We've only been in Israel's Arava desert for two hours and already we feel as though we've performed a great disappearing act. Immersed in a cool freshwater tub outside our small adobe cabin, surrounded by vast areas of empty yellow land that so starkly contrast the buzzing streets of Tel Aviv from where we've just come, we can neither see nor hear evidence of any other living being.
And yet, like many things out here in the nothingness, this is merely an illusion. Hop out of this tub, walk a few metres, and you'll spy a smattering of other mud-brick cabins. This is the beauty of Midbara: a collection of 12 cabins set on only 2?? acres, but that backs directly onto the Ashush nature reserve, leaving guests feeling as though they've reached the end of the earth.
For now, though, my husband and I would like to keep the illusion going. We stay immersed in our wooden tub, marvelling at how such a small body of water can bring such an element of tranquility to the harsh desert landscape, until the sun falls below the horizon and sends an apricot haze over the whole scene. Only then, when the temperature finally drops a couple of degrees, do we drain the tub into the small garden next to it and start thinking about dinner.
Out here there's not much in the way of eating out, save for a good pub down the road called Ursula. Which is a great thing actually, because what this desert is perfect for is getting back to basics. While my husband fires up the barbecue to cook some steaks we'd picked up earlier, I gather some more basic supplies from the small on-site provisions store, run on an honesty system and offering everything from Israeli cheese and wine to caviar and pickles and packets of pasta. We eat by the window of our cabin, the door open to the warm desert breeze. Afterwards, we recline on our patio day bed to watch the sky fill up with stars. With zero light pollution, they are dazzling.
Our cabin is ideal for a couple, an adobe structure that has been meticulously cast and plastered, with smooth ochre-coloured walls, wooden ceilings, and cream tiled floors. The simplicity fits just right, not taking anything away from the views of the majestic desert surrounding us, and comfortable enough to leave us feeling as though we're staying at a fabulous friend's house. There's a wood-burning iron fireplace and a wraparound couch in the sunken lounge, then a few steps up the bedroom, sectioned off by a thick white curtain which, once drawn, leads to our deep, satisfied slumber.
We wake with the sun, refreshed and ready to explore the desert. The Arava is criss-crossed with cycling tracks, and Midbara offers guests mountain bikes to take out exploring. But it's the middle of summer and, besides, like most landscapes, deserts are best experienced on foot. We wander out into the emptiness, nothing but us, a few flat-topped acacia trees and some scrubby retama bushes, the silence and solitude engulfing us whole.
While Midbara certainly is isolated, being an hour and a half from the southern resort town of Eilat and an hour and a quarter from Israel's largest desert town Beersheba, it does neighbour the small village of Tzukim, where tourists can make appointments to visit the local turquoise gallery or ceramics studio, take a yoga workshop, or simply wander around and chat to the creative locals. All tempting, but not quite as tempting as heading back to our cabin to devour the breakfast box that has been delivered in our absence, filled with local cheese, homemade olives, fresh baked bread, eggs and vegetables. We graze, we read, we refill the outdoor tub. Best of all, we are left completely, deliciously, alone, just us and the desert wind.
Cathay Pacific Airways flies to Tel Aviv via Hong Kong from every capital city for about $2300 return. See cathaypacific.com
Cabins at Midbara start from about $230 a night, with a minimum two-night stay. Midbara is also the location of the annual Arava International Film Festival: now in its sixth year, the festival shows a selection of Israeli and international feature and short films under the desert sky each night, this year until November 18. See midbara.co.il/en; aravaff.co.il/en
Nina Karnikowski travelled with assistance from the Embassy of Israel and Cathay Pacific Airways.