Wed. Dec 11th, 2019

From a desert oasis to Petra’s wonder walls

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Occupying a 2,000-year-old burial tomb in the grounds of Petra Guest House Hotel, it has been carefully re-fashioned into a cocktail lounge and filled with lanterns casting light on to the sandstone walls. Sipping gin and tonics, the sweet scent of hookah pipes swirls around me as I take in its very significant location. It sits at the entrance to Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

With caves, tombs and temples carved directly into the blushing pink sandstone cliff faces, this ancient Jordanian city was once a thriving trading centre and the capital of the Nabataean empire.

But following an earthquake in 363, it became “lost” to the western world and inhabited only by nomadic Bedouins who were desperate to keep it a secret.

That was until 1812 when Swiss traveller Johann Burckhardt “rediscovered” it, tricking his way into the fiercely guarded site by pretending to be an Arab from India.

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Now a popular tourist hub, up to 5,000 visitors a day stream down the long and narrow gorge known as The Siq to reach The Treasury, Petra’s most famous monument.

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SALT SHAKER… Float in the Dead Sea with its 40 per cent salt density (Image: nc)

Featured in the closing stages of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, camels rest outside its six-pillared frontage, awaiting their next passengers while Bedouins mingle with the tourists to hawk their trinkets.

I travelled to Aqaba in Jordan on easyJet’s brand new route from Gatwick. The first non-stop link from the UK, the port city boasting beaches, coffee shops and souks, is part of the “Golden Triangle” along with the tourist hotspots of Petra and Wadi Rum.

Following the five-hour flight, I reboot with a meze dinner of silky hummus, tzatziki and baba ganoush at the luxurious Al Manara hotel.

Located on the shores of the Red Sea, named so because of its high concentration of pink coral, snorkelling is a popular pursuit here.

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