For most visitors, a Jordanian summer can at first be synonymous with sweltering heat — understandable, given the Kingdom’s sandy dunes or below-sea-level shores.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As any native knows, Jordan has some excellent, incredibly cool summertime destinations on offer to help you beat the heat.
My yearly summer visits back home to Amman always start with a sugary treat: nothing says summer quite so refreshingly as a couple of scoops of fusion delights from the Four Winters ice cream shop in the Abdoun neighbourhood. One of its highlight flavours this summer is strawberry and lavender, light and delicate so I feel like I’m in a field of wild flowers. With the exquisite lavender still lingering on my tongue, I make my way to the hilltop area of Weibdeh, one of Amman’s most beautiful spots, filled with pine trees and parks and many varieties of shade-producing plant life.
What also makes this old district a haven in summer and a feast for the eyes is the plethora of art galleries, most of them within walking distance of one another. My personal favorite is the well-established Darat al-Funun, which houses contemporary creations from artists throughout the Arab world plus an extremely impressive collection of books. All of this in a lush 1920s Mediterranean villa, with beautiful hanging gardens, a fountain and a shady café on a wooden porch that all capture the city’s cool breezes.
Heading north-east from Amman for a one-hour drive is the historic town of Al-Salt, which holds beautiful childhood memories for many Amman is. The name of the ancient city, and former capital of Jordan comes from the Greek, meaning ‘thick forest’.
Nestling in the Balqa highlands around 1,000 meters above sea level, it still boasts some of the country’s most beautiful natural scenery of oak and pine. Summer is an excellent season to visit the Mountain Breeze Resort, where you can dine on local cuisine with 360-degree views of the Jelad Mountains. The country club also offers accommodation, which might be a perfect way to make the most of the city’s nature and nearby Ottoman structures — the frescoed ceilings of the Abu Jaber mansion are especially impressive — before heading north for even cooler climes the next day.
A little more than an hour’s drive further north, the verdant hills of Ajloun provide a magnificent summer retreat and are home to some of the world’s most southerly pine forests. Here, the cooler climate (1,200m above sea level) means you can even be active without breaking too much of a sweat.
On top of the hill Jabal Auf sits the 12th-century Qal’at ar-Rabadh (Ajloun Castle), the town’s main focal point, with a long, sloping entrance leading to sturdy, jagged walls and a moat bridge. It’s a refreshing sanctuary with impressive views of the surrounding wadis that lead to the Jordan Valley.
A trip to this Saracen structure is the perfect way to get in the mood for hiking, and the nearby 13km square Ajloun Forest Reserve has winding valleys and walking trails filled with evergreen oak, carob and black iris (the national flower of Jordan). The local animal life is the most thrilling part; my heart always skips a beat at the sight of a roe deer, a local species protected in the reserve by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature.
Having enjoyed the cool, verdant north of the country, a summer trip to Jordan isn’t complete without heading south to Aqaba on the Red Sea’s shores. The temperature climbs a little higher here in the summer, but the startlingly blue waters and surrounding villages offer a vast array of cooling sanctuaries.
Myriad watersport opportunities here range from snorkeling and diving in the Technicolor coral reefs to high-octane jet skiing and fun water polo, with instructors and equipment in abundance. If you’re avoiding the beach during hot afternoons — I tend to follow local practice and take a post-lunch siesta — make up for that in the evenings with a sunset cruise hugging the waterfront, or head to Aqaba’s public beach on Friday evenings filled with promenading locals.
Seafood restaurants along the harbor, or tables out on terraces overlooking the sea, are a perfect end to the day. The flavors of the Mediterranean and Arabian seafood dishes are intense enough to remember your Jordanian summer long after you’ve left the Kingdom.