Day 1 – 5 October 2018
We depart for Amman – Jordan’s friendly, thriving capital – arriving on Day 2.
Day 2 – 6 October 2018
After transferring to our stunning five-star hotel in the heart of the “White City”, the rest of the day is ours to relax and recover from our flight.
Amman has been inhabited since around the 8th millennium BC, and since then has felt the influence of occupying Ammonites, Assyrians and Persians – not forgetting the Greeks, Romans and, of course, the Arabs; a bustling, brilliant base for the start of our trip.
Day 3 – 7 October 2018
Our action-packed day begins at the Jordan Museum. Here we witness the country’s impressive cultural heritage through a wealth of priceless artefacts. Among the many highlights of this enormous prehistoric collection are the statues of ‘Ain Ghazal from 7250 BC, the oldest human statues ever found.
Our next stop is Amman’s hilltop Citadel, an expansive site and former fortress that has been occupied since the Bronze Age. Here we find the ruined Roman Temple of Hercules as well as the partly-restored Umayyad Palace, a residence built for Arabic royalty in around 720 AD.
Following lunch at the Irak al-Amir Women’s Cooperative Society, we stop at the nearby Hellenistic palace of Qasr Al-Abd.
Tonight we enjoy a private evening of drinks at the American Center of Oriental Research, where we hear all about the latest regional finds from the center’s director.
Day 4 – 8 October 2018
Our destination this morning is Jerash, a city famed for its extensive Roman ruins. This once prosperous city declined under Christian rule, before being taken over by the Arabs. It was abandoned during the Crusades. A guided tour leads us to Jerash’s top spots, such as the Triumphal Arch – built to honor Emperor Hadrian – the colonnaded Oval Plaza, and the Roman Empire’s smallest extant hippodrome.
We take lunch at a local restaurant before continuing on to Ajlun Castle, an Islamic mountain-top fortress erected in the 12th century, purportedly to help control the local iron mines, as well as defend against the Crusaders. Stunning views await us from the top – do not forget your camera.
Day 5 – 9 October 2018
Following breakfast we travel to the city of Umm Qais, and the ruins of Gadara – a site which features in the Bible as the location where Jesus cast demons out of two men and sent them in to a herd of swine. Now a much-visited pilgrimage site, with views across three countries, Gadara still bears traces of its Hellenic settlers, not to mention Roman ruins and those of an Ottoman village.
In the afternoon we make our way to ancient Pella, a city in the Jordan Valley which flourished under Roman rule. Like Gadara, Pella was a member of the famed Decapolis, a group of ten autonomous city-states in the eastern Roman Empire. Excavations here since the 1970s have uncovered a Canaanite temple, a city wall, and evidence of over 6,000 years of human habitation.
Day 6 – 10 October 2018
We depart Amman and spend the morning touring the Desert Castles, a formidable set of Arabic fortifications which historically served a variety of purposes, including commercial and agricultural. Together we track down illuminating frescoes, impressive bathing houses and intricate mosaics – a lasting testament to the might and versatility of the early Islamic settlers.
Pausing for lunch at the Chechen restaurant in Azraq Lodge, we take in more of the Desert Castles and continue to Umm el-Jimal. These amazingly well-preserved Byzantine ruins were founded in the 1st century and rediscovered in the 1800s. Thought to have been a frontier town for caravanning traders, Umm el-Jimal has retained many of its canals, as well as a late Roman temple, and gracefully arched facades.
Tonight we return to Azraq Lodge for dinner, and a night within the 1940s-style rooms of this converted military hospital.
Day 7 – 11 October 2018
It’s time to go off-road: we hop in to our fleet of 4x4s and spend a whole day roaming the martian landscapes of Wadi al-Qattafi and the Black Desert. Here we find a remote hotbed of prehistoric civilizations, where Safaitic tombs, basalt ridges, table mounds, Bedouin campsites, and intriguing ancient rock art can all be found. A thrilling day of archaeological adventures.
Day 8 – 12 October 2018
This morning we set off for the UNESCO World Heritage site of Um ar-Rasas, a former Roman garrison now prized for its masterful Byzantine mosaics. Incredible panels depict scenes of hunting and fishing, as well as important regional cities. Meanwhile its iconic stone towers offer a beautiful reminder of the settlement’s ascetic heritage, having housed monastic hermits in isolation.
We make our way to the market town of Madaba next, a destination also famed for its mosaics, such as the amazing Byzantine map on the floor of St George’s Church. There is free time here to shop and see the sights before continuing on to Shobak Castle. This imposing 12th-century stronghold sits on a wild and open plateau, and boasts secret passageways, carved catacombs and partially reconstructed kingly courts.
Later we drive to Petra, where we check in to our homely base for the next 5 nights.
Day 9 – 13 October 2018
We begin our ninth day at the Neolithic village of Beidha, where excavations have revealed evidence of settlers dating back as far as the 11th millennium BC. Rounded foundations of honey-colored huts nestle against the rugged backdrop of the mountains – a sublime and tranquil scene.
Our explorations continue at Siq al-Barid, otherwise known as “Little Petra”. Here we find an almost suburban array of 1st-century Nabataean buildings hewn in to sandstone walls. Don’t miss the Triclinia, a set of formal dining rooms, or the Painted House, with its decorated interiors – a rare and precious find.
Tonight we have the option to see Petra by night: an enchanting candlelit encounter with one of the world’s greatest wonders.
Day 10 – 14 October 2018
This morning our journey takes us to Wadi Rum, for a whole day in the spectacularly colorful wilderness known as the “Valley of the Moon”. Wadi Rum is Jordan’s largest valley, made famous in part by its links to the writer T.E. Lawrence. Traces of prehistoric civilizations abound in rock art, graffiti and temples. An otherworldly sight. As part of our tour we stop at the Wadi Rum Night Camp for a delicious Jordanian lunch in a traditionally-styled tent.
The culinary adventures continue this evening, as we enjoy a specially catered meal back at the atmospheric site of Little Petra.
Day 11 – 15 October 2018
At last the time has come: this morning we spend the first of two days venturing in to peerless Petra, the “Rose City”, for a full-day touring with our guide and scholar. This is an unmissable expedition to the ancient Nabataean capital; a fortress that historically controlled the region’s commercial routes.
Among the numerous highlights at the treasured UNESCO World Heritage site are the Great Temple with its elegant columns, the magnificent Treasury building, the stately rock-hewn theater, and Petra’s patchwork of ornate royal tombs. The day is punctuated by stops to savor some of the lovely local cuisine. An extraordinary tour with much more yet to come…
Day 12 – 16 October 2018
This morning we return to Petra, taking in a second round of treasures with a depth of detail that few visitors experience. In the afternoon our guides bring the past of El Deir straight to life as we discover Petra’s celebrated monastery: a remarkable monument of classical Nabataea, and the largest building within the whole site.
We round off the day with dinner at a rooftop restaurant, enjoying dramatic views of our surroundings.
Day 13 – 17 October 2018
Our final full day in Jordan sees us making our leisurely way to the Dead Sea region, where we enjoy an eclectic afternoon that includes a trip to a local Women’s Collective, as well as the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth. This modern institution is located at the foot of Lot’s Cave, a site rediscovered in 1991, from which a host of Bronze Age artefacts has been excavated. We get up close to some of them on our tour of the museum, viewing its collection of ancient textiles and pottery.
We break from our travels to float on the hypersaline waters of what is often described as the world’s oldest health resort, a destination favored by King Herod – it can only be the Dead Sea.
Tonight we enjoy a private farewell dinner on the shore, for a chance to breathe the clement air, and raise a glass to the success of our trip.
Day 14 – 18 October 2018
We transfer to the airport and fly home.