When I’m picking a travel destination, it’s the sights that draw me there, whether that is nature, history or famous landmarks.
However, what I tend to remember, is the culture, the feeling and most importantly, the people I meet.
When I picked Mitzpe Ramon in Israel’s Negev Desert as a destination, I was seeking out solitude, the dramatic views into the famous crater and a landscape I can’t see back in the UK. What I didn’t expect was my lasting memory to be the experience I had staying at Mati and Roni’s desert guesthouse.
This quirky little place to stay is more than just a hostel. Sure, it offers some of the same amenities; there are options for shared accommodation and it’s budget friendly, but it truly was an immersive experience into desert living. There is a whole section of the travel industry dedicated to local immersion. One of my top experiences was doing a homestay on a little island on Lake Titicaca many years ago, but Mati and Roni don’t tout their guesthouse as local immersion. This meant that the utterly unique experience came as a total surprise to me. I didn’t feel like a customer, I felt like a guest in someone’s home.
So what’s so special about Mati and Roni’s guesthouse?
Well the atmosphere is totally beguiling. The pace of desert living is much, much slower than city dwelling, and this guesthouse was where I started to switch off, stop worrying about work, and feeling each moment rather than thinking about what would sound interesting in my blog or make for a good Instagram snap.
I always over plan my holidays, trying to squeeze in every possible activity, sight and view. But with the lure of the guesthouse, I couldn’t help myself from sleeping in, reading books in the outdoor areas to the sound of the garden’s water feature, or drinking copious amounts of Turkish coffee while cuddling up to one of the four gorgeous dogs. And let’s not forget the desert tea. The surroundings are fantastic; the guesthouse is 5 minutes walk from the dramatic Ramon Crater with walking paths and a tourist centre, but chilling at the guesthouse was a real highlight of my time in Mitzpe Ramon.
Mati and Roni themselves are a pleasure to spend time with. They are incredibly welcoming – I shared dinner with them on the Shabbat when everything in town is closed, and chatted away constantly to them. They are both real characters, and I can guarantee you’ll find yourself opening up to them. The volunteers working there were also a joy to be with, and helped me assimilate into desert life.
In terms of the accommodation, it is comfortable, clean and cosy. There are options for private rooms or dorms, but the real highlight is the big shared tents out back. I say shared – I had one whole section to myself for my entire stay which was so luxurious.
The tents are big tarps on poles, so there is space to walk around, with mattresses and tables inside. In the March weather I wasn’t sure if I’d be chilly at night, but I was provided with an abundance of blankets and slept wonderfully. Nights were silent, peaceful and it always paid to do some stargazing before nestling down under the dark sky.
Breakfast at the guesthouse was fresh, homemade and delicious. It consisted of Israeli classics like hummus, salads and shakshuka, and was best eaten in the sunshine with the company of the dogs.
I truly felt at home in Mati and Roni’s abode and I would stay there again in an instant. If you’re after a polished, shiny place to stay, this probably isn’t for you. But if the idea of a relaxed, social atmosphere, with all the chaos of the average family home, this is the place to stay.
What a fabulous introduction to the Negev Desert and Mitzpe Ramon. Thank you Mati and Roni!