Six Senses is an international chain of luxury properties whose distinctive hallmarks are many: locations of extraordinary natural beauty, meaningful experiences, warm hospitality, pioneering wellness, sustainable design. and wholesome and delicious food.
Just recently, the long-awaited newest Six Senses Resort in the world finally opened - Six Senses Shaharut, in a remote corner of Israel's Arava Valley - and it ticks all the aforementioned boxes.
The much-anticipated resort was 12 years in the making, and was built at a cost of more than $100 million. While structural construction used only materials available locally - such as the hand-cut stones in the many handsome, curved walls that characterize the external architecture - no expense was spared in importing exotic woods and artifacts from all over the world for furnishings and interior design.
Great care was also taken to preserve the ecological integrity and landscape of this desolate corner of the Negev Desert. No buildings create an artificial skyline or visibly mar the physical surroundings: guest units were carved into the slopes of a hill, and blend seamlessly into the natural background.
It takes a lot of vision to scout a barren spot in a wilderness and dream that it can become the location of a resort with an international pedigree. It is fair to say that 99% of Israelis have never even heard of Shaharut, a hilltop cluster of nondescript dwellings literally in the middle of nowhere; and there is not even a road connecting the hotel to the village.
Arriving at Six Senses Shaharut can be challenging: the closest airport is the new Ramon International Airport, which primarily serves Eilat, a tourist destination on the Red Sea; from there, a car can be arranged for the 40-minute drive on two-lane roads.
Alternatively, one may make the approximately four-hour drive from Tel Aviv and Israel's primary international gateway; the reward for the time and effort is endless vistas of stunning scenic beauty. Fastest and easiest of all -- if money is no object -- is to helicopter in and land at the resort's helipad.
Upon arrival, guests are treated to a welcome ritual at the Experience Center: a cooling wet towel, a glass of water and some delicious cookies. There is a brief orientation, followed by the first of many rides in electric golf carts that shuttle guests around the property; the friendly drivers of these little cars are on call throughout one's stay.
Your likely first stop is your accommodations, of which there is a plethora of choices at Six Senses Shaharut: 48 suites and 12 villas, to be precise. Moreover, there are three categories of the former, and two categories of the latter, plus the crème de la crème: The Private Reserve, a compound comprising a three-bedroom villa, large pool, indoor and outdoor kitchen, and more.
Suites here are actually large rooms — which can nonetheless comfortably sleep three — while villas are one- or two-bedroom apartments with private pools (albeit sans kitchens). All guest units boast spacious outdoor terraces with comfortable lounging furniture, like day beds; six suites have plunge pools.
The basic amenities here go way beyond what is found in most five-star establishments, which include supremely comfortable queen-sized beds (king-sized in villas); user-friendly, individually controlled climate control; in-room safe (although not large enough to accommodate laptops); flat panel smart TV with satellite and entertainment system; [Marshall] Bluetooth speaker; and unlimited complimentary WiFi and bottled drinking water. In addition, there are elegant wooden ceiling fans both indoors and outdoors, as well as some unusual items that may be used freely during your stay (and purchased thereafter): a yoga mat, tote bag, walking sticks and stylish hats.
The minibar area is elaborately equipped and stocked, with espresso machine and capsules, electric kettle with premium teas, two jars of complimentary cookies, and crystal glasses of all shapes and sizes. Aside from the standard refreshments kept chilled in the mini-refrigerator, there is an impressive bar stocked with full-sized fine spirits.
The bathrooms are no less luxurious, with separate bathtub and shower stall, plus toilet with its own door for privacy; hair dryer; dental and shaving kits; his-and-hers organic cotton bathrobe (again, complimentary use during your stay) and Moroccan-style terrycloth slippers. Sustainability dictates that the combs be wooden, and the aromatic liquid soap, shampoo, and conditioner dispensed from handsome, sturdy containers.
The emphasis on sustainability is evident even in the hotel’s multiple dining venues, where plastic straws are banned in favor of thick bamboo straws. There more or less has to be variety in dining options, because there are no convenient alternatives for going out to eat within a radius of many miles.
The day’s meals naturally begin with breakfast, and the lavish complimentary buffet that can satisfy any taste, from simple to sophisticated and from health-conscious to self-indulgent. There are fresh breads and pastries, as well as hot and cold dishes, all washed down with natural juices and smoothies — plus, of course, freshly-brewed hot coffee. Waiter service satisfying special orders complements the myriad buffet selections.
Lunch and dinner are à la carte, and prepared in accordance with a number of dietary restrictions stemming from Jewish tradition: there is no pork or shellfish on any menu, nor will meat and dairy be cooked together; this “kosher-style” cuisine will satisfy the requirements of most Israeli guests, although it does not meet stricter standards in order to be classified truly kosher.
The casual restaurant here is the Edom View grill, which serves light meals during the day and hosts a weekly barbecue on Tuesday evenings. Its name derives from the beautiful view it affords of the Edom Mountain range in neighboring Jordan.
The fine dining restaurant here is Midian, where menu items are labeled in accordance with a wide range of nutritional alerts, from vegan and gluten-free to sugar-free and containing nuts or other known allergens. The quality of the food here is easily on a par with that in any of Israel’s leading restaurants, thanks to the expertise of the chefs and the care taken in sourcing the best ingredients, from locally grown fresh vegetables to superb beef from the Golan Heights. An appendix to the restaurant is an inviting wine cellar housing premium vintages, where private meals may be catered.
Last but not least, the Jamilla Bar serves not only specially crafted signature cocktails but also an extensive menu of both hot and cold tapas. It shares with Midian a panoramic view of the Arava, whose agricultural settlements have made the desert bloom, along the way creating a patchwork of verdant green against the brown background of desert sand.
Integrated wellness is woven into the fabric of all Six Senses resorts, and Shaharut — with its world-class exercise facilities and holistic spa — is no exception. The fitness gym boasts state-of-the-art equipment, alongside a studio for yoga and meditation classes. There are two swimming pools — one indoor and one outdoor — including a hot water whirlpool and kiddie pool (although the resort does not accept guests under the age of 12).
Whether you opt for a personalized treatment regime under the supervision of the resident Ayurvedic physician from India, or just want a pampering massage, a visit to the spa greatly enhances any stay at Six Senses. A unique dimension is the Alchemy Bar, where one grinds and blends one’s own preferences of herbs, oils and spices to create pleasing botanical exfoliants and soothing compresses. There are single and double treatment rooms, male and female sauna and steam rooms, and even a Nail Bar. Prepare for your visit by perusing the electronic spa menu, accessed either on the resort’s website or via QR code on the camel hump sculpture in your room — the hotel’s commitment to the environment extends to refraining from printing the brochures on paper.
Experiences at Six Senses Shaharut are not limited to the boundaries of the property. Enjoy morning or evening hikes in the pristine immediate environs, mountain trail biking, and — in the near future — horseback riding and camel trekking. Alternatively, venture further afield with off-road 4×4 adventures, or longer excursions to the Dead Sea — and eventually, post-pandemic restrictions, all the way across the international border to visit an amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site: Petra. Finally, escape the planet altogether by participating in guided stargazing in the infinite black sky unmarred by light pollution.