Jordan is one of the most beautiful (and safest) places to visit in the Middle East. While most visitors head straight for the main sights of Petra and the Dead Sea, we found that a visit to the north of Jordan is a chance to see a part of the country well away from the crowds.
Jordan off the Beaten Path
Aside from the caretakers house, there were no other neighbours around. The sun crept over the horizon tainting the hills and grass a golden colour, lighting up the ancient columns in the excavation site below.
We’d come to Pella – a small and remote village in the north of Jordan to stay at Beit-al-Fannan, the House of the Artist. Over the next two days we’d spend time at both Pella and a small town called Umm Qais, getting a bit more familiar with Jordanian culture and hospitality, and learning about the work of our hosts; Baraka Destinations.
Jordan is blessed with many sights of interest to visitors (it’s even been called an open air museum) but we found that most head to the same places: Petra, Wadi Rum, a quick breeze through Amman and maybe a float at the Dead Sea. Amazing though these experiences are, we found that the side of Jordan that made a most lasting impression on us was our time in the north, where we stayed in small communities and spent time with locals. The North of Jordan is also where Community Tourism in Jordan has taken hold, and through which we were able to learn about and experience Jordan on a different level.
Staying in Pella (Taqabat Fahl)
About three hours north of Amman along the River Jordan valley, sits the small village of Pella. Despite holding a unique proposition to visitors, hardly any outsiders make it here. The ancient city of Pella was one of the cities of the fabled Roman Decapolis, and is one of the only places in the world to have shown evidence of continuous settlement for the last 6000 years. Perhaps it’s the next Petra-in-the-making, but for now Pella sees under a thousand visitors per year.
Our stay was at the only tourist accommodation around, at Beit al Fannan. Baraka Destinations have taken over a former artist’s house complete with terraces, day bed and amazing views out over the rolling hills of Pella towards the Jordan Valley. Set up over 3 floors, the house has been lovingly decorated to include plenty of creative touches, and there’s even a mini-artists studio to help awaken your creative side. Which is a good thing too as the peace, quiet and surrounding countryside can’t help but inspire slowing down a bit.
Want to know more about travel in Jordan? Read about our visit to a womens’ cooperative here!
The neighbouring family work as caretakers of the house, and the most amazing breakfast is provided in the morning: expect a table filled with delicious home-baked flatbreads, mezze and fruit to be waiting on your balcony in the morning. We loved Pella as a place to relax and soak up some fresh air, and regain our energy which we would need for discovering our next stop: Umm Qais!
Baraka Destinations run Beit al Fannan as a Bed and Breakfast, bookings and enquiries can be made here. Baraka will be adding Experiences in Pella in the future – expect hikes of the area and plenty of opportunities to connect with the local community in Pella.
Visiting Umm Qais
An hour’s drive from Pella, or two hours away from Amman, lies the quiet town of Umm Qais. Home to a record number of PHD graduates (no one could tell us quite why), Umm Quais lies close to the border with the Palestinian Territories / Israel and the Golan Heights area (Umm Qais is safe and peaceful to visit, travel advisories can be found here).
We stayed at Beit al Baraka which is a warm and welcoming bed-and-breakfast located in the heart of the small town, before setting out to discover the surrounding countryside and meet some friendly locals. We started with lunch at Galsoum’s Kitchen where we cooked upside down chicken and rice under her careful supervision (and encouragement!). We cycled in the summer heat with our ex-miliatary turned cycling enthusiast guide along quiet roads out of Umm Qais and out to stunning view points over the Golan Heights.
We explored the ruins at Gadara – the ancient name of Umm Qais – where remains of a Roman civilisation and an abandoned Ottoman village meet, and heard stories from our guide, Ahmed, who had grown up in a house built from amongst those same stones in the heart of Gadara. We later met Alia, an inspiring entrepeneur with her own weaving business, offering basked weaving workshops to visitors; but had not kept her visions at that. In addition she’d turned her skills to upcycling – such as giving old chairs a new lease of live through woven seats, and she had even started her own handmade soap business.
We loved having the opportunity to connect with people who call Umm Qais home and learn a little bit more about life here. We left back to Amman inspired and a few kilos heavier from the delicious food.
You can find a list of all the experiences that Baraka offer and arrange a stay in Umm Qais here.
Other Destinations in Northern Jordan
Perhaps the best known stop in northern Jordan is the town of Jerash, famed for its Roman ruins and dubbed as the “Pompei of Asia”. Many visitors come here for a few hours but few stay the night (or longer) – Jerash is about an hour from Umm Qais or Pella and is an easy extra stop on your way to/from Amman. Stay tuned for more to come on Jerash in a our next post!
Ajloun, slightly north of Jerash is home to a beautiful nature reserve with plenty of hiking trails to explore. Ajloun castle is nearby but unfortunately our plan to visit was not a success – rumour had it the town was closed due to a royal visit instead 😉
Community Tourism in Jordan
When it comes to tourism that involves and rewards locals, Jordan is something of a trail-blazer in the Middle East. Recently, much has been done to show that there is far more to Jordan than simply desert and Petra (stunning as they are), and showcase a way of interacting more with Jordanian culture.
One of the ways Baraka Destinations promotes tourism that involves local communities is through working in secondary tourism destinations, and designing experiences that are unique for travellers, and match the skills of locals in the area. Where locals have limited experience or exposure to international tourism, Baraka has been working alongside them to develop and train local entrepreneurs to set up their own experiences to offer to visitors. Empowerment is the focus, and entrepreneurs receive support while being free to run their own initiative.
We came away from our time travelling the north of Jordan not only with images of lush (as opposed to barren) landscapes, but of warm impressions of hospitality and a little more insider knowledge.
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