Thursday, 20 June 2013

An Oasis in the Desert

As those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, the hubby and I recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. It was our crystal anniversary apparently, though we didn't buy each other any crystal. We got some bowls for our wedding which we rarely use and don't need any more thank you. Instead we treated ourselves to a very rare 24 hours away without the kids. Living abroad, away from our families, that never happens. Ever. Except when lovely friends step in and look after our kids overnight. Hurrah!
Of course Mister Handmade in Israel got a card too. He's not a big drinker but is rather partial to a glass of sweet fizzy wine. The Italian Sparkletini is our current favourite. We're very classy. Yes we are.
I've shown Mister Handmade in Israel with a bottle of his preferred plonk in one hand and the number 15 in the other. It looks like he is weighing up the situation, doesn't it? Hopefully he has grabbed the wine to celebrate our anniversary, rather than hitting the bottle in despair!
So Friday afternoon we set off for Mitspe Ramon, a town in the Negev desert, in southern Israel. We've been there before, and have stopped there several times en route to Eilat, usually to say hello to the friendly ibex by the side of the road. On this occasion we had no great plans. Just 24 hours of quiet and relaxation.
Mitspe Ramon is actually less notable as a town and more as a crater. This 40 km long crater, or machtesh as it is called in Hebrew, is a formation unique to Israel and looks rather like a chunk of Mars was grafted onto the planet! The stark desert landscape might look barren but its rock formations hide a world of life. A short visit to the Bio Ramon "desert zoo" allowed us a glimpse into the amazing world of the unique animals that live hidden in the desert. Most Negev animals and insects are active only at night (or are experts at hiding) but the enclosures at Bio Ramon provided us with a good daytime look at these animals. The mammals, insects and reptiles kept there are all rotated so none are held for too long in captivity. The tame ibex waiting for us in the car park afterwards made it all the more exciting.
We walked over to the newly renovated visitors centre on the edge of the crater too. It offers breathtaking views from the rooftop observation deck, and audio-visual presentations describe the formations of the Negev and its craters, and illustrate the history of settlement in the Negev, its flora and fauna. In addition to serving as a portal for educating visitors about Mitspe Ramon, the centre is also dedicated to the memory of Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, whose shuttle exploded during the Columbia disaster in 2003. We are told the story of Ramon's life, from his Israel Air Force service to the launch of his space shuttle and his last moments. The infinite space of the Ramon crater seems an appropriate place for such a commemoration.
Mitspe Ramon was originally founded in 1951 as a place for workers building the road to Eilat and, though it is still in its early stages, the town is finally growing to accommodate an increase in tourism. Our boutique hotel, Chez Eugene, was recently opened by an immigrant from France, Arnaud Rodrigue, whose dream it was to build a combination restaurant/boutique hotel in the Negev, likes the ones which dot the French countryside. Chez Eugene lacks the external trappings of a great hotel: no views, not perfectly located and built within a converted warehouse on a very plain street, but inside is a totally different story. We had an excellent weekend there, mostly due to the friendly and helpful staff, beautifully decorated rooms and a wonderful dinner. You can feel the owners excitement in having achieved their dream of building an oasis in the desert.
In the evening we ate fresh products of the region cooked in the hotel's French restaurant. Each dish we ordered was truly delicious, fresh and creative. The hubby ordered locally farmed baramundi with steamed vegetables, while I had Pappardelle pasta with a cream, garlic, vodka and cherry tomato sauce. Arnaud, one of the owners of the hotel, also has a vineyard in the north of Israel, and we drank his private label white wine, though we didn't manage to finish the bottle (see beginning of post!). Shahar Dabbah, the young and talented chef, came over to our table to introduce himself, giving our meal that extra personal touch. The rich Israeli breakfast in the morning was also excellent, with fresh spreads, bread and made-to-order eggs, omelette or shakshouka.
The restaurant is "friendly kosher". They have no teudah (certificate of kashrut) but all of the products are kosher.
Mitspe Ramon was the perfect place for our weekend away. The stunning views, ibex walking down the street, and a night at Chez Eugene made for a very pleasant time. We will definitely return for another child-free weekend away, whenever that might be!
Photos from Chez Eugene.


Richard said...

I can match anyone for fizzy sweet wine. Well, up to 1.5 glasses anyway.

Meeling said...

How very lovely! Those little moments away are so essential to a relationship.

Happy Anniversary!

Julie S said...

I've course the card is fabulous. What a lovely getaway. Happy Anniversary!

Denise Kiggan said...

Happy Anniversary! Congrats on 15 years - [We're just over double that!]
So glad you had a wonderful time away to celebrate.

Miss Val's Creations said...

Happy belated anniversary Lisa! This place does look like another planet. What an odd landscape. The ibex look so sweet, almost like they are smiling. They probably get fed well by tourists. :)

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