Even though our time in the Negev was focused on the nomadic culture of Bedouin tents, we still needed accommodation for our crossover after the first day’s journey, before embarking on the jeep experience…
This excellent 3-star hotel was just what we needed before a raw, rural idyll - an unpretentious but comfortable, central spot. We had no expectations as this lodging was not our main focus, but I was actually quite taken back by the hotel when we got there. Like an oasis in the dusty, dry desert, the lobby is a well-lit, expanse of cool, concrete floors, freshly cut stone arches, modern timber ceilings and a glowing, suspended iron fireplace surrounded by a cosy circle of chairs. There are plenty of scattered lounges and different sitting areas, and the lobby really comes alive at night, when guests stroll in from the dining room for drinks dinner and a late dessert.
The kids loved the relaxed atmosphere and had a ball in the indoor pool - which is framed by beautifully designed stone and glass walls with a high, timber-framed ceiling. It’s a great place to “stop,” or return to after exploring the beautiful desolation of the topography. The focus here is certainly on sheltering from the desert and nurturing yourself, with an exceptionally good fitness centre that has extras like saunas and steam rooms - a huge plus for me, as I love being able to still work out and stay in shape in locations with extreme weather.
Surrounded by the clay hills of the Ramon Nature Reserve, the Inn’s location in the heart of the desert is great - a few minutes drive from the giant Ramon crater and its visitor center at the edge, yet in a small town that’s big enough to be a base for exploring the further outreaches of the Negev. I wasn’t expecting much for the low rates at the Inn and was genuinely amazed at the value; we loved our stay here. I’m awarding The Ramon Inn an extra star!
Even though the suites have a blander, more neutral décor than the quite striking public spaces, they are really comfortable and most families with two kids could bunk into the 2-Room Apartments quite happily (although we tend to get a separate room for the older boys as we all need our own space). There is a kitchenette, a decent lounge and most mod cons - and the pool was a winner for the kids!
The Family Mini Suites would be sufficient for a couple traveling with two children though - if they were small children.
SUITE PRICES: from US$ 220
Apart from following the Spice Route, another great experience we were tapping into was the hospitality and tent culture of the Negev Bedouins. There have been nomadic tribes in this desert for at least 4000 years. The traditions and folk history have been passed down from parent to child, while the Bedouins have always been on the move, tending sheep and goats to survive.
It was now our turn to experience this…
Well in advance of leaving Australia, Gil had quizzed us about the sleeping arrangements and what sleeping bags, pillows and towels etc we needed, - we could order brand new ones still in their plastic, always a good option for me, with my Howard Hughes concerns with cleanliness!!!!
But I was certainly ready to embrace the spirit of the Bedouin campsite when we arrived late in the afternoon.
There were about 6 large tents, a public toilet block with separate Male/ Female showers (with BYO towels). We had to cross the campsite to get to the toilet block and carry a change of clothing with us to the shower, so it was about the same level of comfort as your average caravan park. We were way out of the usual 5-star resort comfort zone, but that’s what we were looking for!!!
At night we sat around a great fireplace…unwound the pipe, smoking the sweet, herbal, apple flavoured “narghile,” and sharing our dessert stories with other weary travelers.
My eldest son, Josh and his teen counterpart, a Bedouin boy bonded in that generational way over their mobile phones, communicating by pointing and looking at downloads, even though they didn’t speak one word of each other’s language, English or Arabic. The boy invited Josh to his home after dinner and it was amazing to see how connection can transcend language - one of the things I love learning over and over again as we travel the world over.
I really loved talking and smoking narghile under the stars (and my boys got a day pass from the usual “no smoking” rule) and entering the other world of our BEDOUIN TENT. An old gas cylinder heater dominated the centre, and large mattresses and pillows were scattered around, providing plenty of cushioning. It’s quite cosy, so you never get a sense of the hard earth underneath. I recommend ordering SLEEPING BAGS in advance with Gil.
I embraced the combination of night skies, open air and fire, while Josh connected with the little modernity that was there, hitting it off with his new Bedouin friend and going off to his demountable caravan in a nearby camp, where there was electricity and internet. During our time at our Bedouin base, Ziv took us on short jeep trips to see the beautiful geological formations in small, quarry-like canyons which were prettily rippled and ridged, and I feel like he gave us a true sense of the different facets of the Negev’s beauty, from its glass smooth sands to rocky jagged edges.
The whole family became attached to the campsite and our nook in the tent. That’s why I wanted to get a taste of how the world was before the new custodians adapt too quickly to the modern world, and certain aspects of their lives are lost to us forever.
We were genuinely sorry to pack up, and reach the end of our time with Ziv as we headed back north towards the DEAD SEA to finish our jeep ride in the MASADA MOUNTAIN district, which is in the higher JUDEAN DESERT. (For a more detailed account of our adventures in this different region on this and other trips, please see DAY TRIPS in JERUSALEM).