weekend away - Petra
Written by Gail Simmons
Petra’s rock-carved tombs, echoing canyons, and ancient temples, were once forgotten by the outside world. Now, the ‘rose-red city half as old as time’ celebrates the bicentenary of its rediscovery.
At the crossroads of several ancient trading routes, the ‘lost’ Nabatean city of Petra was rediscovered by Swiss traveller Johann Burckhardt in 1812. Just a few hours’ drive from Amman and the Dead Sea, this UNESCO World Heritage site attracts visitors from around the globe.
The most interesting and picturesque route to Petra takes you along the historic King’s Highway. Thousands of years ago, caravans carrying frankincense from southern Arabia and silks from China travelled along this road, as did Roman legions and, later, Christian and Muslim pilgrims.
From the Dead Sea, you first climb up to Mount Nebo, where Moses is said to have died aged 120 and where you’ll enjoy the panoramic view across this historic part of the world. From here it’s just a short hop to Madaba and the Byzantine church of St. George, with its exquisite 6th century Mosaic Map.
The King’s Highway then winds through a landscape of vineyards, olive groves, and fertile wheat fields to Kerak, the largest Crusader castle in Jordan. This impressive 12th century fortress with solid ramparts pierced with arrow slits still towers above the town and surrounding countryside.
Next, don’t miss the old Ottoman village of Dana, breathtakingly sited at the head of the Dana Nature Reserve with its array of rare flora and fauna, before reaching another Crusader castle, Shobak. Like Kerak, this fortress fell to Saladin’s armies in the 1180s.
The route continues through increasingly arid and dramatic mountains until you descend into Wadi Musa, the town alongside the Petra Archaeological Park. If you stay here overnight, be sure to wake at sunrise to catch Petra’s famous Siq canyon and rock-carved Treasury at their most silent and magical.
Where to stay
With its atmospheric Arabian interior of inlaid wood, palms, and fountains, the 5-star Mövenpick Resort Petra is just a few minutes’ walk from the Archaeological Park. The hotel has 183 rooms and suites, and a roof garden perfect for viewing spectacular sunsets.
Mövenpick Resort Petra
Before you Go
Pick up a copy of Married to a Bedouin (Virago), which tells the true story of young New Zealand backpacker Marguerite van Geldermalsen, who married a Bedouin from Petra, bringing up their family in one of its many caves. She still lives in Petra, selling souvenirs.