Chloe Berge
The Kii Mountains at dusk. Photo Courtesy of Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau.jpeg

This Desert Country Is The Ultimate Wellness Destination

 
 
 
 photo credit: jordan tourism board

photo credit: jordan tourism board

 

Travel to JORDAN for a restorative experience

I float effortlessly on my back in the cerulean water. The warm, honey-coloured morning sun warms my face as I soak in a deep sense of ease and lightness. In Jordan’s buoyant Dead Sea, the water’s high salt content means you don’t swim, you float, and after six days on the new Jordan Trail with tour company Experience Jordan, I’m happy simply bobbing along.

Jordan’s Dead Sea was made famous in antiquity thanks to Cleopatra who credited its healing properties for her age-defying beauty. The country’s restorative experiences don’t stop at its shores, however. From traditional Turkish baths and soothing natural hot springs to light, fresh cuisine, the country promises to carry away every last worry on the desert wind. Read on for a few of the wellness highlights from my visit. Plus, learn how and where you can experience the same benefits here in Canada.

 
 photo credit: jordan tourism board

photo credit: jordan tourism board

 

Float in the Dead Sea

I scoop up mud from the Dead Sea’s shoreline, slathering it over my arms, legs, stomach, and face before staggering up the beach, swamp-monster-style, to dry. As I bask in the sun (the continuous evaporation of salt creates an atmospheric haze that filters out UVB rays) the mineral-rich mud tightens on my skin and I swear I can feel its brightening, clarifying effects at work.

After resting along the shore, I make my way back to the water and float out into the sea, rubbing off the last bits of mud and luxuriating in my baby-soft skin. The Dead Sea is chalk-full of minerals like magnesium, calcium, and bromine which soothe skin conditions like eczema and have been shown to put chronic joint pain into remission. At 430 metres below sea level, it’s not only the lowest point on Earth, but also has a higher concentration of oxygen than anywhere else on the planet. (Let’s call it a mini-oxygen facial.)

Make like Cleopatra and get your beauty fix at home with a Dead Sea mud mask from My Organic Zone or AHAVA, or try a magnesium-rich float at Float House in Vancouver and Edmonton or H2O Float Spa in Toronto. Float tanks (also known as sensory deprivation tanks) have benefits that go much deeper than soft skin. They’re incredibly meditative and may help speed up muscle recovery. 

 
 photo credit: miraj hammam spa by caudalie

photo credit: miraj hammam spa by caudalie

 

Indulge in a Hammam

“I have to get the skin off,” says my therapist with an alarming vigour as she scrubs at my legs with a hand loofah. I wince and consider protesting the over-zealous scrub when she swaps the loofah for a hose and washes away the debris. My traditional hammam, or Turkish bath, experience at the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea’s D’Sante Spa began by stripping down to my birthday suit and lying on a high stone slab, like a sacrificial lamb. After a head-to-toe cleansing with locally-made olive oil soap, and the aforementioned scrub, I’m given a robe and escorted to the sauna.

About 15 minutes later, I emerge flushed and dewy. Back in sacrificial position, I’m covered with a purifying Rhassoul mask made from Moroccan clay, honey, and argan oil and left alone for a short beauty sleep. My eyelids flicker open to the feeling of warm water washing the concoction away before I’m patted dry like a baby and doused with orange blossom and rose water. Skin gleaming like polished porcelain and mint tea in hand, I float to the relaxation room in a happy stupor.

Long-haul flight not in the cards? Try a traditional hammam experience at the Miraj Hammam in Vancouver or the Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie in Toronto, which recently reopened its newly renovated space at the Shangri-la Hotel. Lay relaxed on Jerusalem gold marble while an attendant exfoliates your body using black Moroccan soap for the ultimate detoxification treatment. Looking for a DIY exfoliation experience? Try dry brushing which also helps increase circulation and naturally detoxes the body. 

 
 photo credit: Chloe Berge

photo credit: Chloe Berge

 

Spend the night in hot springs heaven

At the end of a dusty, vertiginous road that snakes its way through the mountains—miraculously I do not get sick en route—I arrive at Ma’in Hot Springs Resort and Spa. The resort is a literal oasis wedged between the desert’s sandstone cliffs and tucked far away from the noise of major tourist draws like Amman and Petra.

After decompressing from the drive with fresh mint and lemon juice and traditional mezze on the hotel’s patio, I meander down a leafy, sun-dappled path leading to the resort’s natural hot springs. Once I get over submerging myself in scalding water in the middle of the desert, I slip in up to my chin in the steaming, waterfall-fed pool and let the sulphur-rich water work its magic on my sore muscles. The minerals in natural hot springs have also been found to boost blood circulation and reduce stress, and whether it’s the springs or the desert heat, I sleep like a baby that night.

For extra pampering, head to the resort’s luxurious onsite spa and indulge in a mud wrap. Take a steamy dip without leaving Canada at Hot Springs Cove in Tofino, Kananaskis Nordic Spa in Kananaskis, AB, Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain north of Toronto, or Siberia Station Spa in Quebec City. Hot springs and thermal pools are just one of the reasons Scandinavia is known as the happiest region in the world

 
 photo credit: Chloe Berge

photo credit: Chloe Berge

 

Savour healthy Middle Eastern food

“What do you smell?” says Ruby Ayman as she passes around a spoon full of spices. Peppery notes of cumin and turmeric mix with sweet cinnamon and saffron in the hot afternoon air. I’m in the midst of making a traditional Jordanian feast at Beit Sitti, a cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Amman. Ruby, the school’s operational coordinator, is joined by a local woman, Um Bayan, and together they’re teaching us how to make mutabbal, a creamy eggplant dip, farmer’s salad, which blends tomato, cucumber and heaps of mint, and maaloubeh, an aromatic chicken and rice dish.

Not only was the meal insanely delicious, it was full of good-for-you ingredients like fresh vegetables, anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and cinnamon, and lean protein—and this isn’t an anomaly in Jordan. Most of the food I ate was light, fresh, Mediterranean-inspired fare. With the exception of the strong black tea, to which the Jordanians add towering spoonfuls of sugar, I was hard pressed to find a trace of sweetness. Even breakfast is a savoury affair where olives and hummus are served alongside sliced vegetables and labneh, a thick, velvety fermented yogurt. For more Jordanian flavour, take in the romantic charm of Sufra in Amman, or head to Wadi Rum and try zarb, a Jordanian-style barbeque cooked underground.

Get your Middle Eastern nosh on in Canada at Aleph Eatery in Vancouver, Fat Pasha in Toronto, or Aida’s Bistro in Calgary.