PETRA - LOST CITY IN THE DESERT
Everyone's fascination with Jordan starts with Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Jordan's top attraction. This remarkable archaeological park carved into red desert cliffs, dates back to the third century BC. Little is known about the inhabitants of this forgotten Nabataean City or the monumental Greco-Roman and Babylonian-style facades they carved centuries before the Christian era. This legendary city against the backdrop of giant red mountains is easily worth a stay of 3 nights.
You enter the lost city through a narrow gorge, the Siq, flanked by towering cliffs. This is done on foot, donkey, camel, horse or in a horse-drawn carriage. The soaring structures, colors, camel caravans and betyls (rectangular carvings depicting gods) set in niches, and the way the light hits the rocks dazzle the senses. After about 45 minutes you reach the end of the Siq where Petra's most famous building, the Treasury, is revealed in all its glory.
This massive rose colored masterpiece, amazingly well preserved, is carved deep into the rockface. If it looks familiar, you may have seen it in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which was filmed in Petra. This marvel is but one of many in this mysterious, hidden capital with hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings. These include the Roman Theater which could seat 3,000 people, Byzantine Church, Colonnaded Street, Royal Tombs, Great Temple, Street of Facades and Triple Arched Gate. For those who like to hike, the ornate Monastery and High Place of Sacrifice offer awe-inspiring panoramas.
The site closes at sunset, but can be seen with the guided tour 'Petra by Night.' Thousands of candles light the way to the gloriously illuminated Treasury where guests are treated to a half hour musical performance by local Bedouins. One of the most magical experiences is to take over Petra for a private event at night. Just you, the camels, haunting melodies, the moonlight and those ravishing ruins. This can be arranged along with other VIP experiences as well as personalized itineraries through Karma House, with their US representative opgworld at 646 284 2454.
Don't miss Petra hot spot, the atmospheric Cave Bar, housed in a 2,000 year old rock tomb just behind the Visitors Center. The popular Petra Kitchen offers a great introduction to Middle Eastern cuisine with guests preparing their own meals working side by side with chefs.
WHERE TO STAY
The Movenpick, ideally located just outside the entrance to the historic city, is the only 5-star hotel in Petra. Opt for the more expensive suites as the standard rooms are minimal. Their fine dining Al Iwan Restaurant, beautifully decorated, serves up excellent cuisine. The property also boasts a lovely tea room, roof lounge and a lobby shop with exceptional Jordanian artifacts and jewelry.
Exquisite WADI RUM
This vast desert landscape provided the setting for the films Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian. Known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is carved into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan, just over an hour's drive from Petra. Amid the red sand dunes, springs and dramatic canyons, marvel at the petroglyphs etched into the cave walls from prehistoric times. A major tourist destination, Wadi Rum captivates with its otherworldly terrain and exquisite natural beauty. With local Bedouin guides, you tour by jeep, camel, horseback or hike. A spellbinding sunset was followed by dining under the stars in a tented camp to the musical accompaniment of an oud. I enjoyed a traditional zarb meal - a tasty barbeque of lamb, chicken and vegetables cooked in an underground pit. Private events can be arranged here that include a show stopping grand piano set in the desert, with pianist playing music from the film Lawrence of Arabia.
While Israel is considered the Holy Land, Jordan is home to numerous Biblical sites, as well. During the Exodus, Moses and the Israelites passed through the Petra area, widely believed to be the spring at Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses. The 6th century Byzantine church of St. George in Madaba contains the world renowned mosaic floor map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. From Mount Nebo overlooking the Jordan River and Dead Sea, Moses saw the promised land. To stand in this very spot, was unforgettable.
The cosmopolitan capital city of Jordan, a fast growing culinary hub, offers visitors a wide array of chic restaurants, trendy cafes and top luxury hotels. Here you'll also find the ancient Roman Ruins at the Amman Citadel. A standout property, the elegant Four Seasons, centrally located on the fifth circle, is perched atop the highest of the city's 7 hills. This 5-star stunner with posh lobby and oversized accommodations done in contemporary décor offers panoramic views. At stylish Olea Restaurant I savored an array of Middle Eastern mezes, luscious lamb and fine red Jordanian wine. I pampered myself with a sublime massage at their Spa, with a superb Thai therapist. At the beginning of 2016, eateries Asia, Vivace and The Square bar will be completely renovated to new venues.
For more information on travel in Jordan, contact the Jordan Tourist Board. www.visitjordan.com