Israeli Desert Makes TIME Magazine's World's Greatest Places 2021 List

Israel’s Negev desert ‘brings the past alive,’ say the magazine’s editors, who praise the desert’s innovative wine culture as well as the luxury hotels

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People visit the Makhtesh Ramon, in Israel's Negev desert.
People visit the Makhtesh Ramon, in Israel's Negev desert.

A  year and a half into a global pandemic that has affected all aspects of life – but has done the most damage to the tourism and aviation industry – travel is beginning to return.

Time magazine published two weeks ago a list of “The World’s Greatest Places in 2021,” while acknowledging that many of them may still be off-limits due to coronavirus restrictions.

A woman walks near Shaharut, in the Negev.

The usual suspects are there – Athens, Bangkok, Belize, Berlin, Cairo, the Maldives, Marrakech, Paris and Greenland, each for its own reasons, but so is an Israeli representative. “This arid stretch of southern Israel brings the past alive,” writes Lucy Thackray in the entry for the Negev Desert.

The region won its place on the list thanks to, among other things, the archaeological discoveries of Mount Karkom; the many wineries that have sprung up there, some of them on the ruins of the historic Nabataean wine industry; and the ambitious project of Elaine Solowey, an American-born scientist who grows 70 species of endangered plants in greenhouses, in a kind of botanical “Noah’s Ark” project that is scheduled to open to the general public in 2022.

The Eilat Mountains, overlooking Eilat in the southern Negev.

Time also notes the scheduled August 5 opening, after delays, of the luxury hotel and spa Six Senses Shaharut in the community of the same name. The resort, which is about an hour’s drive from Eilat, was included last year on CNN’s list of the 20 best new hotels to visit in 2020 – even before it was officially opened to visitors. Six Senses Shaharut, which reportedly cost more than $31 million to build, offers a range of 60 suites and villas.

Pools in the middle of the desert: A room at Hotel Beresheet in the Israeli Negev desert.
The Makhtesh Ramon, in Israel's Negev desert.

The resort is just the latest of several luxury hotels in the Negev that have opened in recent years. They include Isrotel’s Beresheet Hotel in Mitzpeh Ramon and the “ecological”-but-luxurious suites of Eretz Arava in Tzukim. Time mentions the Bedouin-style restaurant, the boundless desert views and the camel stables of Six Senses Shaharut, of course, but also its “full-service spa.”

Before the coronavirus temporarily ended foreign tourism in Israel almost completely, the country experienced an unprecedented tourism boom. In addition to breaking records for tourist arrivals and a plethora of new hotels, Israel starred on “must-see” destination lists, from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea and Eilat. Now it turns out that when it comes to curiosity and passion, Israel has maintained its appeal to travelers in the post-pandemic era.

Ramat Negev, in 2019.

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