At 1,360 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. Its water is about ten times saltier than the ocean's. The salt concentration in the Dead Sea is 33.7%, whereas that of the Mediterranean Sea hovers between 3.5% and 3.9%. This gives the water buoyancy and regardless of your weight, makes it possible to float on the surface. The mineral-rich waters can also be very beneficial for those with skin problems and other ailments.
Dead Sea Digs
Devoid of all aquatic life, its shoreline crackling with salt deposits and devoid of any vegetation, the Dead Sea is on a very primal level, spectacular. As Highway 90 follows its western shore, it qualifies as the lowest road on the planet. The whole experience is detoxifying on a sensorial level.
Most of the luxury hotels are clustered around Ein Bokek, near the southernmost reaches of the Dead Sea shore. About two miles south are the sulphur-rich Zohar Hot Springs. The resort area of Ein Bokek itself feels a bit like mass tourism, although hotels like the Dead Sea Hotel & Spa do offer a full range of amenities and spa treatments.
Another good bet for Dead Sea spa indulgence is the Prima hotel group's Spa Club Dead Sea Hotel, which has a Moroccan design theme.
Much more interesting than the hotels of Ein Bokek, in terms of authentic Dead Sea experience, is the area around Ein Gedi, which is north of Ein Bokek and the desert fortress of Masada. It exudes authentic flavor, and that's due in part to the absence of big chain hotels. But, it's got the Ein Gedi Kibbutz Hotel, which is a very special place. Now, don't expect culinary wonders from its restaurant (and dining options around the Dead Sea are extremely limited) but the section of the hotel property that has undergone renovations has got to be one of the happiest surprises in Israeli hospitality. These rooms -- be sure to request the deluxe rooms or mini-suites -- are spacious and modern and feature great bathrooms, too.
The Ein Gedi Kibbutz Hotel is set on a bluff overlooking the Dead Sea. A short drive down the entrance road takes you to the Sea of Spa, affiliated with the property, and a long, private Dead Sea beach to which admission is free for hotel guests. There's also a pool and section where you can slather mineral-rich mud on yourself and closest friends, then rinse it off in a therapeutic (if pungent) sulfur-water shower.
Ein Gedi is also known for its nature reserve, a 6,250-acre oasis that like the Dead Sea itself is situated on the Syrian-African Rift. It has four named hot springs and numerous hiking trails. Access to the reserve is denied whenever there is a danger of flash floods.
Into the Negev
Beresheet is not the kind of resort you might expect to find in Israel. It's located in the dusty Negev Desert town of Mitzpe Ramon, about two hours south of the Dead Sea. David Lewis, President of the Isrotel group of which Beresheet is the newest member, says "the name of the hotel, which means 'genesis' in Hebrew, implies a new creation but also reflects an ancient landscape right next to the Ramon Crater."
The what? That's right, the crater, or Makhtesh Ramon, is the world’s biggest crater formed from natural erosion, and a spectacular highlight of the Negev. And Lewis is right: Beresheet couldn't be any closer to the crater without actually being in it. To get an idea, have a look at the gem of a swimming pool.
Beresheet aspires to eco-sensitivity – after you park and arrive, the only way to get around is by electric golf cart or on foot. There are upwards of 111 rooms and suites located in different areas throughout the property. Forty-two suites have their own swimming pools. The restaurant features organic cuisine and a décor that, thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass walls, opens up to the desert views. While the emphasis at Beresheet is on low-key luxury, activity options abound, including a full-service spa, horseback rides and even (soon, anyway) hot-air balloon rides over the crater.
The crater is worth a detour even if you're not staying at the resort. There are look-out points right next to it.
If we can all agree that Beresheet takes desert deluxe to a new level, there's one thing it's lacking and that is the charm that comes with small packages. For that, check into Chez Eugene, a small inn and restaurant run by an enterprising Frenchman. It doesn't have the grand scale of Beresheet, but its handful of posh rooms and upscale restaurant win it high marks for luxury hideaway appeal.
A True Desert Hideway
Scoring even higher on the hideaway front, there's the Nahal Haro'a Farm.This off the beaten path place is located in the Negev Highlands near Sde Boker, where David Ben-Gurion is buried. There are hiking trails that lead to the Nahal Hazaz Riverbed, where you can see cisterns built by the Nabateans some 1,500 years ago.
The farm features only two guest cabins, each lovingly constructed of desert stone by owner Avi Saragosti. There are large picture windows so you can drink up the endless desert views, and each cabin is very comfortably furnished (and the bathrooms.are.gorgeous.). Wake up to a farm-fresh Israeli breakfast -- included in the room price -- with eggs, granola, fresh bread, vegetable salads and yogurts and cheeses from goats' milk from Saragosti's own goat herd.