The land hard up against the Syrian border in the far north of Jordan is hilly farming country, especially beautiful in springtime when a riot of colour covers the fields between groves of olives and figs. The ancient trees around the picturesque village of Umm Qais, perched on the very edge of the Transjordanian plateau, are famed for producing some of the choicest olives in the region, although the village is best known for the atmospheric ruins of Gadara – where Jesus performed one of his most famous miracles – and for spectacular views out over the Sea of Galilee. Below coils the dramatic gorge of the River Yarmouk, which flows west to meet the River Jordan just south of the Sea of Galilee, and which now marks the border between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (Jawlan in Arabic). Travel along the gorge is restricted. Nestled among palm trees and banana plantations below the heights is Himmeh, graced with a laid-back air that belies the Israeli watchtowers within shouting distance. Further east, tucked away in the peaceful Wadi Qwaylbeh north of Irbid, lie the part-excavated ruins of Abila, another of the Decapolis cities, featuring a hillside rock-cut cemetery decorated with Byzantine frescoes.Read More
- Umm Qais
The Yarmouk Gorge road
The Yarmouk Gorge road
Himmeh is as far east along the Yarmouk as you’re allowed to venture, but with your own transport you can head west alongside a portion of the deep and dramatic Yarmouk Gorge (all buses go back up the hill to Umm Qais). The views on this tense frontier road are spectacular (even better looking east than they are looking west), gazing down into the Yarmouk, across to the Sea of Galilee and up to the Golan Heights. Drive slowly and remember you are under constant surveillance here from both the Jordanian army and the Israeli army; although you might be able to snatch a photo or two of the beautiful scenery, or of the wrecked bridge, bombed in the 1967 war and still hanging over the gorge, you may find the soldiers objecting. There are checkpoints every few hundred metres, for which you should always stop and show your passport. After 6km of this you come to a junction where the only option is to turn left, and this road delivers you after another 7.5km to the town of Shuneh ash-Shamaliyyeh (North Shuneh), at the head of the Jordan Valley, a pleasant enough little market town. It’s a short drive south towards Pella.