Jaw-dropping Jordan: From Amman and Petra to wonderful Wadi Rum, here is a country for an epic adventure

  • The 400-mile Jordan Trail, a long distance hiking route, has opened in Jordan
  • It allows tourists to retrace the steps of British officer and WWI hero TE Lawrence
  • Also on the route is Petra's most famous building, the 2,000-year-old Al-Khazneh

The donkey police are in pursuit as my hapless steed runs out of control through Jordan’s most popular tourist destination.

As we career towards Petra’s most famous building, a furious official blows his whistle in a bid to make me dismount.

Built by Arab Nabateans more than 2,000 years ago, Al-Khazneh — or the treasury — was the spectacular backdrop to the finale of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. 

Red rocks: Jordan’s Wadi Rum, known as  ‘desert of mountains’ - a popular tourist destination

Red rock: Jordan’s Wadi Rum, known as a ‘desert of mountains’, is a popular tourist destination

But my arrival at the intricately carved sandstone facade is straight from a Carry On farce.

It’s unlikely that World War I legend T. E. Lawrence would have suffered the same ignominy when he visited this wondrous site. As it happens, it’s the centenary of some of his most famous victories in Jordan while leading the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans.

The British Army officer rode out on a more majestic camel before upgrading to an armoured Rolls-Royce. In 1918, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his efforts — a story retold in the 1962 biopic Lawrence Of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole.

TV explorer Levison Wood is retracing some of his hero’s footsteps for a new series. He will also follow parts of the recently opened Jordan Trail — a 400-mile hiking route.

Often overlooked by holidaymakers because of troubles in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, Jordan is now considered safe by Middle Eastern standards. The Foreign Office still warns of a heightened risk of terrorism, but that didn’t stop 65,000 Britons visiting in 2016.

My Arabian adventure begins in the capital, Amman. Once a sleepy village, it’s now a vibrant metropolis. Like most visitors, I head for the Roman amphitheatre, remarkably intact but eerily quiet compared with anything in Rome.

Star turn: Wadi Rum cropped up on camera in the legendary WW1 film of Lawrence of Arabia

Star turn: Wadi Rum cropped up on camera in the legendary WW1 film of Lawrence of Arabia

The city’s Royal Automobile Museum has become increasingly popular, too — an oddball collection of cars that belonged to the late King Hussein. Pride of place goes to a 1915, armoured Rolls-Royce, like the one used by Lawrence himself.

I then drive due south to Petra, three hours down the Desert Highway. The most expensive hotels are next to the historic site entrance, but there are plenty of cheap beds, too. In the summer, the heat is almost unbearable, but horse, cart and donkey rides into the ancient city are just a barter away.

Nearby Wadi Rum is known as the ‘desert of mountains’ and was in the opening scenes of O’Toole’s film. It’s where Lawrence was first sent to meet the rebels he would later lead against the Turks.

Lawrence described it as ‘vast, echoing and God-like’ — although I found the dunes criss-crossed with the tyre tracks of 4x4s which carry tourists among the red-rock gorges.

The best time to visit Wadi Rum is sunset when there are fewer crowds. A camel called Asfour carries me across the sands at dusk.

A blast from the past: Petra should appear on any traveller's bucket list 

A blast from the past: Petra should appear on any traveller's bucket list 

The next day it’s an hour’s drive to Aqaba, at the southernmost tip of the country. Once a coastal fortress on the edge of the Red Sea, it was the stronghold that helped make Lawrence famous. Just over a hundred years ago, Lawrence led a surprise assault on the Turk-occupied fort, which still bears its scars. Otherwise, the rest of Aqaba is a mix of busy souk and high-rise hotels.

After an evening of pulsating belly-dancing on the terrace of the Kempinski Hotel, I head north up the Dead Sea Highway. Expect police checks as the road runs parallel with the West Bank border.

The hypersaline Dead Sea is one of the most unusual places on Earth. Its shores are nearly 1,400ft below sea level and the rich soil grows much of Jordan’s garden produce, but most visitors come to float. I’m not a strong swimmer, but the water is so buoyant, it’s impossible to keep my legs below the waterline.

Looking at the harsh terrain he helped conquer, it’s no wonder Lawrence achieved an almost biblical status among many of his Arab followers. If he had come to the Dead Sea, they might have believed he could walk on water.

Travel Facts

Royal Jordanian (rj.com) flies to Amman from £538 return. Doubles at the Four Seasons Amman (fourseasons.com) from £215; MovenPick Petra (movenpick.com) from £122; Kempinski Aqaba (kempinski.com) from £123. 

 

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