Experiencing a new resort that blends seamlessly into the crusty landscape and exquisite beauty of Israel’s southern desert

By Motti Verses

Israelis have mixed feelings about the southern part of their country – the Negev. Names of places like Tze’elim, Shizafon, Shivta or Mashabim are sensitive. They are associated with memories with army uniforms – sand, dust, sounds of gunshots and orders of military commanders. Army drills, or navigating wearing the olive-green clothing that match the scrubby bushes underfoot, the only vegetation that survives under the Negev extreme sunlight, remain fresh in the minds of many.

Regrettably, many Israelis tend to drive through the Negev with a mindset mostly of it being a necessary transit zone en route to the Red Sea beaches of Eilat and the Sinai Peninsula. Enjoying nature in this remote wilderness has always been extremely challenging. Generations that slept here under the sky in sleeping bags or army tents, looked for green landscapes for a vacation. No wonder there are almost no lodging options between the town of Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat. A luxury retreat was until recently, part of the science fiction department.

This past scenario changed dramatically with a vision by one Israeli. A person that was not deterred by prejudiced opinions, extreme weather conditions, distance, logistics and allocation funding support. He decided to redress reality from scratch. To turn the improbable into the possible.

A dozen years ago, entrepreneur Ronny Douek approached young Israeli architecture students. He asked them to research a design for cliff structures that resembles an ancient village of the people who once dominated the desert – the Nabateans. Sometimes luxury is about making a splash and getting noticed, but the architects of the Tel Aviv practice of Plesner Architects – took the opposite route. They created a resort that blends seamlessly into the natural crusty desert landscape and surrounding beauty, harnessing local materials and regional craft like limestone walls, ceramics and pergolas. These drawing board dreams became reality two years ago with a luxury hotel on isolated empty hills next to a small hidden community settlement called Shaharut, located 40 kilometers north of Eilat.

Seeing is Believing. Looking out onto a biblical view of the desert from the writer’s bedroom. (Photo Motti verses)

The Nabateans most famous capital city of Raqmu is known today as Jordan’s Petra –  identified by its stylish iconic architecture.  To realize such architectural ambitions in Israel’s Negev, who would be the most polished chic brand to  – in Zionist parlance – will such a dream into reality?

Douek initiated a partnership with Six Senses Resorts & Spas, a relatively young brand that declares a commitment to community, sustainability, emotional hospitality, wellness and design, infused with a touch of quirkiness.

No doubt that ever since it opened, Six Senses Shaharut literally ‘stands out’ as the most intriguing captivating hotel in Israel. Curious to decipher the ambiguity of a remote dusty wilderness blended with expensive luxury, I found myself driving with the woman I love, Liat, along a  deserted desert road in the southern Negev. It was exhilarating being the sole car on the road. As I drove absorbing the arid Negev’s stark beauty, my mind too was moving along. Thoughts percolated through my mind of what lay before me at the end of this road – a unique hotel that only opened at the end of 2021 during the corona pandemic. It had surely overcome, I pondered, the typical opening difficulties but then again, this was a hotel not in a city but in the desert! I knew there had been changes from the original opening team with a new chief and new chef. Deep within the recesses of my mind, I  heard voices of disbelief about finding genuine luxury on an isolated Negev hill. After a  four hour drive from central Israel, we arrived at the hotel’s main gate.

Carved into the Crust. Not interfering with nature, the hotel unobtrusively blends into the desert landscape. (Photo Motti Verses)

Surrounded by young warm welcoming team members attired in desert colors, we handed over our vehicle keys and after a splendid  complimentary welcome drink, and a quick explanation, we mounted an electric buggy car climbing up-uphill for a tour of the hotel. A hotel? Not really. Guest rooms are hardly seen. They are built in a hidden invisible way to sustain the environment almost as it was from time immemorial. My mind churning over, I could not escape the thought:

This unique architecture must have cost a fortune.”

However, at Six Senses Shaharut, one’s mindset is moved to recalibrate as one takes in the timelessness of the milieu. In this temple of sustainability, ‘things’ are less familiar. We required time to absorb and adjust. From the main structure at the top of the hill, the sprawling Negev surroundings looked stunning. Perched on a cliff, guests witness the almost supernatural panoramic view of the Arava plateau and Jordan’s magical Edom red mountains. This scenery is a far cry from a blue sea or lake. No green meadows with cows in sight. No forests and hummingbirds singing. It is a desert backdrop. A truly jaw-dropping wonder, especially at sunset.

Surreal Sunsets. The writer joins the guests to observe a spectacular desert sunset. (Photo Motti Verses)

We are a phenomenal property that is located directly in the Negev desert with 60 bedrooms that consist of many villas and suites across 46 acres”, says the exuberant native Australian General Manager, Alicia Graham. “If you are looking for a place to relax, disconnect, and enjoy wellness,” says Alicia, “this unique retreat is the ultimate place to be for a total relaxing encounter. We pride ourselves – among other things – for our disconnection from the world. Our wellness facilities offer traditional therapies, signature treatments and personalized programs providing a unique experience for our guests in a unique environment.”

An award winner in the hospitality industry, GM Alicia Graham has “a passion for service and quality”. (Photo Motti Verses)

Burnt umber, cadmium red, ochre and red-violet, not to mention the steely-blue skies all combine for an astonishing palette of color.

The buggy drops us by our stylish well-equipped room with a panoramic view of the desolated hills rich in its inimitable colors – an amalgam of burnt brown, cadmium red, ochre and red-violet, all depending on the journey of the sun during the course of the day.

For a moment I imagined we were staying in a luxurious capsule on a remote planet. The emptiness turned out to be bewitching. Especially in the morning, waking up in the most comfortable bed I have ever experienced, that was surprisingly made of stone. Staying in the wilderness in style, with pampering air-conditioning, a state-of-the-art bathroom, the softest towels on earth, cool amenities and an outdoor terrace, we felt we were in heaven.

Staying Cool.  The outdoor pool can hardly get more inviting. (Photo Motti Verses)

Relaxing by the pool, enchanted by the mountain views, was our daily activity. We didn’t skip the desert temple of rejuvenation – the Spa. In most hotels in Israel, the spa is usually located underground with no natural light – a preference of architects to cut costs. Here at Six Senses Shaharut, the six treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms, hammams, a yoga hall together with a magical relaxation area are all above ground, making visual access of the landscape a top priority. This desert luxurious spa is one of the most impressive spas I have ever seen and experienced. Then there is the exquisitely designed indoor pool – a true masterpiece, for the ultimate in pampering. I suspect it is equally inviting in winter.

Calming Serenity. Where better to indulge oneself with a dip in the inside pool. (Photo Motti Verses)

However, whatever the weather, following the lead of the hotel’s evocative name, Six Senses Shaharut is the place toindulge the fourth ‘sense’ – taste. Eating here is a gastronomic delight amplified by the restaurant settings offering relaxing ambience and beautiful décor. ‘Taste’ carries over with the creative homey furniture compositions. The Jamillah bar and Midian classic restaurant are beautifully designed  to mesh with the awe-inspiring beauty of the surroundings offering the promise of a mouthwatering meal. We were not disappointed.

We enjoyed our magnificent breakfasts there with indoor and outdoor seating that will be cherished.

For dinner, acclaimed chef David Biton, the former Executive Chef of the King David hotel Jerusalem combines the best of Israeli and Mediterranean influences. He talentedly embraces the ‘Eat with Six Senses’ philosophy of local fresh and seasonal produce. Some ingredients are even harvested from the resort’s organic gardens. While not kosher certified, dishes such as pork and seafood are not offered.

I am fortunate to operate first class restaurants and not the food outlets of a traditional hotel,” says chef Biton. “The number of dinners is small and we don’t cater banquets. All the ingredients are fresh and nothing comes from freezers. We use only fresh spices. We guarantee state-of-the-art gastronomy which is hard to find in conservative hotels. Six Senses Shaharut is a green hotel with endless recycling procedures in use as well, which make my professional journey here amazingly exceptional,” he says.

Creator and his Creation. Six Senses Shaharut executive chef, David Biton. (Photo Motti Verses)

What really differentiates Six Senses Shaharut from any other hotel in Israel are the management and employees. This is the only hospitality estate that is almost fully operationally managed by non-Israelis. These professional foreigners are transmitting the Six Senses philosophy after experiencing it before at other hospitality establishments around the globe. None of them – apart from chef Biton – worked in a hotel in Israel before. Their professional mindset is just different. It reflects directly on the employees, most of them young optimistic Israelis, saving money to conquer the world. It was a true pleasure to notice how devoted they are to be part of that pioneering vision to make the Negev desert flourish. Apparently, in the far less inhabited areas, Israel is looking more promising than ever.

‘Far from the madding crowd’ and not a single nylon bag flying in the wind,nature and humanity meet in an extraordinary intimacy that is Six Senses Shaharut that combines ultimate luxury with ultimate sanctuary.

About the writer:

The writer, Motti Verses, is a Travel Flash Tips publisher. His travel stories are published on THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 

And his hospitality analysis reviews on THE JERUSALEM POST, are available on his Linkedin page LinkedIn Israel › motti-verse…Motti Verses – Publisher and Chief Editor – TRAVEL FLASH TIPS

And his hospitality analysis reviews on THE JERUSALEM POST, are available on his Linkedin page LinkedIn Israel › motti-verse…Motti Verses – Publisher and Chief Editor – TRAVEL FLASH TIPS

*Feature Picture: Dressed for the Desert.  It may be hot but the writer looking cool with the magnificent Arava and Edom mountains as the backdrop.(Photo Motti Verses).

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).