A sumptuous way to visit one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites
A brass chandelier, like a vast Aladdin's lamp, overlooks a tiled fountain, the centrepiece of a geometric marble floor where Arabesque chairs inlaid with mother-of-pearl stand side by side with Western-style sofas. This is the courtyard bar of the five-star Movenpick Resort in Petra, Jordan, and it epitomises the hotel's relaxed atmosphere and mix of European and Middle Eastern design.
The hotel exists for one reason: Petra - an amazing archaeological site, the entrance to which is less than 100 metres away. The Movenpick is the luxurious way to visit this Unesco World Heritage site. Pity those on a day trip; it's the perfect place to return to after an exhausting and exhilarating day exploring the 2,000-year-old Nabataean 'lost city'.
Breakfast - a generous Western and Middle Eastern buffet, including eggs cooked to order, beef bacon (no pork here), pancakes, croissants and pastries; hummus, pickles and salads - starts at 6.30am to allow keen visitors to get to Petra early. This is important in July and August when the middle of the day is suitable only for mad dogs and Englishmen to clamber up Petra's rock-cut steps - or hang on as a donkey does the hard work.
Tickets for Petra - 50 dinar (HK$550) per person - must be paid for in local currency. There is an ATM in the Movenpick, but it is occasionally out of service and credit cards are not accepted for foreign exchange.
Petra is entered - as it was two millennia ago - via a narrow, 1.2-kilometre crack in the rocks (the siq). If you don't fancy walking, there are Bedouin with horses or horse-drawn carriages. At the end of the gorge, is the 30-metre by 43-metre facade of al-Kazneh (the Treasury) carved into the red rocky hillside.
Petra, with its hundreds of tombs and rock dwellings, can keep you busy for days. One day is just enough to see the highlights: the Treasury, the fabulous terrace of Royal Tombs, the colonnaded main street and recently uncovered Great Temple, the amphitheatre and (808 steps up) Ad-Deir, 'The Monastery', with another immaculately carved facade, topped with a nine-metre stone urn. One last climb takes you to the Nabataean's High Place of Sacrifice, with its stunning views over desert mountain peaks.
The swimming pool and steam room beckon (and if you aren't tired enough, the fitness centre). The pool and sun beds are hidden behind limestone walls, so although this is a Muslim country, guests may wear bikinis. The light yellow stone is the local material - 'cool in summer and warm in winter' - from which the hotel is also built. The interior is stylish and relaxed, with service to match; helpful and attentive but never intrusive.
The colonnaded rooftop bar with cushioned stone benches is perfect for a sunset drink - during cold weather, there's the cosy Bar Al Maq'aad, a real Aladdin's cave of carved wood and golden paintings. Dinner can be a rooftop barbecue or picked from the European-Middle Eastern buffet in the main Suraya Restaurant. The Iwan Restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine among Middle Eastern antiques beneath an intricately painted wooden ceiling.
The 183 rooms and suites are elegantly comfortable with large flatscreen televisions, wireless internet and oversized beds perfect for sleeping off all that sightseeing.
Movenpick Resort, Petra, Jordan
Tel: +962 3 215 71 11; www.moevenpick-hotels.com
Rooms start at 120 dinar (HK$1,310) in low season (winter and summer) and 130 dinar in high season (spring, autumn, Christmas/New Year). Junior suites from 164 dinar, and executive suites from 470 dinar.