The stunning Desert Lodge en route to Luxor has everything the weary green-minded traveler looks for: friendly faces who will welcome you with a glass of delicious hibiscus juice, sustainably-built accommodations modeled after an ancient village, fresh food, and resplendent views of the nearby limestone mountains.
A twelve hour bus ride south of Cairo (travel overnight if you like), the lodge is great for artists or yogi masters seeking refuge from the noise and pollution further north, couples in love, or the single adventurer with a decent budget. Despite its remote location, the lodge offers a smorgasbord of activities that will keep restless children occupied all day, leaving parents free to bask in the desert’s rustic warmth.
Developed by the German-based company Pan Arab Tours, the Desert Lodge in el-Qasr is a model in sustainable tourism. The buildings are made from locally-sourced mud-brick and straw, an organic farm (free of chemicals) produces delicious foul, cucumbers, tomatoes, and the best-tasting apples in all of Egypt.
Water is heated using solar power, which means that showers should be timed carefully. Early mornings, before the sun has gained momentum, and late evenings are not the best time to expect a hot shower.
Food is served at the time of your choosing, but guests won’t have a selection to choose from. Vegetarians should let the staff know their of preferences in advance and they will happily accommodate you. Their local dishes (such as Tehina, Falafel, and Foul) are superb, definitely superior to their western dishes, and the morning eggs are scrumptious.
Snooty people need not come by
Although this is not a five star resort (snooty people need not come by) the service is unreal – especially for an undemanding backpacker such as myself. It’s the little details that count. Every afternoon, after activities and work, I return to my room to find my towels arranged in the sweetest configurations. And the staff remember to hydrate me before I do.
Nearby are desert dunes, ancient ruins, a pottery studio, basket-weavers who do work wonders with palm fronds, and a couple of farms, while at the lodge itself there is a thermal pool enclosed with palm fencing and adorned with bougainvillea bushes, a pool table, a library that stocks titles in several languages, and an outdoor, life size chess “board.” It would be easy to spend a week here (maybe not with kids though). There are also bicycles for rent, and the internet service works remarkably well.
Heart-stopping dune tours
The eco-traveler won’t be alarmed by inevitable cracks in some of the walls, which I’m told will eventually get a facelift. And the furnishings, while very attractive and perfectly comfortable, are by no means lavish. This is sustainable tourism at its best. A relaxing, warm home away from home that not only honors the local culture but doesn’t wear out travelers with archaic formalities.
Perhaps the thing that gets me most excited is the fact that waste is sorted and recycled where possible, there’s nary a plastic bottle to be found, and water is bottled in a nearby spring. The best water you’ll drink in Egypt is available for sale.
Outdoor pathways are illuminated with just the right amount of soft lights. Enough to show the path without ruining the star show above. And of you’re lucky, Abdul Hamid will take you on a personal, heart-stopping tour of the desert dunes and make you a cup of hot tea Bedouin style!
For pricing and more information, please contact the lovely Desert Lodge folks at [email protected]
More on eco-tourism options in Egypt:
images via Tafline Laylin