Have you ever considered taking a trip to Jordan? Zoomer’s Colleen Nicholson has you covered with seven of the most incredible sights this magical country has to offer.
Jordan first captured my imagination through the movies – Petra, home of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Wadi Rum, whose vast red sands served as a stand-in for Mars, home of “astronaut” Matt Damon using his feces to grow potatoes in The Martian. (“Spoiler” alert, indeed.) Hollywood might be mostly smoke and mirrors, but I was delighted to discover that magic was alive and well in Jordan. Go to check the wonder of Petra off your extraordinary-sites list, but stay for these six other (darn good) reasons.
At the temple of Hercules on Citadel Hill, have a look for the remaining three fingers of the Roman hero. A partial hand and elbow are all that’s left of what was believed to have been an impressive 40ish-foot statue, thought to be disseminated by earthquakes and lost over time.
The pieces are worth finding for their astonishing scale and the bounty of “hand of God” puns at your fingertips – see what I did there? – to annoy and amuse your travel companions. Near these fragments, the Jordan Archaeological Museum houses a collection of artifacts from sites across the country.
Venture a little further south to test the acoustics of Amman’s glorious Roman amphitheaters, and then head west to the frenetic fruit and vegetable market (or Souk el-Khodra) behind the Grand Husseini Mosque for a tasty sample of locally grown produce and bustling modern-day Amman.
It might be the gentle nonchalantness of Jerash that surprises me the most. As at so many of the country’s spectacular attractions, residents stroll casually past gaping tourists. As one of Jordan’s biggest archaeological draws, those seeking a window into the past will find it here at the “largest and best preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy,” a.k.a. “Rome outside of Rome,” just 45 minutes north of Amman. The ruins uncovered at Jerash typify a glorious, busy city with colonnaded streets, public fountains, theaters, markets, grand temples, two amphitheaters and a hippodrome (for chariot races, natch).
Dana Biosphere Reserve
“If you don’t like walking, you can do walking beside bicycles,” said our guide, almost maintaining a straight face as he pointed to pictures of happy, sweaty adventurers pushing their bikes through the rough terrain. This was part of our welcome to Feynan Ecolodge, a magical award-winning, truly off-the-grid accommodation in the Dana Biosphere Reserve.
Though it is easy to find a free hammock or tuck into the delicious vegetarian offerings, come here for the staggeringly long list of activities offered: adventures range in difficulty from relaxing sunset strolls, star-gazing on the rooftop and exploring copper mines to climbing and, yes, mountain biking over the rugged topography (strictly for those endowed with quadriceps stronger than my two toothpicks.)
Local guides can also arrange cooking lessons or – my favourite – a visit with a Bedouin family to prepare Arabic coffee over a campfire and sip sweet tea. These and other community-based experiences (like making kohl, baking bread, weaving or working with local shepherds) help connect guests to the area in lasting, informative ways.
Inspired by monasteries, famous Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash designed Feynan to emanate the ethos of a calm retreat. So, in that divine spirit, leave your cellphone in your bag (for travellers who can’t imagine disconnecting, rest easy, there is Wi-Fi … just not much and not everywhere) and pack a flashlight. Entirely solar-powered, Feynan is lit with candles at night, a dreamy, twinkling sight in itself.
While Fenyan gives visitors access to indigenous Bedouin communities, Beit Al Baraka (Arabic for House of Blessings) connects travellers with the villagers of Umm Qais. Use this charming, laid-back B&B as a base for unique and educational experiences from basket weaving and olive picking to cooking lessons to beekeeping.
Plus, for outdoor adventurers seeking the Middle Eastern equivalent to Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, the new 650-kilometre Jordan Trail is now open, and beginning the hike at Umm Qays gives you a blissfully downhill head-start.