Jordan is an intoxicating place with breathtaking architecture, beautiful scenery and delicious food. Amman — its thudding, chaotic, beguiling capital — is the perfect base from which to explore.
Every desert needs an oasis and mine was the W hotel. Piercing the sky like a Bond villain’s HQ, the W towers over its neighbours. The W has all you could want from a five-star hotel.
The luxury interior boasts walkways of pink stone, illuminated overhead to resemble the awe-inspiring gorge in Petra (of which more later). It has exquisite bars, plush rooms, fantastic views and a swimming pool on the seventh floor. But Jordan offers far more than swanky places to stay.
To get the most from your experience, you have to get up early — not just to beat the desert heat but to avoid the endless stream of families and elderly day-trippers wielding selfie sticks. Kick off your stay in Amman with a trip to the Citadel. Built on one of Jordan’s earliest settlements, these stunning ancient ruins include the impressive Temple of Hercules.
History and learning can be a hungry business. One of the best places to try the tasty local cuisine is Rainbow Street. Backpackers and students flock to its coffee shops and hip cafes, where you can idle away the hours or fill your belly with freshly made falafel and chicken shawarma.
While Amman subtly seduces, Petra will leave you head over heels. A three to four-hour drive from the capital, a visit to the ancient city makes for a long day — but you won’t regret a single minute. Bring some comfy shoes for a long walk through a narrow gorge weaving its way through the solid rock.
Here are the huge stone pillars and ornate figures of the Treasury, which will have you gawping in sheer disbelief. Walks and donkey rides can be had for those feeling even more adventurous. Some of Petra’s ruins date back to the 1st century BC. Yet in many ways, the colonnaded streets of the Roman city of Jerash are every bit as impressive.
A walk with an expert guide is worth every dinar and makes you feel as if you are strolling over the cobbles at the height of the emperor Hadrian’s reign. And Jerash, just north of Amman, can be enjoyed in a few hours.
After gorging on Jordan’s history, head to downtown Amman, the beating heart of the city and an assault on the senses. The pavements teem with people and the roads are full of hurtling yellow cabs and drivers ferociously beeping their horns at each other, fighting for space.
Markets sell everything from phone cases and three-piece suits to live chickens and puppies. It is an exhilarating place and Amman at its most charming.
Food is never far away and you can’t leave the capital without trying mansaf. This Bedouin dish has a base of seasoned rice, with large pieces of tender lamb scattered on top, before a hot, creamy, yoghurt sauce is poured all over. Fresh flatbreads on the side finish the dish.
Al-Quds is a good place to tuck into a small plateful and is not far from another restaurant popular with locals and those in the know.
At Habibah, families, pensioners and soldiers flock to tuck into knafeh — a bizarre but delicious dessert made with a crunchy honey top and a melted cheese base.
There is so much to see in Jordan, it can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, the locals have the perfect place for you to unwind. The Evason Ma’in hot springs, not far from the Dead Sea, sit among a spectacular mountain range.
On a clear night, you can see all the way to Jerusalem . . . if you can tear yourself away from the relaxation of the hot baths and maybe a massage or two.
On my way back through Amman airport, my fantastic tour guide Mohammed said to me: “It’s like an open museum here. Everywhere you look, you will find treasure. We are a diamond in the rough.” After five jam-packed days in this exhilarating country, it was difficult to disagree.
STAYING THERE: Three nights at the 5H W Amman is from £670pp including all excursions, transfers, driver and a guide. See travellocal.com.
GETTING THERE: Flights with Royal Jordanian start from £550pp return.
MORE INFO: See visitjordan.com.
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