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Tue 24 Aug 2010 04:00 AM

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Jordan rocks

Think of Jordan and what automatically springs to mind? Petra of course. But there's so much more to offer your clients in this fascinating country. Monika Grzesik went to Jordan to find out what.

Jordan rocks
Jordan rocks

 

Think of Jordan and what automatically springs to mind? Petra of course. But there's so much more to offer your clients in this fascinating country. Monika Grzesik went to Jordan to find out what.

 

Mention Jordan and for most travel agents two things will automatically spring to mind: Petra and the Dead Sea. And while it's true that Petra is without doubt one of the most spectacular sights in the Middle East, and the Dead Sea, one of the most unique, there is so much more to discover in this fascinating country.

 

At some of Jordan's lesser-known places you can explore the rock formations at Wadi Rum, see Roman ruins at Jerash; find sun, sea, sand and diving on the coast at Aqaba, not to mention a captivating combination of ancient and contemporary life in Jordan's vibrant capital city of Amman.

 

"For many visitors, Jordan is only Petra but when they visit they are surprised to see that Petra - which is indeed a world wonder - is only a gateway to what Jordan offers its visitors," says Saed Zawaideh, regional marketing coordinator Jordan Tourism Board (JTB).

 

JTB is now making a major effort to ensure that the country's other attractions are not overlooked by tourists, with a branding strategy focusing on six diversified experiences; history and culture, leisure and wellness, fun and adventure, religion and faith, eco and nature and MICE.

 

"‘Jordan Takes You Beyond', is our slogan and how we brand Jordan," says Zawaideh. "JTB has been marketing Wadi Rum as an adventure destination for adventure and nature lovers, Jerash which is the most preserved Roman city outside Rome, Ajloun which combines both the nature and history experiences, and many more touristic sites within our 11 international representative offices," he explains.

 

"The government is also providing facilities and resources to make tourism a more developed sector with infrastructural developments such as different category hotel facilities and enhanced roads and services."

 

Last year, according to JTB, Jordan received around 1 million visitors from the GCC region, with the majority arriving during the summer months. "We are noticing an increased interest in Jordan from neighbouring countries such as Syria and Lebanon, so we are focusing now on attracting more visitors from there," adds Zawaideh.

 

Amman

 

Amman, the capital of Jordan, is a fascinating city of total contrast. On the one hand, Amman is a modern, progressive Arabic city with trendy bars, cafés and restaurants and a buzzing nightlife. But you don't have to look hard to find evidence of the past, all over the city, such as the ancient Roman Citadel which looks down on the city from its position on Jebel al-Qala'a, the highest hill in Amman.

 

Unlike cities in the Gulf, glass skycrapers are few and far between. The architecture in Amman has a traditional feel as local law dictates that all houses have to be built from the same local stone in a uniform white colour to a certain height.

 

The overall feel of the city is laid back and liberal. In the evening cafes in the downtown area come alive, and although Jordan is an Islamic state, the country is proud of its ethnically and religiously diverse population. Jordan is a very tolerant country and alcohol can be bought freely. Top things to do in Amman include a visit to the Royal Automobile musem, and a visit to the downtown souks.

 

Where to stay:

 

Le Royal Amman (+962 6 460 3000 / www.leroyal.com ); Le Meridien Amman Hotel (+962 6 569 6511 / www.lemeridienamman.com ); Landmark Amman Hotel & conference Centre (+962 6 560 7100 / www.landmarkamman.com ) ; InterContinental Jordan (+962 6 464 1361 / www.intercontinental.com ).

 

Jerash

 

Just 40 minutes drive from Amman, the city of Jerash is one of the best preserved examples in the Middle East of an ancient Roman city. With its triumphal arches, majestic theatres and half fallen columns Jerash has survived incredibly through time. In ancient times, Jerash had a population of about 20,000 inhabitants and its citizens prospered from the agricultural land surrounding the city. The city is so well preserved, that wandering round the ruins, it's very easy to imagine life there 2000 years ago - the centre bustling with shops and merchants, the thousands of spectators seated on the stone steps of the hippodrome. You can even see ancient track marks from carriages in the stone.

 

Not to miss is the daily Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) staged by the Jerash Heritage Company at the Hippodrome The show runs twice a day (11am and 3pm) everyday except Fridays and features forty-five legionaires in full armour displaying drill and battle tactics, ten gladiators fighting to the death and Roman chariots competing in a classical seven lap race around the the ancient hippodrome. www.jerashchariots.com .

 

Ajloun

 

For clients looking to escape the daily grind and really get back to nature, a visit to Ajloun Nature Reserve should be added on to every Jordan itinerary.

 

Located north of Amman in the Ajloun highlands - with its rolling hills, pine forests and olive groves the 13 square kilometre reserve is reminiscent of Mediterranean hill country. The views over the Jordan valley are awe-inspiring, and it's possible to encounter all sorts of wild animals in the forests, from Roe Deer to birdlife, as well as explore ancient sites, local villages, water mills and forts dotted around the area.
The reserve is managed and protected by The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Visitors can camp onsite at the reserve or stay in eco-friendly cabins in the middle of the forest. The accommodation is fairly basic, but entirely adequate for a few nights. And without phones, TV's, cars, roads or any real noise except the sounds of nature this is the place to get away from it all and immerse yourself into the utter tranquility of nature.

 

Activities on offer at the reserve include hiking through the woodland on various nature trails (guides from RSCN are available to take visitors around) and visits to local RSCN community projects such as a calligraphy workshop (where local women will show you how to write your name in Arabic calligraphy) and an organic soap-making house. All the proceeds of these projects go straight back into the local community. www.rscn.org.jo .

 

Aqaba

 

The city of Aqaba is situated at the most southern part of Jordan and lies on the most northern tip of the Red Sea - on a clear day you can see Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

 

Jordan's Red Sea coastal resort has long been a favourite weekend destination for holidaying locals (as well as with Saudis who can drive across the border just 30 minutes away). But Aqaba is now transforming itself into an international resort offering sun, sand and some of the best diving and snorkelling in the area.

 

Millions have been invested into luxury hotels in Aqaba including the impressive, luxury Tala Bay resort where you'll find a number of five star hotels including the Hilton, Radisson Blu and Movenpick among others; as well as a marina, beach club and diving club.

 

The temperate climate and gentle water currents in Aqaba have created a perfect environment for the growth of corals and a teeming plethora of marine life. There are several dive centres in Aqaba offering well-maintained diving equipment, professional instructors, and transport by boat to a variety of dive sites.

 

One of the major attractions of Aqaba is its climate. The temperature rarely drops below 20°C even in winter, while in summer the cooling sea breezes make the soaring daytime temperatures much more bearable, making it a year-round destination.      

 

Other sites in Aqaba are the Archaeological Museum, Mamlouk Fort, the Aqaba Marine Science Station and Aquarium, and the remains of what archeologists believe is the world's oldest church. Aqaba International Airport is just a 20-minute drive from the town centre and has flight links to Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Kuwait.

 

Where to stay:

 

Tala Bay is a new and exclusive residential community situated 15 minutes outside of the city centre and 20 minutes from King Hussein International Airport. Luxury hotels in this development include Radisson Blu Tala Bay Resort (+962 3 209 0777 / www.radissonblu.com ), Movenpick Resort Tala Bay (+962 3 209 0300 / www.moevenpick-hotels.com ).

 

Wadirum

 

Offering some of the most extraordinary desert scenery you'll ever see Wadi Rum is a definite highlight of any visit to Jordan. This desolate stretch of desert was made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. It is home to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom - a range of mountains that inspired his autobiographical novel of the same name, and is also the setting of the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O'Toole.

 

The scenery at Wadi Rum is utterly spectacular, with stark, craggy mountains looming up over the billowing red sand dunes below. Watching the sun set from the top of one of the huge rocks is quite a dramatic experience.

 

One of the most striking (and impressive) things about the tourism industry at Wadi Rum is how utterly untouched the landscape is. Wadi Rum is strictly protected and controlled and a huge effort is being made towards conservation. Everyone has to register at the visitors centre before going into the desert. There are no hotels and no development to spoil the landscape and it is essential to have a guide. Mine explained to me how seriously sustainable tourism is viewed by Jordan's royal family - who actively support organisations such as the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).

 

Jeep tours are the easiest way to get around Wadi Rum. But for the more adventurous camels can be hired. Hiking is also possible with a Bedouin guide. There are two "easy" trails leading from the visitor centre, one short and one much longer.

 

A night spent at Wadi Rum is the ultimate desert experience. Visitors sleep in a traditonal Bedouin goat haired tent, or outside under a blanket of desert stars and enjoy typical Bedouin hospitality including shisha and Arabic tea under the stars. www.WadiRum.jo .

 

Where to stay:

 

Captain Desert Camp is a Bedouin campsite offering accommodation in goat haired tents and traditional Bedouin meals around a camp fire, as well as jeep and camel tours. www.captains-jo.com .

 

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