Siwa Oasis: Egypt’s little-explored gem
If you are dreaming of getting off the beaten track in Egypt, this extraordinary fertile basin, in the remote Western Desert, is the stuff of your imagination. Lying on average 18m below sea level, the isolated Siwa Oasis is dotted with olive groves, palm trees and warm, clear springs, and bordered by the Great Sand Sea that rolls into the distance. Passing through the mud-brick hamlets is like winding back the clock, with as many donkey carts as motorbikes and cars crawling through the streets.
Your desert dwelling here is Adrère Amellal, a destination in itself. Situated at the foot of the White Mountain beside a salt lake, this is a hotel like no other. Constructed in 2000 using local materials such as salt rock and clay, it rises from the amber-hued wilderness like a rocky outcrop, merging seamlessly with its surroundings. This is not somewhere to come to be pampered – the no-frills rooms are simple but comfortable and the eco-lodge has no electricity and relies on water from one of the area’s 200 springs – but it’s a magical place to escape from the modern world. After dark, the candlelight conjures up a romantic atmosphere. There are no locks on the doors, making it feel like a home from home.
Despite its proximity to the Libyan border, this remote hideaway is safe to visit. Located 560km from Cairo, even getting there is an adventure. The journey takes about eight hours by road via Alexandria or Borg El Arab; otherwise, a more expensive option is a one-hour-15-minute private charter flight. But it is entirely worth the effort: Siwa is a world away from the crowds of Upper Egypt. Instead, it is a slow-paced, quiet retreat where you can rest and recuperate, wiling away the hours by Adrère Amellal’s spring-fed swimming pool.
There is a great deal more to do here too. Guests can visit the ruined Fortress of Shali, which was built in the 12th century by just 40 men. In addition, the Temple of the Oracle, dating back to the reign of Pharaoh Amasis II, who ruled between 570 and 526 BC, has astounding views of the oasis. You can also set out on an exhilarating 4WD and sandboarding escapades in the Great Sand Sea, which stretches from western Egypt to eastern Libya, or go horse-riding in these otherworldly surroundings. Finish any outing with a restorative dip in the 29°C Cleopatra Spring, or ‘Spring of the Sun’, an amazing experience.
Another reason to come here is to encounter a different culture. The people of Siwa, Egypt’s only Berbers, are unlike other Egyptians, with their own traditions and language. The small House of Siwa Museum offers a closer look at local life through handicrafts such as jewellery, decorative plates and embroidered clothes.
Siwa Oasis is a wonderful place for the more intrepid traveller wishing to break away from the trodden path. A stay here will be etched in your memory forever.