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Siwa Oasis, Sahara Desert, Egypt
~ courtesy of Viia Beaumanis, special to Billy's House of Charm ~

Where to Stay | Getting There | When To Go | Rates | Snapshots

Adrère Amellal, a compound of ancient, original Berber dwellings carved into a limestone cliff, deep in the Saharan desert. Launched in 1998 by Egyptian eco-pioneer, Mounir S. Neamatalla, and ingeniously handcrafted using local techniques, it’s slowly been expanded into a 40-room hideaway. 100 percent electricity-free—hand rolled beeswax candles illuminate the evening interiors; stairs and walkways torch or lantern-lit—a rustic-luxe mix of Limoges china, antique silverware, Peugeot pepper mills, organic cuisine and hand-woven, burlap placemats sets the tone at mealtimes.

More experience than hotel, at Adrère Amellal you ride black Arabian stallions across the endless dunes that circle a vast, shimmering salt lake. Soak in palm fringed natural hot springs under a starry night sky or wander the desiccated basin of the ancient Tethys Sea, now lined in fossilized, 50 million year old oyster shells and sand dollars. Never been sand surfing? Handsome Abdullah in his flowing white robe drives you to the desert’s highest peaks in his Jeep and waxes your board Afterward, he brews a pot of hibiscus flowers over a small fire as the sun starts setting; colouring the sky the same hue as your tea.

Twenty minutes away by car is one Egypt's most isolated settlements, the region’s namesake, sand road town, of Siwa. Where visitors can pick up beautiful handicrafts, particularly textiles, drink mint tea in cafés in a palm grove oasis with 23,000 inhabitants and a culture unaltered in twelve centuries and tour historical sites include the Oracle of Amon where Alexander the Great was declared a God in 331 BC.

Hard to reach and not inexpensive, Adrère Amellal is known as the ultimate in authentic desert chic amongst intrepid travelers that have ranged Juliette Binoche to Prince Charles.

GETTING THERE: Arriving at Siwa entails an eight-hour drive ($500 return) from Cairo or Alexandria—or a private plane that lands at a nearby military airstrip.

WHEN TO GO: The ideal time to visit is December through March, when it’s coolest.

RATES: $500 - $1500, per night, all inclusive.