DUNE BUD­DIES

What a place to park a camel

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | MOROCCO - DILVIN YASA THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF LUX­URY ES­CAPES

There’s a cer­tain el­e­gance to rid­ing a camel through the peaks and val­leys of The Sa­hara desert, Lawrence of

Ara­bia style. Cold sand laps up at your bare feet, a vi­brant scarf flaps around your face and a warm glow from the ris­ing sun paints the dra­matic land­scape a dusty pink.

Of course then you must dis­mount, grace­lessly slid­ing off your spit­ting beast like a drunk on a me­chan­i­cal bull, hit­ting the sand with a thud.

“So my friend, is this ev­ery­thing you said you’ve spent a life­time dream­ing about?” asks tour guide Ali, a vi­sion in white djellaba (a loose, cot­ton tu­nic) wav­ing at the majesty of our sur­rounds like a game show host. Tak­ing in white lux­ury tents spread in clear­ings be­tween the tow­er­ing red dunes and the sounds in the dis­tance of guests woo-hoo­ing in 4x4s, I beam. Oh yes, Ali, how it is and more.

We’re in Mer­zouga Lux­ury Desert Camp, deep within the dunes of Erg Chebbi, Mo­rocco, the mid­way point of a 10-day Lux­ury Es­capes Mo­rocco tour. The itin­er­ary is am­bi­tious, kick­ing off in Casablanca be­fore mov­ing onto the an­cient city of Fez, the dunes of the Sa­hara and the med­i­nas of Mar­rakech – hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres in be­tween and countless stops in an­cient towns, farm­house restau­rants and scenic look­outs.

While many choose to fly out here from Fez or Mar­rakech, we have driven, an eight-hour coach jour­ney from Fez tak­ing in all man­ner of di­lap­i­dated kas­bahs, Ber­ber vil­lages and lush val­leys, palm groves and heart-in-the-mouth moun­tain passes filled with ev­ery­thing from don­keys to trucks. Sleep, when it came un­der a star-spangled sky not long af­ter we ar­rived at the camp, was peace­ful, deep, with just a hint of camel snore.

With camel safely parked, back at the dune where our camp is, the scene laid out be­fore us is spec­tac­u­lar. A bright red car­pet snakes past a camp­fire com­plete with cush­ions lead­ing all the way up to a din­ing tent where staff are busy with a break­fast ser­vice in­clud­ing moun­tains of fried breads, egg dishes, yo­ghurts, fruit and jugs of chilled straw­berry juice.

The five in­di­vid­ual guest tents each of­fer a full work­ing bath­room with scorch­ing hot run­ning wa­ter and elec­tric­ity (cour­tesy of the camp’s so­lar pan­els) as well as a comfy queen bed, ta­bles, chairs, a chest full of quilts and blan­kets (it can get quite cold at night) and bot­tles of icy wa­ter (and un­com­fort­ably hot in the day).

Singer Seal might have in­sisted on hav­ing a gym and TVs in­stalled for the du­ra­tion of his re­cent stay, but most trav­ellers will not want for a thing.

With av­er­age tem­per­a­tures of 45C in sum­mer, there are two sur­prises when it comes to Mer­zouga Lux­ury Desert Camp’s ac­tiv­i­ties list: the first is that “bathing in your own sweat” is not con­sid­ered an ac­tual ac­tiv­ity (we quickly de­duce it well could be); and that there are countless ways to spend time in a land where it all but stops.

Sand board­ing is of­fered and en­joyed, dune can­dlelit din­ners ful­fil fan­tasies, and sun­set and sun­rise camel rides are taken with an al­most re­li­gious fer­vour, but things dial up to 11 when camp owner Jawad El Ghan­nami strides (he never walks) across the sands to take us on a full morn­ing 4x4 ad­ven­ture.

As Lana Del Rey blares from his stereo sys­tem, he takes on the dunes – some up to 150m high – so we’re al­most up­side down and in­side out. I madly tried not to vomit on his ex­pen­sive-look­ing watch. “You love it? You en­joy it?” Ali shouts over the roar from the front pas­sen­ger seat.

“No? We stop.” Far more suc­cess­ful is the visit to a tra­di­tional no­mad camp where mint tea and bis­cuits are en­joyed in the shade of hastily built huts crawl­ing with kids. “We don’t ac­tu­ally know any of these peo­ple, but I think if we ask nicely, they might let us in to say hello,” says El Ghan­nami un­con­vinc­ingly as the tykes come run­ning up to him for hugs.

As we leave, a tour bus pulls in and the jig is up, but by the time we’re eat­ing our bar­be­cue lunch in a lush oa­sis, our skin cracked and white from lack of mois­ture in the air and our hair al­most dread­locked in style, none of us cares. It’s a feast fit for kings and the scenery is spec­tac­u­lar.

As night falls, char­grilled meat plat­ters, pasta dishes, tagines, sal­ads, soups and deca­dent desserts are served in gen­er­ous amounts, re­mind­ing you that eat­ing out here is in­deed one of the high­lights. My ad­vice? Say yes to ev­ery­thing at least once be­fore stag­ger­ing out to the camp­fire where staff wait to en­ter­tain guests with tra­di­tional Ber­ber num­bers un­der a canopy of stars.

Whether you choose to en­joy a post-din­ner aper­i­tif or head to your tent (and hot shower) for an early camel-filled 5am start, take a mo­ment to silently ac­knowl­edge the beauty of the world around you. It re­ally doesn’t get bet­ter than this.

SLEEP, UN­DER A STAR-SPANGLED SKY, WAS PEACE­FUL, DEEP, WITH JUST A HINT OF CAMEL SNORE

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK

En­joy dra­matic desert land­scapes on sun­set and sun­rise camel rides; the treats and com­fort on of­fer pro­vide el­e­gant suf­fi­ciency.

DUNE BUB­BLES

TENTED SPLEN­DOUR

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