Hotel Of The Week: Adrère Amellal Oasis
On the shores of Lake Siwa, at the edge of the Sahara, stands Adrère Amellal Oasis. Its awesome setting should be enough to please, but the interiors are pretty special too
Once we had turned off the coast road to head inland to Siwa, on the nine-hour journey from Cairo, our driver Atif warned us there would be nothing for the next 250 miles. He wasn't joking - the monotony of flat desert was broken only by a few camels, an occasional military base or a roadside café. But then we arrived at Adrère Amellal, at the edge of the tranquil, milky expanse of Lake Siwa. Stepping out of the car, we were struck by the silence: we had been transported to another world.
Fed by a network of underground springs, Siwa is the largest and most remote of Egypt's desert oases.The local Berber people, who speak a dialect called Siwi, continue to harvest dates and olives and get about by donkey and cart.
The lodge - the idea of Cairo-based environmentalist Mounir Neamatallah - has been designed to rely on solar and alternative energy and recycles all its waste and water. There is no electricity, so at night the atmosphere is magical, with oil lamps, candles, fires - and moonlight.
Adrère Amellal offers a type of pared-back luxury that is more about the experience and less about having rose petals scattered over your bed. This is a place to forget about the outside world, relax and explore some truly unique surroundings.
Adrère Amellal is the Siwi Berber translation for White Mountain. The hotel sits at the edge of the lake, in the shadow of this dramatic monolith of windsculpted limestone, and is surrounded by 75 acres of palm and olive trees.
The comfort factor
There are 39 rooms and an annex containing a further seven. Adrère Amellal proves that being sensitive to the environment and providing stylish surroundings are not mutually exclusive. Simple furnishings are carved from date palm trunks and stone floors are scattered with locally woven rugs - World of Interiors meets The Flintstones. The pool is fed by an underground spring first discovered by the Romans.
If Bulgari toiletries are important, this is not the place for you. There's a shower, loo and basin with Pears soap and beeswax candles.
The food and drink
Most of the mainly organic food is grown in the grounds or sourced locally, so vegetables and fruit are bursting with flavour. Lunch is served by the pool. Dinner is somewhere different every day - one night we dined at a lone table in a grotto studded with salt crystals and candles.
Cairenes, French, Belgians and some British. Prince Charles and Camilla spent two nights here in March.
Visit the remains of the Temple of Amun, the oracle reputedly consulted by Alexander the Great. Wander through the crumbling ruins of the Shali or old town, the Cleopatra Baths and the Mountain of the Dead. The highlight is a 4x4 trip into the desert with the charismatic desert guide Abdullah. Take a dip in a hot spring, career down near-vertical sand slopes and see the sun set over Libya.
There are lots of steps, although some rooms are accessible.
Doubles cost $400 (£205) per night including all meals and drinks. To get here, hire a car and driver, which costs around $550 (£285) return.
Adrère Amellal Oasis, Sidi al-Ja' afar, Siwa, Egypt (00 20 2 738 1327; adrereamellal .net). Abercrombie & Kent (0845-0700 614; abercrom biekent.co.uk) can include a stay at the hotel as part of an itinerary in Egypt.