I give many lectures each year on different destinations and someone in the audience always asks me, “What was your most outstanding trip?”
My answer is "Petra."
To be a Middle Eastern specialist, I had to take numerous examinations, and my final one was an all-day class in Amman, Jordan, and my certificate was given to me by the Minister of Tourism. Before taking the exam, I took a week’s tour to some of the most spectacular places on earth.
There are many reasons to visit Jordan, the spiritual allure of the Dead Sea, the coastal resort charms of Aqaba, the historical and mesmerizing city of Petra, the cosmopolitan and cultural attractions of Jordan’s stunning capital, Amman.
For food lovers seeking new culinary charms, the Middle East locale is fast becoming a must-taste destination.
In Jordan, people eat mezze style, small plates filled with bite-sized samples of hummus, falafel, tabouleh, rocket salads, fattoush and more.
If you haven’t seen olives being made into olive oil, you have been missing out on one of the most aromatic, delicious and inspiring experiences. Jordan is the world’s eight largest producer of olive oil.
I would not go to this part of the world on your own. Definitely join a tour. Many of the tour’s visit Israel, Jordan, and perhaps Egypt. You can save as much as 44 percent rather than booking everything yourself.
The main highlights of a trip to Jordan are Amman, which is built on seven hills and from the top of the citadel you see a wonderful panorama of the whole city.
The highlight of downtown is the restored Roman Theatre. Thousands of years of biblical history reveal themselves along the King's Highway at sites on the east bank of the River Jordan, including Mt. Nebo and a church dedicated to Moses.
Staying at the Dead Sea resort was a wonderful spa opportunity.
In Jerash, see theaters, churches, temples of Zeus and Artemis, a Nymphaeum and colonnaded streets. It is one of the best preserved ancient Roman cities in the Middle East
I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel in Petra, which was breathtaking to visit. Petra is chiseled out of deep-hued rose, purple and crimson limestone, and sandstone. With the sun shining on the rocks, the valley looks like a rainbow.
It was a hidden, or lost city, until it was discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer, J.L. Burckhardt. He had heard of the mysterious city hidden among impenetrable mountains, and during one of his several expeditions in the Arabian desert, and in order to justify his search for that forgotten city, he disguised himself as a Muslim (he spoke perfect Arabic) wishing to make a sacrifice on the tomb of the prophet Aaron which he knew was in that area. It was said that there was hidden treasures in the valley. It was carved out of the rocks by the Nabataean people in 6 B.C.
If you didn’t have a local guide, you would never find the narrow opening in the gorge, which is about five feet wide. It is seven miles to walk in down this narrow passage, and I came out on horseback led by a Bedouin.
There were very few tourists on the day we were there. I was with another American who had been taking the exam, and a guide from the Tourism Board. It was extremely cold, you needed gloves, hat, and scarf. All the Bedouins were all so wrapped up against the icy wind you could only see eyes.
This was an all-day adventure: The walk into the valley, at 5 a.m., and then exploring all the Royal Tombs, the stadium, and the highlight of it all, the Treasury, which left me speechless. It was a long walk, with a lot of climbing over rocks.
I don’t think there were ten people in the valley, and it was magnificent scenery and rather spooky. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Pink City of the desert is well worth visiting but you definitely have to be fit, and carry in your own food and water.
We stopped the next day at Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and visited a Bedouin camp. A tall Bedouin asked me if I was British, and I said I was a mixture, Welsh mother, Scottish father. He went and got his wife, and she dressed me in a typical Arab outfit so all you could see where my eyes. I had my photo taken with him, and sent it to my mother saying “I have found a rich bloke in the desert”.
It was a long drive across the desert, and I could see palm trees and a lake in the distance. This was my first experience of seeing a mirage.
Petra is an unbelievable experience.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure