A button is pressed and the curtains magically swish back to reveal the city below. In the morning’s sharp sunshine, the vision beyond is cinematic. The city of Amman, seen from 14 floors up, in the west of the city, positively shimmers. It is an all-white cityscape, made up of endless, low-rise buildings created out of creamy limestone.
The Ritz Carlton, Amman.
The view is in contrast to my surroundings – a sumptuous room in the new Ritz-Carlton, Amman – it is the opposite of the higgledy-piggledy scene before me. The champagne, silver and powder-blue palette gives a refined feel; while piles of velvet cushions, cosy, velour sofas and thick carpets are princely and cosseting. The bathroom is vast and created out of black-and-white veined marble; while the walk-in wardrobe is nearly as big as an average London apartment. Everywhere there are polished floors and glistening chandeliers – it’s a hotel bordering on the palatial.
Views over the city of Amman.
Recently opened, the new hotel stands as one of the most luxurious in Jordan, boasting 34 suites and 228 guest rooms, of which even the standard rooms are huge. While the interiors have a subtle Art Deco feel – with dark wood cabinetry, etched lamps and wall panelling – the overall design by Wimberly Interiors London delves deeper to give gentle nods to the destination.
The refined interiors of the guest bedrooms.
Wimberly drew inspiration from the landscape, the culture and history of Jordan– splashes of blue tones throughout the hotel are a nod to the natural rifts of the sea; and the use of darker woods reference the saturated colours of the earth and the deep crevices of caves and mountains. The breath-taking structures of Petra are reflected in a series of vignettes in the public spaces, while Roman and Nabatean architectural features are given modern reinterpretations throughout the hotel. The floor finishes in the guest corridors pay homage to Jordan’s desert landscape, and the guest-rooms take inspiration from the destination’s natural elements of sand and sea.
The entrance brings the wow factor.
Soleil, with its botanical décor and focus on healthy cuisine, is the perfect place to start your day. There are just-baked breads – such as lemon Coconut Chia Seed Loaf and Rye Sourdough – and Baked Shakshuka Eggs; as well as Acai Superbowls and Chia Seed & Coconut Waffles. Rich, dark coffee comes courtesy of the in-house roastery.
Soleil focuses on healthy cuisine.
For late night decadence, on the other hand, the Founders Room, a cigar and whisky lounge, is modelled on a traditional Gentleman’s Club and emanates an ‘after-hours’ feel, while at Sarab Garden, you can enjoy a traditional shisha experience, along with upscale regional cuisine.
Roberto’s brings a glamorous vibe to Amman.
Found on the 20th floor, however, Roberto’s is already a fixture within Amman’s social scene. The Italian eaterie, with al fresco dining and a resident DJ spinning chill-out tunes, serves Italian crowd-pleasers – from fritto misto to lobster pasta – to a cool, fashion-savvy crowd.
While Jordan might lack some of the pizzazz of other Middle Eastern destinations, such as Dubai, it makes up for it with its four millennia of history, resulting in a rich variety of things to see and do – from the Dead Sea to Petra. Sitting at the crossroads of the Middle East, Jordan’s central location is crucial to this rich history, with the country bordering Syria, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Most of the ruling empires – from the Egyptian to the Ottoman Turkish; Greek to Romans and Byzantines – have left their mark over thousands of years of tumultuous change-overs of power. Critically for tourism today, most of that is now in the past, with the country remaining one of the safest places to travel in the region.
The Temple of Hercules at the ancient Citadel.
Created by the Nabataean civilisation in the fourth century BC, the ancient citadel of Petra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is perhaps Jordan’s jewel in the crown. The ‘lost city’ is a four-hour drive from the hotel, in the southwestern corner of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, but well worth the bumpy ride. The epic ‘Treasury’ – found at the eastern entranceway to Petra, known as the Siq, at the end of two soaring canyons – is perhaps the most photographed monument. In reality, while seeing the elaborate structure is a jaw-dropping moment, Petra is vast, and you can spend hours roaming around the sprawling location. Once a thriving trading centre, it is made up of dozens of tombs and intricate sites, with a reported estimated 15% of the city still said to be uncovered.
The Treasury, Petra, by night.
In contrast, arriving back in the capital city of Amman may feel like more of a low-key and unassuming experience. But perhaps this is its charm? Like Rome, it was originally built on seven hills – although this has now stretched to around 19 – and a wander around the different districts reveals a laid-back, welcoming and bohemian city.
The Temple of Hercules and the ruins of a colossal Roman statue, said to have stood over 13m high.
For a glimpse into the city’s history, the ancient Citadel is the best place to start. Located in downtown Amman, it is found on the hill of Jebel Al Qala’a, and overlooks the Old City, as well as the Roman amphitheatre. The historic site is made up of a 1,700 meter wall that dates back to the Bronze Age, the iconic Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace and the Jordan Archaeological Museum.
From here, a must is a stroll down Rainbow Street, crammed with bars and cafés. For a true taste of Amman, however, make a pitstop at the nearby Hashem Restaurant. The basic yet famous street food restaurant serves such tasty hummus, falafel and fava beans – known as ful medames – that even King Abdullah II is said to occasionally ‘pop in’ when the craving takes him.
Herbs and spices sold in the Old Town.
For a hands-on take on local cuisine, there’s nothing like Beit Sitti, in the hip neighbourhood of Jabal Al Weibdeh. Translating as ‘Grandmother’s House’, it was set up in 2010 by three sisters, in their – you guessed it – grandmother’s house. The unique cookery school – set up to honour her memory – sees you learn how to make traditional dishes, which you later dine on. Best of all, it’s a setting where strangers become friends over handed-down family recipes.
At Beit Sitt, cookery classes take place in a traditional Amman house.
You might be asked to flame-grill an aubergine, which will later be spiced and mixed with yoghurt and garlic to make a mutabbal dip; meanwhile someone else will be given the task of chopping tomatoes, parsley, onions and cucumber to make tabbouleh. The sisters grow many of the ingredients themselves and make their own spices – such as za’atar and sumac. Stories are told as you mix in the seasoning; tasting as you go.
The hands-on camaraderie, while learning about Arabic culture and food, means barriers are quickly broken down, while appetites are nicely grown. The speciality dish is the delicious makloubeh – which means ‘upside down’ – layers of aubergine, cauliflower, chicken and rice, cooked in a pot, which is ceremoniously flipped over once cooked. Served with flatbreads, dips and salad, it’s the Jordanian version of soul food.
Dips, salad and bread – part of the finished feast.
After an hour’s cooking, it’s time to eat, neighbourhood style. You sit on wrought iron chairs, adorned with faded cushions, in the sunshine-blasted rooftop garden. Potted olive trees and tubs of crimson geraniums make it feel almost Mediterranean, until the call to prayer rings out, reminding you that, yes, this is unmistakably Jordan.
After a day exploring, there’s no better place than the cool marble surrounds of the Ritz-Carlton, Amman’s Spa. Bespoke ESPA treatments, thermal facilities, plus indoor and outdoor pools mean that you can totally switch off and lose yourself for a few hours.
The hotel’s ancient Olive Tree – the scene for the ‘Scenography Ritual’.
As the sun goes down, the hotel lights up, in readiness for the night ahead. On the rooftop sits an ancient olive tree – the site of the hotel’s ‘Scenography Ritual’ designed to ‘place’ guests truly in the destination of Amman. While the olive tree is a symbol of Jordan’s peaceful status in the region; the surrounding tea-lights are lit to signify Petra’s unpolluted star-studded skies. Pistachio-coloured macarons are handed out, perfumed with olive oil – a nod to the importance of the ingredient in local dishes – and, with a flourish of a fountain pen, a traditional calligrapher scribes your name in Arabic on card, as a lasting memento of your stay. It’s the perfect love letter to Amman.


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