Jordan, Israel's Often-Overlooked Neighbor, Goes Luxe

by  Arabella Bowen | Oct 5, 2009
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea Jordan
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea Jordan / Photo courtesy of the property

Until recently, most visitors to Jordan barreled through the country on day trips to historic Petra from Jerusalem. But a spate of new luxury resorts and sensory experiences—the likes of which Israel has yet to produce—now makes overnighting here a must.

The Evason Ma’In Hot Springs & Six Senses Spa (from $170/night) opened last February at the base of hot springs that, legend has it, King Herod once frequented. An hour’s drive southwest of Amman, the resort provides perks such as an alfresco movie theater, a clifftop restaurant overlooking the Dead Sea, and spa treatments using Dead Sea salt, local dates, and honey.

For visits to the Dead Sea, the prime address remains the 345-room Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea (from $139/night), 34 miles southwest of Amman. Already considered the premier place to float in the sea’s famously salty waters, the lavish beach resort debuted its large and sumptuous Anantara Spa last November.

About 140 miles from Amman, Jordan’s stunning sandstone city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has beckoned to travelers for years. While there, visitors can learn how to prepare classic Middle Eastern dishes like baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and maqluba (a rice-andeggplant casserole) at the 3-year-old restaurant and cooking school Petra Kitchen ($43; reservations required; Afterward, travelers can embark on Petra by
($42), a solemn candlelit walk that culminates in a live music performance before Petra’s iconic treasury building. No luxury hotels have landed here yet, but the unusual Taybet Zaman Hotel and Resort (from $146/night) offers a memorable alternative, with unique rooms set in cobbled bedouin dwellings from the 1920s.

At the southern end of Jordan, the Red Sea town of Aqaba provides remarkable panoramic sightlines of Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The new 201-room Kempinski Aqaba (from $237/night) is a chic place to get one’s bearings. The crisp designer rooms offer sea views and complimentary minibars, and the happening pool scene wouldn’t seem out of place in Miami.

Some essentials to know before visiting Jordan: The $14 entry visa can be purchased on arrival but only with Jordanian dinars. If flying in, as most visitors do, to Queen Alia International Airport, exchange money in advance, as there are no ATMs before the customs gate. Rent a car at the airport and set out on the wellpaved roads. For the most part, clear signs in English and Arabic mark the routes, so security checkpoints are the only quirky aspect of driving along the King’s Highway; just show your passport. Those who prefer not to drive should splurge on the 7-Night Ultimate Jordanian Experience tour from Evason Ma’In Hot Springs. This includes visits to Petra, the Dead Sea, and more ($7,713 for two people).

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