.
I was quite naive to the size of Petra. I assumed that it ended at the iconic Treasury, but that was just the beginning. We only had one day here, but I would suggest allocating two days to allow extra exploration at a slower pace.
Petra town, the new area, is heavily developed, which I was quite surprised to see. I imagined a very isolated civilisation, but there are lots of shops, bars and restaurants in the vicinity and unfortunately, McDonalds has even found its way, which is a shame.
This is a very long day with lots of walking. We covered approximately 8-9 miles that day, so a certain level of mobility and fitness is required. If you don’t want to walk the whole site and would prefer to just visit the Treasury, this would only be 2-3 miles, can be done at a slower pace, and is shaded from the hot sun covered for 50% of the way.
After an insightful viewing of this wonderful place, we headed on to our hotel for the night to have some dinner, before heading back to Petra later that evening. Overlooking the dramatic Petra valley and located only 5 minutes drive from the site, the Petra Marriott has one hundred air-conditioned rooms, each with satellite television, telephone and 24-hour room service.
The facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, Turkish bath, private cinema, a bar and restaurant. However, the swimming pool is closed annually during the winter season – October to mid-May. In my opinion, was a little dated and could do with an upgrade in some of the public areas, but it is great value for money as if you head closer to Petra, and stay at a hotel within walking distance of downtown, you would lose the views and spend approx £120 – £150 more per person. It’s definitely worth weighing up the pros and cons before deciding where to stay.
The restaurant offers a buffet lunch and dinner with a limited room service menu. We experienced both breakfast and dinner during our stay and again we tried a few traditional dishes from the hot & cold options. There is also the option to get a taxi into downtown Petra and visit a number of the local restaurants there.
After dinner, we headed back into town for what would be an amazing experience. Petra by Candlelight is regularly listed as one of the highlights of any visit to Petra and begins at the main entrance at 8pm and lasts until 10pm. Approximately 1,800 candles are set-up to light your way down the Siq and to help you pick out various points of interest.
The journey culminates at the Treasury (it is not permitted to travel further into the site) where the forecourt is strewn with candles. It’s a lovely experience, but may not be suitable for anybody with any mobility issues as the walk is very dark and over a range of surfaces. Again, you would also need a certain level of fitness as the walk is approximately 2.5 miles and also has some areas that have quite steep inclines on the way back.
We had an early start the next day for our drive to Wadi Rum; a distance of 105 km and journey time of approximately 1.5 hours. Wadi Rum is like a moonscape of ancient valleys and towering weathered sandstone mountains that rise out of the white and pink coloured sands, and offer some of the most spectacular desert scenery you are ever likely to see. It was a favourite place for T.E Lawrence and his exploits during the Arab Revolt of 1917 and the landscape was also used extensively in the film ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’.
The group were thrilled to get the chance to venture into the desert on a 4×4 jeep excursion that lasted approximately 2 hours. The vehicles are provided by the Wadi Rum Reserve and are driven by local Bedouins who usually speak only limited English. The jeeps are open-topped and are well worn after numerous trips in this dusty, bumpy environment, but the scenery is magnificent and the excursion offers access to some of the most fascinating sites that would otherwise be missed. This trip is not recommended to anybody with certain medical conditions or who is pregnant. Unfortunately, I was unable to experience the trip due to the latter.
After a quick stop for some lunch, we headed off to the Dead Sea; a distance of 385 km and total journey time of approximately three and a half hours from Wadi Rum.
The Dead Sea is one of the most extraordinary places on the planet. Situated at 400 metres below sea level, it is over 45 miles long, ranges from 3 to 9 miles wide and has no outlet. The name is derived from the fact that a high salt content makes any plant and animal life impossible. However, contrary to some beliefs, this is not to do with the fact that it is so far below sea level, and is more a result of the high evaporation rate, which has, over the years, led to a salt build-up.
From here, we headed on to our third hotel and our third Marriott. Nestled between the mountains and the northeast shore of the Dead Sea, The Jordan Valley Marriott is nice and luxurious with its own spa offering indulgent treatments using the unique elements of the region. Almost every room has a Dead Sea view but, if not, you still get to overlook the lovely pool areas. There are four of these which cover most of the grounds; offering designated kids or adult only areas, with direct access to the Dead Sea via the hotel’s beach. There are four restaurants offering local buffet, Mediterranean or American style food, with a choice of three bars and evening entertainment consisting of a low key, easy-listening band which is brought in for a few hours a night.
The next day, we had a well-earned day at leisure and so decided to enjoy a lovely day by one of the pools and a few dips in the Dead Sea. The Sea is like nothing else I have ever experienced; the water feels so thick and is very salty and the infamous mud, which is said to have many medical uses, is lovely and warm as it’s been getting heated all day by the sun. The process of the mud therapy involves waiting until it dries out and then washing it all off under the beach showers. It makes your skin feel amazing and soft and is great for sunburn, which I was suffering with slightly.
After our chilled-out day, we headed over to the Kempinski hotel which was just two blocks down from ours.
The Kempinski Ishtar was opened in 2006 and is the latest and most luxurious of the Dead Sea hotels. Set amongst beautiful gardens and with 345 guest rooms that range from superior rooms to stunning royal villas and nine swimming pools located on sheltered terraces and dotted with lagoons and waterfalls, the hotel offers guests their own slice of private luxury. It has several restaurants offering al fresco dining and the largest private beach in Jordan. There’s also the world renowned boutique spa, with a very long waiting list. To avoid disappointment at the spa, I suggest booking prior to arrival as they save a limited space of appointments for residences of the hotel.
As our trip was drawing to an end, the next day we took the one and a half hour drive from the from the Dead Sea to Amman. Once there we had the chance to explore the city as part of a walking tour. This gave us the opportunity to mingle with the locals, whilst stopping at several local restaurants where you can to sample the local cuisine – falafel sandwiches at ‘Hashem‘ restaurant are highly recommended.
After stopping at the Gold Market, we continued to the magnificent Ottoman-style King Hussein Mosque that was rebuilt in 1924 on the site of an ancient mosque. We then continued through the bustling streets and vegetable markets of the downtown area and stopped by a spice shop, which had every spice you could think of and more.
In the afternoon, we took another excursion to the Greco-Roman city of Jerash. Sometimes known as the Pompeii of the East and built over 2,000 years ago, Jerash is widely regarded as the best-preserved city of the Decapolis, a confederation of Ten Roman Cities dating from the 1st Century. As you approach the city, you are greeted by the imposing Triumphal Arch, which was built to honour the arrival of Emperor Hadrian in AD 129. Beyond the arch, the continuing excavation work has thus far revealed two theatres, the oval-shaped forum, a marketplace along with numerous temples and churches.
After a busy day of sightseeing, we headed to our accommodation for the night, the 15-storey Four Seasons Hotel Amman; offering 192 generously sized guest rooms and suites. Furnished in the splendid comfort that is distinctively Four Seasons, all guest rooms offer stunning city views. The restaurant overlooks a landscaped summer dining terrace that has the exclusive feel of a hidden garden. Its open kitchen offers a delicious buffet, featuring Arabic and Eastern Mediterranean specialities. In the summer months, you are more than welcome to take your food outside to eat. Other facilities include an indoor pool, health spa and a wide range of fitness facilities.
The following morning sadly brought home time upon us. We had a 9:55am flight out of Amman back to London so we had to say goodbye to the Four Seasons and, of course, Jordan, which we had by this time all fell in love with.
All that is really left to say is that I had an amazing time and would suggest that everybody visits Jordan and her ancient sights in their lifetime too. And whether you’re a novice like me or an avid historian, everyone will learn something new.
Finally, I want to say thank you ever so much to Steve, Louise and Michele for such an amazing opportunity.
Must see? Petra by candlelight
Must do? Bathe in the Dead Sea
Must try? Falafel from Hashem
To see the lost city of Petra, and many other sites besides, for yourself, call in at one of our travel stores across East Anglia. This type of trip can be a great way to enjoy some winter sun whilst immersing yourself in the local culture.