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Treasury hunter; A visit to Jordan's stunning Lost City Of Petra is a must during relaxing break to the Egyptian town Taba.

Byline: NEIL MURRAY

Gazing out over the horizon it is easy to see why the Egyptian town of Taba is known as "The Gateway". Taba sits on the border with Israel in the north-east of the Sinai peninsula. Lazing on a sun-lounger overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba, we could see Jordan and Saudi Arabia across the 20 kilometres of Red Sea that separates Egypt from these two countries.

The Sofitel Taba Heights resort, where my wife Linda and I were staying, is one of five hotels in the Taba Heights complex, which also includes an 18-holf golf course.

We didn't got off to a great start when we were turned back to Manchester halfway into the four-and-a-half-hour Thomson flight due to a "technical issue". We eventually arrived at our resort close to midnight.

But that was the only hiccup in a week-long trip that saw us basking on the beach, enjoying the food and drink on offer in our all-inclusive package - and heading across the Gulf of Aqaba into Jordan to visit the stunning Lost City of Petra.

The Sofitel is a modern resort right on the beach, with six pools (including a sea-water one), three restaurants and a fitness centre.

A cooling breeze took the top off the heat and the sound of the slow wash of waves on the shore had us as relaxed as you can get without being unconscious.

A sudden burst of energy had me heading into the nearby mountains for quad-biking.

Not put off by the warning on the bike - "Operating this ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) if you are under 16 increases your chance of severe injury or death" (well, the age limit hardly applied) - we set off in a single-file convoy into a rock-strewn canyon, surrounded by towering, bleak mountains. After a stop in a Bedouin tent for a cold, soft drink, we reached the end of the trail and did a bit of rock climbing before heading back to base.

We shot back downhill at double time through twists, turns, bumps and grinds.

That evening, the Uptown area of Taba Heights ran its weekly Street Festival, with dancers and the Spinning Man whirling huge coloured "skirts" in time to the music.

The following day was our trip to Jordan's Lost City of Petra. After a 40-minute crossing of the Gulf of Aqaba by Seacat ferry, we passed through Aqaba city before hitting the Desert Highway through the Edom Mountains. Our guide, Meon, pointed out Wadi Rum (the Valley of the Moon), where parts of films Lawrence of Arabia and Transformers 2 were shots.

Reckoned to be the one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is carved into sandstone cliffs and is more than 2000 years old. To reach it, we had to venture along The Siq, a narrow, one-kilometre-long gorge with towering, enveloping walls on either side.

There was a collective gasp of astonishment at our first look at the beautifully-carved Treasury. Forty feet high and said to be the mausoleum of the Nabataean King Aretas IV (9BC-40AD), it is also the subject of one of the famous lithographs by Scots artist David Roberts in 1839.

From there, we passed a row of tombs carved into the cliff face, the Theatre (an auditorium that held 4000 people), the four Royal Tombs and the Colonnaded Street, one of the ancient city's main shopping streets.

All too soon it was time to leave Petra. On the ferry back across the Gulf of Aqaba, we could see the lights of Israeli town Eilat just across the border from Taba.

Then it was back to the Sofitel resort, and the thought of several more days soaking up the sun, doing absolutely nothing... bliss.

Factfile Seven nights all-inclusive at the Sofitel Taba Heights with Thomson (www.thomson.co.uk, 0871 231 3253) flying from Manchester costs from pounds 554. Longwood Holidays (www.longwoodholidays.co.uk, 020 8418 2515) and Peltours (www.peltours.com, 0844 770 9960) also feature the Sofitel from Manchester.

Hot Deals Sharm May 20, from Glasgow, 11 nights B&B at the 3* Sharm Inn Amarein, pounds 394pp.

Sharm May 20, from Glasgow, 11 nights all-inclusive at 3* Luna Sharm, pounds 499pp.

Nile Cruise May 26, from Manchester, 7 nights all-inclusive at 4* Mile Explorer, pounds 738pp.

Sharm June 2, from Glasgow, 7 nights B&B at the 3* Tropicana Tivoli, pounds 475pp.

For more information go to www.barrheadtravel.co.uk.

CAPTION(S):

EGYPTIAN QUAD ... Neil takes a bike ride ROCK STAR ... The Treasury at the Lost City Of Petra
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 25, 2010
Words:760
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