Sheltering beneath a camel-hair canopy in the world’s largest desert, I want to pinch myself. Before me lies an endless sea of glistening golden sand and I am entranced. I’ve long wanted to visit the Sahara Desert, to ride a camel across the dunes and enjoy the culinary delights of the nomadic people who still roam this harsh terrain. And now I can tick these three things off my bucket list.
After escaping the vibrant madness of Marrakech, we have arrived at the remote Nubia Desert Camp at Erg Chegaga in Morocco, eager to experience a way of life enjoyed by the Berbers. Many still live in or near the desert, remaining loyal to their traditions.
Actually, it’s remarkable just how much life there is in the Sahara, which stretches for 1,500 miles from the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco across North Africa to Egypt. I was surprised by the greenery – interspersed between the rolling dunes and flat plains are scrubland and the occasional oasis.
The table is set for private dining at the Nubia Desert Camp at Erg Chegaga in a remote part of Morocco in the desert
The Berbers enjoy a simple life. Despite the unexpected sight of such modern contraptions as solar panels, wealth and comforts are still measured by how many camels and goats one owns. Nothing is wasted, every item has value and every meal is made from scratch.
If you want a holiday a world away from your normal life but have only a few precious days to spare, Morocco delivers.
The Beldi Collection tour aims to help city-dwellers like me reconnect with the natural rhythms of life and to go home with renewed energy and enthusiasm. The peacefulness of the camp is certainly cathartic. Turn off your phone at the airport and don’t even think about switching it back on until you touch down upon your return.
You can experience this on a four-day trip, as I did, or longer with some wild camping along the way. Adrenaline junkies can even ride down the dunes on a sandboard or opt for desert quad-biking.
Guests can also choose to break up the journey by staying at a hotel along the way in Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate or Zagora.
Morocco is the place to enjoy the best Berber cuisine and the fragrant tagines are a delight. A tagine is named after the special earthenware pot in which the food is cooked slowly at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat, aromatic vegetables and a rich sauce.
There is always an element of heightened expectation as you wait for the cone-shaped lids to be removed. My favourite dish was a sweet and savoury blend of beef, apricot, almonds and spices. And my most memorable meal was the one served to us by Hra, a shy, friendly young woman who lives in a clay dwelling with no electricity or running water. It is near an oasis, but in the middle of nowhere.
Like most Berber women, Hra covers her hair and face with a scarf as she squats on the ground to prepare the meal.
The camp offers total peace and serenity and helps city dwellers reconnect with the rhythms of life and to go home with renewed energy and enthusiasm
Watching her bake bread was especially humbling. First, she roasted barley grains on the fire, and then ground them in a stone mill to produce the flour used as the base for traditional flatbread. In no time we were sitting in the sunshine eating the delicious warm bread served with spicy olives and a large selection of healthy salads.
But let’s be clear: this trip is glamping on a scale that usually only attracts the rich and famous. Last year, rock star Robert Plant booked the entire Nubia Desert Camp for a family break.
Each tent has a toilet, sink and shower with hot water, using solar and wood-burning energy. The shower took five minutes to warm up and barely trickled through the shower head, but that’s about the same for my bathroom in London.
At night, we huddled around a blazing campfire (temperatures often plummet to below freezing) and watched the constellation in the sky, before settling down in our tents for the night. I felt a little lost in the ultra-king-size bed, which could easily sleep a family of four.
A luxury suite at the camp. Last year, rock star Robert Plant booked the entire Nubia Desert Camp for a family break
There’s an eerie silence in the desert when the wind dies down and you feel a great sense of peace, just sitting and being in nature.
On the first morning, we woke early to have breakfast, which included tucking into Berber omelettes (cooked in a tagine with tomatoes and onions at the base) before going camel-trekking high into the dunes.
We stopped to stare in awe at a herd of about 100 camels grazing serenely in a field of rocket. Who knew rocket grew in such abundance out here? Its peppery zing made my tastebuds go wild.
Back in Marrakech for the final night, the heat and the bustle reminded me of London. How I missed the serenity of the desert.
But the city, which is also home to the Moroccan king and his family, is irresistible.
The outdoor eating area at the desert camp. Morocco is the place to enjoy the best Berber cuisine and the fragrant tagines are a delight
The royal palace, souk and main square are just a stone’s-throw from Hotel Riad Louhou, which is also owned by the Beldi Collection. With five bedrooms, it is bijou but so exquisitely furnished, like an oasis in the heart of this wonderful city.
Riad Louhou can arrange a range of activities for guests, including cooking classes, tours of the medina and day trips to the coast and Sahara, and can also book treatments at Les Bains de Marrakech, the city’s best hammam and spa, which is just minutes away.
The heat, colours and mouth-watering aromas of spices bombarded my senses and left me with an unforgettable experience and a craving for the simple life – at least while on holiday.
Nightly rates at the Nubia Desert Camp (thebeldicollection.com) start from £160 per person, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Camel-trekking trips, 4×4 visits to local sites, guided walks and sandboarding excursions are also included. Nubia Desert Camp is closed between June 16 and August 31.
Nightly rates for a double room at Riad Louhou start from £130 per night, based on two adults sharing and including breakfast.