by Garry Cook (published in Daily Star Sunday)
Historical charm and modern-day splendour, Historical charm and modern-day splendour, IT WAS definitely an out-of-this-world experience – a bit like being on Mars.
Climbing a steep sand dune to see the sunset from the top of a craggy rock, the only indication I was not on the Red Planet was that instead of wearing a spacesuit I was barefoot as I struggled up the dark red sand.
The sunset came at the end of a perfect day in Wadi Rum, one of the world’s most stunning landscapes.
Like a darker, redder Grand Canyon, only more remote and with the added attraction of being inhabited by Bedouin tribes, Wadi Rum is like somewhere you only see in the movies. The fact it has been used as a backdrop for several films indicates how extraordinary it is. David Lean’s Oscar-winning Lawrence Of Arabia was filmed here.
Hidden down a long, lonely road, just 30 miles from Aqaba, it is one of several stunning vistas in Jordan.
Like any journey around Jordan, it takes a while to get to Wadi Rum. Miles from the main motorway, the mountains of Rum are home to ancient rock drawings.
I’m a sucker for a bit of history but these bits of graffiti pale into insignificance when compared to the natural land formations, especially the weathered rock path that cuts deep into the Jebel Khazali mountain.
The local Bedouins have embraced tourism, which now includes jeep rides across the desert floor and traditional tents where tired Western explorers can rest.
But the fun didn’t end at sunset. We took a trip to a Bedouin party at Jabal Rum Camp complete with a traditional feast, which included lamb cooked in a hole in the ground – an amazing end to an unforgettable day.
Jordan’s only coastal resort is Aqaba, the perfect base for wannabe explorers. I stayed at the exquisite beachfront Blu Radisson Tala Bay resort where the levels of luxury are in contrast to the life of a Bedouin.
With sweeping views of Israel and Egypt across the Gulf of Aqaba, the resort is an oasis in a desert land.
The hotel boasts five outdoor swimming pools and three restaurants. And there is no better way to relax than gazing at the sea view from your room.
The day after my Wadi Rum trip I was back on the road with our driver Yousef taking us to a genuine wonder of the world – Petra.
The majestic city, where buildings are carved out of sheer rock faces, was “rediscovered” by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. It was the home of the Nabateans, early Jordanian settlers, in the 6th century BC and was later ruled by the Roman Empire. It also featured in the final scene from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. The steep rock valley walkway to the city, called the Siq, is an entrance like no other as you near the magnificent 40 metre-high Treasury.
My sense of wonder was broken only by the horse-drawn carriages ferrying tourists to and from the temple.
Round the corner from the Treasury, the valley widens to reveal dozens of equally amazing buildings carved into the rock face.
For the serious history junkie the Monastery is a 45-minute walk up 800 steps to a remote mountain top where the views are unbelievable.
They even call the vista looking out towards Israel in the west The End of The World. Of course, adventure does not have to be a two-hour drive away. Just half a mile up the road from the hotel is a quad bike trail.
And what better way to experience the dusty landscape than in the dirt trails on an off-road buggy? Quad biking is brilliant and surprisingly easy. Even the more timid of travellers can give the throttle some welly.
I still find it hard to believe I’ve been to Petra and followed in the footsteps of Nabateans, famous explorers – and Harrison Ford.
Great history coupled with modern hotel comforts, Jordan offers something totally different in a holiday.
FLY to Amman from Heathrow with BMI from £486 return. See ba.com. Fly with easyJet from Gatwick from £257 return. See easyjet.com. Or fly with Royal Jordanian from Heathrow from £495 return. Book via rj.com
ROOMS at the Radisson Blu Tala Bay Resort, Aqaba, cost from £75. See radissonblu.com/resort-aqaba
Thrifty offers return transfers in a private car to Wadi Rum from £75 and to Petra from £85. See thrifty.com/jo
Entrance to Petra is £45. For more details see visitjordan.com
All images © Copyright Garry Cook