Even though it looked beautiful, I wasn’t excited about the hike; 16-kilometers in an admittedly beautiful but hilly valley through the Dana Biospehere in Jordan. Getting older I’m learning that I have certain limitations and a 16-kilometer hike through the desert seemed to be high on that list. But, as usual, I was wrong and also as usual, I was thankful not just for the hike but where it finished – at the remarkable Feynan Ecolodge.
I’m all for sustainable travel, but I also like luxury and it’s not often that the two are married and very few around the world do as good a job as Feynan in Jordan. Routinely named amongst the best ecoresorts in the world, staying at the Feynan Ecolodge is unlike any other experience I’ve ever enjoyed.
The first thing I noticed arriving at night was how dark everything was. Approaching along the trail I expected to see the hotel lit up in a blaze of lights amongst the desert hills, but that’s only because I hadn’t done my research. You see, there are no lights at Feynan and that’s just the start of their eco-friendly ways. More properly said, there are no electric lights at Feynan, instead the rooms and common areas of the resort use candles, candles made by local Bedouin families as a way to create not just environmentally sustainable practices, but cultural sustainable ones as well. It was the perfect introduction to the ethos and philosophy of Feynan, a place that consistently surprised me.
Conceived of and built in the early 2000s, the design of Feynan was inspired by local traditions. In centuries past, camel caravans passed along the same routes that are still close to Feynan and they routinely stopped at small desert inns, restocking and resting before continuing onwards along the Silk Road. Known as caravanserai, the builders wanted to create the modern equivalent while drawing upon the traditions of the past.
Everything about Feynan Ecolodge was built with sustainability in mind, from the stone slabs used to regulate temperature even in the middle of the summer heat to offering economic opportunities to the local Bedouin tribes who really do still call the hills and mountains of the Dana Biosphere home. Looking around the resort I was amazed at all of the sustainable touches found everywhere. What little power Feynan does use comes entirely from solar panels on the roof. There are no wires connecting the property to anything, it is as off the grid as you can get. Cooling and heating are both done naturally through the design process and the water comes from a local spring. That also means there aren’t refrigerators and thus there’s no meat, so that the experience for visitors is a healthy one in addition to being responsible. Almost everything used is produced with the help of the local tribes, from the soap to the candles and countless other little items most guests won’t notice. But what about that guest experience?
Being sustainable is great, but ultimately people visit in order to enjoy themselves, to be on vacation. As I learned during my brief time there though, this dedication to sustainability doesn’t hinder the guest experience, instead it greatly amplifies it. My first thought about being in the middle of the desert was that there wouldn’t be anything to do. In reality, there are almost too many activities from which to choose, all of which combine to create a wonderful visitor experience.
Dozens of hikes and walks around the hotel are available, featuring everything from the natural beauty of the desert terrain to an old copper mine in the area and even some archeological sites as well. I was surprised to learn that biking is also popular amongst the guests, visitors testing their mountain biking skills around the nature reserve that the Feynan Ecolodge calls home. Perhaps most important though are the local community experiences available, opportunities to learn more about the culture of the people who have called the area home for generations. Learning about Bedouin traditions, hanging out with a shepherd for the day, even cooking classes are all designed to bring the visitor into close contact with locals, instead of separating them as so many other resorts try to do.
Feynan can also be relaxing though; this is a vacation after all. The lodge itself has many community spaces to lounge in and for those chilly desert evenings there’s a fireplace and board games. A favorite activity though is watching the evening sky. Feynan is off the grid and in the middle of nowhere, so there is no light pollution allowing visitors to see the night sky in a way that may be totally new for them. Expert guides lead guests through a tour of the heavens from the roof of the lodge, arguably the most popular activity at Feynan.
Rooms are of course though at the crux of the guest experience, and the 26-rooms of Feynan are all designed with comfort in mind. Comfortable beds, lounging areas and balconies are a little utilitarian, but infinitely comfortable and relaxing. It may take you a night or two to get used to the candles at night, but once you do you’ll understand not only are they environmentally sustainable, but they add a certain ambience that makes staying at Feynan so very special.
Of course you don’t have to trek those 16-kilometers to reach Feynan, more traditional vehicle based options are available for guests who stay at the ecolodge. But no matter how you get there I can promise that after a few days you’ll never want to leave and instead will wonder how you lived this long without experiencing something as special as a stay at the Feynan Ecolodge.
Have you stayed at an ecolodge before? What was your experience like?