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Tag: "Movenpick Hotels"

To Aqaba!

The Red Sea, Aqaba

The Red Sea, Aqaba

Aqaba is Jordan’s only seaside town, perched on their tiny foothold of coastline at the north of the Red Sea, and like so many places in Jordan, it is an ancient place now bought up to date in true Jordanian style. In recent years Aqaba has evolved into a funky seaside resort with this typically Jordanian mix of old and new, all helped by the glorious weather and great diving. One day we met up with one of Suzi’s sons, Amer, and he was in surfer shorts and would have looked perfectly at home in Newquay, which is very different from the way people dress elsewhere in Jordan.

In biblical times it was a historic port, which was originally known as Ayla and was where King Solomon built his navy. It is also the site of what is thought to be the earliest purpose-built Christian church in the world. Not much of a fuss is made about it’s origins however (again, typically Jordanian, probably because of their abundance of such riches!) and we could see it’s modest remains from our suite’s window, just across one of the main (and pretty busy) roads in Aqaba.

One evening I was fascinated to see a Bedouin in full traditional dress coolly leading his camel down the pavement on the hotel side of the road. He waited for the traffic lights to change, led his camel across the dual carriageway, made it kneel so he could mount, and then off they loped across the edge of Ayla’s ruins towards the Red Sea.

Aqaba is also a tax free zone, so we bought spices, jewellery and luggage, silver charms and beautiful beads (which are bought by the gram) and, as ever on this trip, we were given lots of presents by shopkeepers. One such gentleman ran a gift shop called …  and he looked very like Omar Sharif and claimed to have been in a film with him, which was true if the picture of them together on the wall was anything to go by! However, the quality of handicrafts elsewhere was generally superior in many cases, especially in Wadi Rum, around Madaba and in Jerash in the north.

Experiencing the coral reefs and getting close to the abundant aquatic residents is a must in Aqaba, and one of the main reasons many people visit (you can fly straight here from the UK). We opted for snorkelling as the girls hadn’t learnt to dive, and it was the most amazing snorkelling I have ever experienced,  just hanging over the vivid coral reefs a metre or so below and watching the fish and animals darting in and out of the coral and living their lives.

The Movenpick Hotel was, once again, fantastic. We had a suite with a balcony, and the pools were amazing, as was the beach. Our room lad was an Egyptian called Hani and he made our towels into swans and crocodiles to entertain us – bit like napkin art for dinner parties, but with towels!

Breakfast was monumental and there was a beautiful terrace on which to eat it, complete with resident black cat and her five kittens, which we soon realised they were not just tolerated but encouraged when the staff shook out a table cloth on the unused tables to get the kittens to emerge for the entertainment of the children one morning.

We had dinner at sunset one evening at the beachside restaurant, where I had grilled Sayyadiaah with a surprisingly good ‘Petra Winery’ Pinot Noir, another surprise in a country full of them.

Aqaba tips

• The town has got an international and laid back vibe near the waterfront, but this is still an Arab country, so modest dress is advisable for women, especially if you are renting an apartment in the residential areas.

• If you stay at the Movenpick in the centre of Aqaba, they run an hourly shuttle bus to Movenpick Tala Bay, where you can go snorkeling off the beach.

• The town is a duty free zone, so is a good place to stock up on jewellery, gifts and spices to take home.

• For the best diving, book yourself a day trip on a boat: contact Ash at Dive Aqaba (www.diveaqaba.com). His stepdad, Rob, who founded the school, is English and the instructors are the friendliest and most experienced bunch in town.

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The Dead Sea and The Zara Spa, Jordan

The Dead Sea, looking from Jordan across to Israel

The Dead Sea, looking from Jordan across to Israel

There is nowhere on earth quite like the Dead Sea. As we drove down from Madaba the vista opened out as the road switched back and forth as if we were in the Alps (it descends roughly 750m in 25km – your ears pop more than once on the way down!), past vineyards and olive groves, avoiding the goat herds grazing by the roadside – and often across the road, and YOU stop for THEM – and past traditional camel grazing areas and, with ears still popping, down to the very edge of the Dead Sea.

They say you can’t burn here as the minerals that evaporate from the sea filter the sun’s rays, and I can believe it.

You can taste the minerals in the air and see them as you look at the intense blue water, which shines like a highly-polished mirror and gives you a peculiar close up clarity of the West Bank at certain times of the day, as if you are viewing it through a camera lens.

The scrubland is punctuated by river gullies bright with flowers and olive trees in groves, herds of multi-coloured goats, and camels ‘parked’ by the side of the road, tied to lamp posts as their owners take shelter to eat their lunch in the shade of the nearest olive tree.

The grazing lands alongside the Dead Sea are the summer residence of many Bedouin families – the tents are large family affairs made of brown, black and grey woven goat and camel hair blankets, while the 4x4s parked next to them are all equipped with television aerials, a true blend of modern and traditional!

We stayed at the Movenpick, one of the Dead Sea resorts, an oasis of luxury that despite its international status (it is part of the Swiss chain) has an authentically Jordanian feel, complete with traditional-style stone houses, and gardens of ancient olive trees, bougainvillea and oleander. It was utterly gorgeous and we had a huge suite with a balcony, a ‘help yourself’ mini bar, and a bathroom well stocked with delectable spa samples, such as Dead Sea mud and salt scrub, much to the girls’ uncontainable excitement!

The Movenpick boosts two infinity pools and a private beach where you can smother yourself in Dead Sea mud (don’t put it near your eyes – as Cecily did – it stings like crazy, and avoid cuts and grazes as well) and then wash it off while floating in the weird buoyantness that is the Dead Sea (walking on water anyone…?). The cliched newspaper reading would have been a doddle to be honest.

Minerals are extracted from the Dead Sea as part of Jordan’s core industries and used in a variety of beauty products, and the Movenpick also has the Zara Spa as part of its amenities, where you can get traditional Dead Sea therapies, such as mud wrapping, salt scrubs, hydro-pools and algae facials as well as a range of contemporary treatments, such as shiatsu massage. It was just a shame that the girls, being under 16, couldn’t join me.

Dead Sea tips

• Drive there from Madaba – the view is breathtaking as you descend down the side of the mountain past Mt Nebo.

• Try the spa treatments – children under the age of 16 can experiment with the complementary products in the suites.

• Careful with the Dead Sea mud, it stings if you get it in your eyes or if you have cuts or grazes

• Go floating! This is one experience you’ll never repeat anywhere else!

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