February or March is the time to go to Petra (Rick Lighthelm)
Article Words : Matthew Teller | 17 February

Go now! Amman, Jordan

Varied, lively, unpretentious: the Jordanian capital makes for a short break to remember – and it has Petra on the doorstep

Why go now?

On 27 March, easyJet launches a new low-cost route to Amman from Gatwick, starting from just £106 return, including taxes and one piece of cabin baggage. In practice we’ve found it hard to locate fares below £135 – but that’s still less than one-third the usual fare on the ‘legacy’ carriers Royal Jordanian and bmi.

Bargain flights aside, spring is also a perfect time to visit: temperatures are toasty but not scorching, wildflowers are out and low sunlight draws a kaleidoscope of colour and texture from the desert rocks.

A long weekend

Start out in Amman, seeing the grand Roman theatre in the city centre and exploring the ruins atop Citadel Hill nearby, but also taking in the bustle of the streets and souks. For a cultural breather retreat to the National Gallery and Darat Al-Funun arts centre, or take in the dream machines at the Royal Automobile Museum, before a sociable evening among the cafés and craft shops of buzzy Rainbow Street.

Three hours south by bus or rental car lies the world wonder that is Petra (petrapark.com), a 2,000-year-old city of tombs and temples carved into the sandstone cliffs of a rugged mountain valley. Clear a full day to absorb the majesty of this vast, endlessly explorable site.

A week or more

Detour north to the Roman city of Jerash and the highland forests at Ajloun, where you can overnight in cabins amid the olive groves, then head down to the luxurious spa hotels on the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Take in more magnificent landscapes at the Dana Biosphere Reserve and the spectacular deserts of Wadi Rum, haunt of Lawrence of Arabia, on your way south to Aqaba, for superb snorkelling and diving among Red Sea corals.

Where to stay

Luxury chain hotels abound in Amman; a characterful top-end alternative is the Al-Qasr Metropole. Midrange options include Bonita, six cheerful guesthouse-style rooms above a Spanish restaurant. The budget-minded could try the clean and comfortable Palace, set amid the Downtown bustle.

To stay or camp in the nature reserves at Dana, Ajloun and elsewhere in he country, contact Wild Jordan. The tranquil, isolated Feynan Ecolodge is well worth seeking out.

Where to eat

Wild Jordan has a great café – with amazing rooftop views – in its info centre. Or aim for wonderful Arabic restaurants such as Fakhr El-Din, Zad El-Khair or, in nearby Madaba, Haret Jdoudna.

Getting there

EasyJet will fly Gatwick-Amman three times a week from 27 March. Royal Jordanian and bmi both fly daily from Heathrow.

Five key Arabic phrases

Assalaamu alaykoom – formal greeting
Walaykoom assalaam – the response
Marhaba – hello
Shukran – thank you
Ismi… – my name is…