As a New Yorker, I don’t often see many stars in the night sky. But last August, in the vastness of the Arava desert, which covers more than 900 square miles of southern Israel, I found myself looking at a wide expanse of darkness, marked by countless points of light.
I was sitting next to my sister Adina, who lives in Israel. She traveled with me to the desert to spend a week at the new Six Senses Shaharut. Considering we live on opposite sides of the world and our reunion was delayed by two years, the trip was a much needed chance to bond. Lying in the hotel’s open amphitheater, we listened as our guide, astronomer Eitan Schwartz, pointed out the constellations and the two luminous giants, Jupiter and Saturn.
Stargazing is just one of the offerings offered at the 60-room hotel, which is the 19th outpost of the wellness-focused hotel brand and the first in Israel. The 46-acre grounds overlook pristine dunes, spectacular rock formations and the distant red mountains of Edom.
Every evening, the vast building glows imperceptibly thanks to lamps carefully placed along the paths. Developer and owner Ronnie Dweck, who is a longtime supporter of arava cultivation, has spent years perfecting the lighting so it doesn’t interfere with the dark desert nights. The partnership with the Singaporean group Six Senses is his first hotel project.
When my sister and I arrived, we were greeted with iced tea and date cookies at the Earth Lab, the stone building in front of the camel farm. In this bohemian-style lounge, the resort offers activities based on local customs and sustainability principles. The host led us to a shelf where a clump of moss and a plant called the Jericho Rose, which looked like a miniature tumbleweed, stood in a glass bowl.
“Even though it looks dead, this amazing desert plant is still alive,” the host said.
He handed me a pitcher of water and told me to pour some on a small brown ball. Almost immediately, the stems began to separate and we could see that they were covered with small leaves.
“In about four hours, the whole plant will be resurrected like this,” he said, pointing to a second specimen with long, wavy strands that looked like seaweed. “The Rose of Jericho is a symbol of the desert itself – rebirth and resilience.”
We were shown to our room, which had panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. I saw how the decor subtly reflects the surrounding nature, like on pillows embroidered with a pattern reminiscent of the rose of Jericho.
As much as we wanted to relax in the room, we knew we had to make the most of the facilities on site. All workshops at Six Senses Shaharut are based on local traditions. We tried palm leaf basket weaving, walked with friendly local camels, and did water yoga in the sparkling infinity pool.
For a herbal tea workshop, a staff member took us out to the garden. She pointed to such unfamiliar bushes as Sheba (slightly bitter wormwood), lemon balm (lemon balm), and zuta levana (a mint-like herb endemic to Israel), which we used to make iced tea.
At the spa, Sujit Kumar Gupta, an Indian physician trained in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, leads the staff who perform everything from manicures and facials to multi-day cleansing. One day, Dr. Gupta took us through a “sound journey” in which we sat in a dark, quiet studio while he tapped copper and pewter bowls with wooden sticks. Vibrations swept through my stomach, chest and throat, as well as through my nose and eyes. I suddenly imagined the last time I was alone with my sister. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of all that had happened during our separation. When we left the studio, I knew that the memory of this experience would carry us to the next meeting.
In the morning we went to a kibbutz called Neot Smadar, where they make rich organic apricot, plum and pear juices, which are sold in the hotel cafe. Founded by artists in 1989, the kibbutz is known for its desert farms, award-winning winery, and stunning pink tower of art studios.
On our last day, we got up at dawn to take a short stroll through what the people of Shaharut call the Sculpture Garden, although the “sculptures” are actually natural sandstone formations. Between two stones, I noticed a withered Jericho rose. I wondered how long this one had been dormant, waiting for rain so it could respawn. I looked around and saw my sister.
Periods of time without our loved ones—the people who help nourish and strengthen us—are often debilitating. But after reuniting in a special place like this, we are instantly rejuvenated.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 2022 issue of the magazine. Travel + Leisure under the heading Desert oasis.