A wonderful but precarious Region.
I have always loved the Middle East. Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. There is so much to see and to do – from culture to adventure, history and beaches. And exotic bazars, delicious food (also for vegetarians)! Also, the climate in winter is very pleasant and you don´t have to fly that long from Central Europe. If there was only political stability in this region! But – let`s leave politics and all the turmoil’s apart and have a look at three cities which I have visited over the past few years. Amman, Beirut and Istanbul. East meets West. Different cultures and religions clash which is one of the reasons why I like them.
Amman - Fascinating Mix of old and new
Amman is one of the most modern cities in the Middle East – although it has a very long history. Here you will find both - the traditional life and a modern lifestyle. The city is built on and between seven hills. Nevertheless, I walked a lot – and I never felt insecure or uncomfortable. Cabs are rather cheap and easy to get. So - why not considering a city break in Amman?
The most striking site is definitely the Amman Citadel with Roman monuments, located on a hill that was already mentioned in the Bible. First settlements date back 7,000 years ago! Rests of a Hercules Temple. Other historic finds have made their way to the National Museum. And many antique relicts have not yet been excavated. From the Citadel you will have a wonderful view over the city which will make the climb worthwhile. You will spot the Roman Theatre which was built from 138 to 161 AD. It still is in a pretty good shape and definitely one of the city`s most stunning sites.
Churches and Mosques in Amman
The Jordan population of roughly 6 Million people is predominantly Muslim. Other religions co-exist mostly in harmony. I was particularly impressed by a beautiful church that stands close to the King Abdullah Mosque which offers space for 3,000 people. This mosque is now the second largest in the country – the biggest one (King Hussein Ben Talal Mosque) is, of course, also in Amman, with room for 5,500 people.
Shopping in the old Souq and a cool Café
There are all kinds of shopping in Amman. Sure, you can go to one of the modern malls with all the international brands. If you look for authenticity and maybe a traditional souvenir, visit the little souq in the old town – and don´t forget to bargain, of course.
How about dinner outside the big hotels? Rainbow Street is the place to go – many private restaurants with patios and great oriental food. Not to miss: Books@café, one of Jordan`s most iconic and revolutionary establishments. This cool place was the first internet café in the Middle East. It stands for peace, tolerance and ... cool people sipping gourmet coffee and enjoying international cuisine.
Highly recommendable: an Excursion to the Dead Sea
Jordan is not a big country. You can easily go on an excursion and see stunning sites and regions, such as fortresses in the desert. I went to the Dead Sea which is less than one hour away from Amman. Impressive when you drive down to the lowest point on earth, you may notice it in your ears. This dry area with its bizarre rocks is quite something. You look over this giant salty lake (well, it`s called a sea...) and spot Israel on the other side (at night you may even see the lights of Jerusalem). For sure you have seen the images of people lying in the Dead Sea and reading a newspaper – the salt content is so high that you cannot sink. And you will not meet any living creatures in the Dead Sea other than tourists, many of them trying to heal or ease psoriasis and other health issues. There are many good hotels on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. I recommend the Mövenpick Resort & Spa – a beautiful Arabian-style complex with vast gardens, various pools (one overlooking the sea), lots of sports and wellness facilities and an excellent cuisine (no wonder, Swiss management...). And you just walk down to a private beach to have a bath (max. 20 minutes – and don`t forget, you cannot swim here...) and put that healthy mud on your skin – wellness at its best!
Jordan`s most visited site, the over 2,000 years old, sort of pink city carved in stone is definitely one of the big wonders of the World. You can easily visit this mystical place in a daily excursion from Amman, driving through spectacular deserts. When done with marvelling ancient architecture, you can walk a few hundred meters and sit down on a big rock in the desert. Take a deep breath and enjoy the silence. Just awesome.
These are just a few suggestions. Go and visit Jordan and use Amman as a hub. Support this country which is so badly hit by the refugee crisis. Hospitality is great here. We are all aware that hardly any place in this world is safe anymore – again, I can assure you that I never felt insecure in Jordan.
Tips from a Local
Majed Balaawi - Director of MICE & VIP Groups at the incoming agency Dakkak Tours International DMC in Amman.
Majed was born in Kuwait in 1969 and has spent 24 years in the tourism business. Living in Amman, he knows his city and all of Jordan in and out.
Here are Majed`s personal Recommendations:
Amman is less than a four-hour drive from anywhere in our country. Make sure to visit our absolute highlights:
The Dead Sea coast in Jordan is one of the most spectacular natural and spiritual landscapes in the whole world.
Orthodox Church in Madaba
Madaba – only 34 km from Amman - and its hinterlands were repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament. Madaba’s real masterpiece, in the Orthodox Church of Saint George, is the 6th century AD mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land – the earliest religious map of the Holy Land in any form to survive from antiquity.
Mount Nebo rises from the Trans-Jordanian plateau and provides a unique natural balcony for a bird's-eye view of the Holy Land and the South of Jordan. If the observer looks to the south, the panorama extends over the Dead Sea and the Desert of Judah.
Wadi Rum, Jerash and - of course - Petra
Wadi Rum - the land of Lawrence of Arabia! This protected area covers 720 square kilometers of dramatic desert wilderness in the South of Jordan – towering weathered sandstone mountains rising out of white and pink colored sands.
Jerash – an ancient city that boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. The city's golden age came under Roman rule and the site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world.
Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the 7 wonders of the world, is the legacy of the Nabateans who settled in south Jordan more than 2,000 years ago. Much of Petra's appeal stems from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge.
Where to stay in Amman
For a city break in Amman, I recommend the Four Seasons, the Intercontinental, the Marriott and the Millennium – all of them in good locations and offering the legendary Jordanian hospitality, mixed with high comfort.
Where to eat in Amman
The Fakhr El Deen Restaurant in Amman is one of the leading Lebanese restaurants in Amman and is one of the few remaining vestiges of its type. It specializes in genuine Lebanese cuisine, offering a wide-ranging menu topped with exceptional service.
The Haret Jdoudna is one of Madaba`s finest eateries - right in the heart of the city and just 40 km away from Amman. Located in a restored Ottoman house, this restaurant features the best of Middle-East cuisine with excellent Lebanese mezze, Arabic-style BBQ "Mashawi" and even Italian pizzas. Sit on the rooftop patio at sunset for an enchanting experience as you listen to the call for prayer from the numerous mosques and churches nearby.
You will find more travel inspirations on the website of Dakkak Tours.
How to get to Amman
Many international airlines (including British Airways, Emirates, Ryanair and Turkish Airlines) are servicing Amman International Airport Queen Alia. For your transfer to downtown Amman, I can recommend the shuttle bus service from the airport.