We were met at Amman airport by an Evason Ma'In driver who took us to the resort in a Nissan Pajero 4x4. The hour-long transfer was pleasant if a little hot. We skirted Amman and passed through Madaba before striking out across the Mountain Heights Plateau and entering the small spa town of Ma'in. We passed quickly through a security checkpoint marking the entrance to the Evason and along a driveway to the hotel, where our bags were quickly unloaded and brought inside.
Ma'in is 58km south of Amman, 30km from Madaba and five kilometres as the crow flies from the Dead Sea. It's dramatic, mountainous and 264 metres below sea level. Before you get to the Evason property, you pass several waterfalls which are open to the public on a daily basis, and a small lodging house. Evason Ma'In is a newly refurbished hotel which opened in February this year. From the outside it's a rather ugly, eight-storey, sand-coloured building which sits at the side of a dramatic valley.
Since the hotel is newly opened, and occupancy levels were between 30 and 40 per cent when we visited, there wasn't much atmosphere inside the hotel, including its bars and restaurants. The bulk of visitors seemed to be local families. The spa, too, was quiet but child-free: with its soft loungers around the pool and waterfall and relaxation areas inside its intimate, porticoed walkways, I could have spent the whole day there. On our first day, the outside temperature was 42 degrees and the air conditioning system wasn't powerful enough for us.
The hotel's 94 rooms and suites (plus two royal suites and one honeymoon suite) have been revamped from their previous incarnations with the addition of new bathrooms, floorings and much dark wood, from the beams above the bed to the wardrobes and TV cabinet. "Rustic chic" is the look they're going for and it's just about pulled off; the rooms are spacious and unfussy, with a sofa, coffee table and small desk; beds are comfortable with spongy pillows. All rooms have balconies and the best have views over the picturesque valley beneath the hotel to the Dead Sea. I enjoyed watching the sunset and then the flickering lights of Bethlehem and Jerusalem 40km away.
While there was no shortage of manpower - there was a staff:guest ratio of three-to-one based on full occupancy - the service in the restaurants was so poor that it stressed us out. Our worst experience was at the pool bar, where a simple order of a steak sandwich (US$19; Dh70) and fish and chips ($14; Dh51) took an hour instead of the quoted 25 minutes to arrive, and when it did, the steak sandwich was cold, my drink was the wrong one, we were missing a set of cutlery and my colleague's tartare sauce. Incredibly, it took another half an hour for all this to be resolved - although we never received the tartare sauce. Six Senses management trumpets a "SLOW" core purpose - standing for sustainable, local, organic and wholesome - but here, we felt the philosophy had spread to most of the staff, too.
A selection of tapas ordered on the terrace of the Brown Bar arrived in reasonable time and was tasty if not spectacular. The drinks - mine a smoothie made with fresh apricots, peaches, crushed almonds and frozen yoghurt - were delicious. When I ordered it 48 hours later, however, it came only with peaches and yoghurt, no apricots and almond syrup. We felt the prices - $5.60 (Dh20) per tapas selection and $7 (Dh25) each for the drinks - were just about good value.
Dinner on the first evening was the "zarb experience" at Olive, a tented camp on the side of the valley near the hotel. All the food - chicken, meat and vegetables - was cooked in a traditional Bedouin way in large pits in the ground, while a woman made traditional Arabic bread over a fire and a man played the oud and sang local songs. My colleague and I were barely able to dent the vast platter of meat, rice and vegetables placed before us (coming after a hefty and delicious spread of Jordanian mezze including mouhammara, baba ganoush and fattoush) and we went to bed feeling that at $45 (Dh165) per head it was good value but ever-so-slightly wasteful.
Breakfast in the At the Springs buffet restaurant was a similarly bacchanalian spread of fresh fruit (the local peaches and apricots were fantastic), cheeses, breads, foul and - we thought - slightly unnecessary grill and wok counter. Dinner at the buffet restaurant seemed to suffer from a slight lack of freshness (perhaps due to the small number of guests) and an unfortunate number of flies which saw us swatting our plates and covering our bread basked with napkins.
The view across the valley from my room; the sight - and sound - of the two waterfalls at the resort and the modern, stylish, comfortable and spacious interiors of the various bars and restaurants. The library on the ground floor was snug and had a good selection of books, plus free internet. Best though, was the spa, which oozed decorum and understatement (two floors in a purpose-built stone building, 10 treatment rooms and 10 mostly Thai therapists) was nestled down the valley by a small waterfall and the almost-vertical rock faces of the surrounding mountains. The treatment I had - a sea salt and olive oil body scrub followed by a holistic massage - put me in a trance-like state, after which I sat bathed in the 45-degree heat of the thermal waterfall.
The slow service and hit-and-miss nature of the food ordered. The fact that there wasn't an operational bathroom near the swimming pool, which meant a trip upstairs.
A good hotel in a great location with a great spa attached. Hopefully, the standard of service in the hotel will be raised to cater for for the high standards demanded by the hotel's high-paying guests, so it will be a sought-after regional weekend getaway or a nice stop on a round-Jordan tour.
Until the last day of Ramadan, GCC residents can stay for two nights for $293 (Dh1,076) including taxes and breakfast, based on two sharing. The hotel controls access to Wadi Zarqa; a guided walk to the Dead Sea costs from $73 (Dh270). Evason Ma'In Hot Springs & Six Senses Spa, Ma'In, Jordan (www.sixsenses.com; 00 962 5324 5500). firstname.lastname@example.org