Six Senses Shaharut luxury resort offers a Negev oasis with unlikely neighbors

It’s a winding two-mile drive on a single-lane road to Six Senses Shaharut, Israel’s newest luxury resort, and for good reason: this oasis was designed to be one with the serene desert landscape that surrounds it, and it is, with every pebble and rock.

The carefully constructed desert retreat’s 60 suites and villas, spa, pools and restaurants were carved into the mountainside overlooking the Arava Valley, with the Edom Mountains on the other side of the valley. and the small village of Shaharut just above the hill.

Owner Ronny Douek initiated this project by approaching the architecture department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design ten years ago to research the optimal design for this clifftop space, with the aim of to create buildings that seem to have existed here for centuries, a sort of reclaimed Nabataean village.

There had long been a government plan to build a commercial hotel on the moon-like landscape, but the original ideas were for a “much larger, less luxurious Club Hotel-style venue that would look like it had landed on the Mountain”. said Thomas Fehlbier, managing director of Shaharut.

Instead, Douek and his partners invested $100 million in the design and construction of the station, working closely with architect Daniella Plesner to create structures that blend with the surrounding natural elements, carving out the limestone and local flint as building materials, constructing low buildings that blend together. perfectly with the desert and the surrounding formations.

They wanted the station to be part of the landscape, both for sustainability reasons and to avoid the wrath of the station’s closest neighbors in the nearby village of Shaharut, a 30-year-old community of 164 who deliberately lives as far from the grid as possible in a quiet stretch of desert.

It was not easy to build in a mountain. They had to hide the pipes and other structural elements without creating drainage odor issues, Fehlbier said.

The outdoor pool overlooking the serene expanses of the desert at Six Senses Shaharut, which opened in August 2021 (PR Courtesy)

It took time, said Fehlbier, who lives in the village with several other station staff, but villagers are more accepting of the station now than they were a decade ago.

Douek and Plesner incorporated the expertise of several Shaharut residents into the design and construction of the site, with its carved wooden ceilings, massive teak doors and finely carved ceramics made by village artisans. A Pilates instructor and other spa professionals also live in the village, Fehlbier said.

That said, there are just as many residents of Shaharut who are unwilling to engage with the station at all, he added.

“They moved here for a purpose,” he said. “They wanted to live in the middle of nowhere and they don’t need to walk around with a branded bag from Shaharut.”

And there’s certainly a branded feel to the luxurious cliffside desert oasis.

How did Six Senses end up in the Negev?

Douek’s collaboration with global wellness group Six Senses came midway through the decade-long construction process.

“You can say that I believe in the universe because it [Ronny Douek] showed up with the project that was so on brand for us,” Six Senses CEO Neil Jacobs said in an interview recorded for The Times of Israel.

Douek owns Six Senses Shaharut, although the resort brand, owned by InterContinental Hotels Group, franchises its hotels.

“Normally we get involved before there’s a shovel in the ground,” said Jacobs, who met Douek in New York about five years ago. “I kind of stood up and said, ‘You’re a brave man, and there’s no other mark for this property because what you’ve built is a Six Senses. “”

If Jacobs is more involved at Shaharut than at some other Six Senses resorts, it’s because of his roots.

He grew up in Jewish north London, and his father had briefly left England to fight in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, instilling in him a lifelong love for Israel and an abiding interest in how the country has changed and grown.

He plans to create an Israeli circuit of Six Senses accommodations, with several other Six Senses resorts built over time in other Israeli regions and cities, all completely different from each other.

For now, Six Senses begins with this Negev resort town, where every tasselled cushion, wall hanging and Moroccan lamp has been overseen by Duek and Plesner, according to Fehlbier.

Each of the 60 suites at Six Senses Shaharut has been designed to feel like a private cottage, accessed through a teak door, with dreamy cream shades and a platform bed placed in the center of the room for maximize the view from the ground. ceiling window of the rippling lines of the desert and the deep blue sky above.

There’s not much privacy in the regular suites for guests traveling with a child (12 and older are welcome), who may sleep on the sofa bed located under the main bed. There’s also little extra space to open a suitcase, but there’s plenty of room in the luxuriously appointed bathroom, where a stand-alone tub offers full desert views; shampoo, conditioner and bath gel are in non-disposable brass dispensers in accordance with Shaharut’s sustainability program.

One of Six Senses Shaharut’s private pool villas (PR Courtesy)

Outside, a stroll along the resort’s quiet, smooth stone walkways is a meditative experience, overlooking the Zen-like raked stone gardens, sitting on occasional benches carved from reclaimed teak wood and gazing out- above the low, curved walls constructed from local stones, hand-picked and stacked to resemble ancient Nabataean architecture.

Guests can head to the outdoor pool and spa complex, stretch out on cushioned loungers by the sea foam-tiled pool, and dine al fresco on the poolside grill during the warmer months.

Inside the spa is a freshwater infinity pool, as well as a full range of treatments, separate men’s and women’s steam rooms, yoga and Pilates classes, and an alchemy bar to blend the scrubs to take home.

For the more adventurous, there are camel rides and treks in the desert, walks in the herb garden and stargazing at night in the starry sky. And for those who prefer to dine out or get a massage during the warmer months, Shaharut has a fleet of mint-green Hummer electric golf carts, driven by staff members.

At mealtimes, a short stroll along smooth tadelakt aisles leads to the teak-ceilinged dining room of the Madian Restaurant, with a menu of free-range meats and fresh Mediterranean fish (Shaharut n is not kosher; no shellfish are served, and the meat and milk are not mixed).

The Six Senses Shaharut’s Midian restaurant, where dinner and breakfast are served (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The dinner menu created by former King David Hotel executive chef David Bitton emphasizes seasonal produce and fresh herbs, much of it grown on site and from local farms, although it is not does not yet offer revolutionary culinary achievements.

Breakfast, however, is a stellar experience, well worth stopping by, with freshly squeezed juices and shakes, a buffet of local cheeses, eggs cooked to order with homemade bread and cooler salads, which can include an impressive side of roasted pumpkin. drizzled with tahini or a platter of chopped herbs, sprinkled with toasted walnuts.

In the Jamillah lounge next door, there’s easy and comfortable clubbing with deep leather sofas and chairs, shelves of travel books and a collection of turntables and vinyl records of the owner’s favourites.

Guests can enjoy pre-dinner drinks and snacks here, seated on the large veranda overlooking the twinkling lights of Jordan, or can dine more casually over cocktails, grilled burgers, and sandwiches.

Service with a little too much familiarity

One of the challenges in providing all of this Six Senses luxury, given the level of service expected when rates start at $1,000 a night (including breakfast), was identifying the right staff who would be willing to live up to it. at the end in the desert. Eilat, the nearest town, is an hour away by car and longer by public transport.

The resort, like many other properties in the south, decided to hire young Israelis fresh out of the army.

“We took people fresh out of the army, who’ve never been to a five-star hotel, and they make every possible mistake but with a smile,” said Fehlbier, who previously ran the David Intercontinental in Tel Aviv. to come to Shaharut.

The indoor freshwater pool at Six Senses Shaharut, part of the spa complex (PR Courtesy)

Younger Israeli staff members certainly inject a more laid-back tone, conversing easily with guests — sometimes a little too familiarly — though they might have a harder time describing a dish or suggesting which wine to pair with lamb. They have also been known to leave a guest standing outside their room, waiting in the hot sun for a ride.

“The Israeli way of doing things is not especially suited to hospitality on our side of the market,” Jacobs said. “It’s a challenge, and that’s on top of where we are, which just isn’t for everyone.”

The luxury resort has done its best to make it work for its young employees, who are housed in a nearby kibbutz and commit to working at the hotel for at least six months. Fehlbier is practical about the time it takes to train hotel staff and hopes some of them will become addicted to resort work.

In fact, Shaharut is probably the only hotel in Israel with a waiting list for staff, according to Fehlbier. (There was also a waiting list for its first guests last August, with some booking a room three years before the hotel opened.)

It is proud of the accomplishments of its first-time staff over the past eight months, as most guests at the resort have been Israelis since the hotel opened in August 2021. Israel only recently lifted its coronavirus restrictions and welcomed foreign tourists back.

“I’m very grateful for the Israeli crowd we had, because Israelis are the toughest customers you can imagine and it can only get easier from here,” Fehlier said. “Having said that, I think we are ready to welcome international guests.”

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