Northern Jordan’s verdant hills are cut through by countless lush valleys. Even in the height of summer, when the hills are baked brown and dry, you’d miss a good deal of the kingdom’s beauty if you neglected the chance for a trip into the countryside. Thick forests of pine, oak and pistachio covered these slopes until the early 1900s, when large areas were cleared to provide timber for the Hejaz Railway, both for track-building and for fuel. Enough survived, though, around the highland market town of AJLOUN – within half an hour’s drive of Jerash – to give plenty of walking and picnicking possibilities in what are some of the most southerly natural pine forests in the world. Use the town – or, better, the rural tourism projects around the Ajloun Forest Reserve nearby – as a base to get way off the beaten track for a day or three, walking silent hillside tracks and exploring the magnificent Crusader-period castle perched among the olive groves.
Ajloun itself (pronounced “adge-loon”), 25km west of Jerash via a beautiful road that lopes over the hills among stands of pine and olive trees, has been a centre of population for a thousand years or more. Marking the centre of the town, 150m along the market street from the bus station, is a mosque that probably dates from the early fourteenth century. The square base of its minaret, as well as the simple prayer hall and carved Quranic inscriptions set into the walls, are original; ask the guardian if he will show you around inside.