Running through Syria and Jordan to the Red Sea, the King’s Highway is one of the world’s oldest and most “romantic” thoroughfares – “as legendary and evocative as the Silk Road”, says Stanley Stewart in the FT. Used since prehistoric times, it has carried monarchs, saints and heroes, from the Queen of Sheba and John the Baptist to Richard the Lionheart and Lawrence of Arabia.
And its geography is as astounding as its history. The road runs on a plateau to the east of the Great Rift Valley, where the earth splits dramatically to create a “gothic” landscape of escarpments and precipices, “convoluted” canyons and “dizzy” heights where eagles soar.
To take in some of the most remarkable sights in relaxed fashion, drive south from Amman in northern Jordan to Aqaba on the Red Sea, giving yourself a week and staying at small, locally run hotels along the way. From the ruined palace of Herod Antipas near the village of Mukawir (ancient Machaerus), you can see the domes of Jerusalem “glinting in distant sun”. Desert winds moan between the broken pillars of the banqueting hall where Salome is said to have danced for the king, demanding the head of John the Baptist as her reward.
And scarcely less atmospheric are the vaulted halls of Karak, 50 miles to the south – one of the most impressive of Crusader castles, a “chiaroscuro labyrinth” sitting astride a sheer-sided spur of rock. Leave your car and walk the last ten miles to Petra if you can, hiking across a “colossal empty landscape” and along the natural valley through the rock that leads to this ancient city, with its spectacular hidden temples and tombs carved into towering sandstone cliffs. And stop again to wander among the rock formations of the desert valley of Wadi Rum – “vast, echoing and god-like”, in the words of T.E. Lawrence.
Original Travel has an eight-night trip from £2,850 per person including flights, car and driver