As a New Yorker, I don't often see many stars in the night sky. But this past August, in the vastness of the Arava desert, which covers more than 900 square miles of southern Israel, I found myself staring up at a wide expanse of darkness marked by countless pinpricks of light.
I was sitting beside my sister Adina, who lives in Israel. She had traveled with me to the desert to spend a week at the new Six Senses Shaharut. Given that we live on opposite sides of the world, and our reunion had been delayed for two years, the trip was a much-needed chance to bond. Lying in the hotel's outdoor amphitheater, we listened as our guide, astronomer Eitan Schwartz, pointed out the constellations and two glowing giants, Jupiter and Saturn.
Stargazing is just one of the experiences offered at the 60-suite retreat, which is the wellness-focused hotel brand's 19th outpost and its first in Israel. The 46-acre property has views of unspoiled dunes, dramatic rock formations, and the distant red Edom Mountains.
Every evening, the sprawling property glows inconspicuously, thanks to carefully placed light fixtures around the paths. Developer and owner Ronny Douek, who is a longtime proponent of cultivating the Arava, spent years perfecting the lighting, making sure it wouldn't disrupt the dark desert nights. This partnership with the Singapore-based Six Senses group is his first hotel project.
When my sister and I arrived, we were welcomed with iced tea and date cookies at the Earth Lab, a stone building in front of a camel farm. In this bohemian-styled lounge, the resort offers activities rooted in local customs and sustainability. A host led us to a shelf where a glass bowl held a clump of moss and a plant called the rose of Jericho, which resembles a miniature tumbleweed.
"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 over the little brown ball. Almost immediately, the stems started to separate, and we could see that they were lined with small leaves.
"In about four hours, the entire plant will be resurrected, like this one," 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 — of rebirth and perseverance."
We were shown to our room, which had a panoramic view from its floor-to-ceiling windows. I saw subtle ways the natural surroundings were reflected in the décor, like pillows embroidered with a pattern reminiscent of the rose of Jericho.
As much as we wanted to lounge in the room, we knew we should make the most of the on-site activities. The workshops at Six Senses Shaharut all draw on local traditions. We tried palm-leaf basket weaving, took a walk with the friendly resident camels, and did aquatic yoga in the glittering infinity pool.
For the herbal-tea workshop, a staff member took us out to the garden. She pointed out such unfamiliar shrubs as sheba (a slightly bitter wormwood), melissa (lemon balm), and "zuta levana" (a mintlike herb endemic to Israel), from which we made iced tea.
At the spa, Sujeet Kumar Gupta, an Indian doctor who is trained in both ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, leads a staff that performs everything from manicures and facials to multiday cleanses. One afternoon, Dr. Gupta led us through a "sound journey," in which we sat in a dark, quiet studio while he tapped copper and tin bowls with wooden sticks. The vibrations rippled through my stomach, chest, and throat, and out my nose and eyes. I suddenly pictured the last time I had been alone with my sister. Tears sprang to my eyes as I thought about all that had happened during our separation. When we emerged from the studio, I knew the memory of this experience would carry us through to the next time we met.
In the morning, we ventured to a kibbutz called Neot Smadar, which makes the deep-hued organic apricot, plum, and pear juices sold at the hotel café. Established by artists in 1989, the kibbutz is known for its desert farming, award-winning winery, and striking pink tower of art studios.
On our last day, we got up at sunrise for a short hike in what the villagers in Shaharut call the Sculpture Garden — though the "sculptures" are actually natural sandstone formations. I spotted a dried-out rose of Jericho between two rocks. I wondered how long this one had been dormant, waiting for rain so it could be reborn. I looked around and my sister came into view.
The stretches of time without our loved ones — the people who help nourish and strengthen us — often feel debilitating. But after a reunion somewhere as special as this, we're instantly rejuvenated.
Suites at Six Senses Shaharut start from $1,000 per night.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Desert Oasis.