On World Environment Day, we’re celebrating the positive impact Jordan’s Feynan Ecolodge is having on the environment and the local community.
Hidden away in the wadis and canyons of the Dana Biosphere Reserve lies one of Jordan’s best-kept secrets.
Blazing the trail for ecotourism in the Middle East, Feynan Ecolodge is an environmentally friendly hotel founded by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) and run by local Bedouins. While some hotels seem to impose themselves on local communities in the Middle East and around the world, Feynan genuinely seems less of an imposition than a natural extension of rural Bedouin life.
This beautiful yet minimalist lodge offers the perfect respite for those seeking to take a break from Jordan’s hectic and well-trodden tourist trail, all the while remaining immersed in local culture and breath-taking natural beauty.
Feynan is truly ‘off the grid’, tucked away at the bottom of the Dana Biosphere about three hours’ drive from Amman. The drive takes you straight down the Dead Sea Highway, then inland through tiny villages on the edge of the desert. Most guests are collected from the reception centre in the nearest village and then transported off-road to the lodge by local Bedouin, who know the remote area intimately.
The drive itself – bumpy, but scenic – is an experience, taking you through the middle of rocky canyons and wadis and showcasing the stunning dusky oranges and rusty reds of Jordan’s dramatic natural environment. The area’s only residents are a handful of Bedouin families and their livestock who live in tents in the rocky hills and move around from one season to another.
The lodge was designed by Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash, who was inspired by Coptic monasteries he had visited in Egypt to create a soft, humble building where people could retire and rest, away from the hot sun and harsh surroundings.
The building’s colours are neutral and its interiors minimalist. The lodge’s 26 rooms, which are set around a central courtyard, are decorated and furnished simply with white cotton bedsheets and candles set into mirrored niches in the walls. There is no Wi-Fi or electricity in the bedrooms and at night the lodge is lit up by hundreds of candles and open fires during winter.
The lodge’s design was inspired by Coptic Christian monasteries in Egypt (image: Never Ending Voyage)
The bedrooms at Feynan are minimalist but romantic, lit with candles instead of electric lighting (image: World Discovery)
The food at Feynan is particularly impressive (and all meals are included in the room rate). Generally speaking, buffet meals at lodges and camps in the region can be hit and miss, but Feynan does it exceptionally well. And don’t just take our word for it – in 2014 CNN named Feynan one of the top 11 vegetarian travel destinations worldwide.
Breakfast consists of local bread, homemade jams, molasses and falafel. The lunch and dinner menus change daily, offering a mouth-watering spread of mezze plates, fresh salads and delicious local dishes. Dinner is a particularly special – and romantic – experience. The three-course buffet-style feast is served by candlelight on a terrace overlooking the wadi.
Dinner at Feynan consists of an array of home-cooked dishes made from fresh, local ingredients (image: Black Tomato)
The lodge also houses a beautiful gift shop filled with local handicrafts and sustainably-made products (image: Audley Travel)
The great appeal of Feynan is undoubtedly its remoteness and tranquil atmosphere, which make it the perfect place to switch off from the world. When you check into Feynan (or in fact, when you make the first foray off the road and into the rocky biosphere with your Bedouin driver), you check out of the demands of your busy life.
Staying at Feynan is an incredibly wholesome and authentic experience. While the lodge itself is a peaceful retreat, the activities run by the staff offer countless opportunities for guests to explore the area and learn about local communities.
A number of guided hikes are on offer, including a sunset stroll, a tour of the area’s archaeological points of interest and a more intense 4-hour hike between Feynan and the top of Wadi Dana (most people choose to hike down from the top, ending the hike at Feynan). The lodge also offers the unique opportunity to be hosted by the local Bedouin for cooking classes, to make bread, coffee and kohl, or to spend the day with a local shepherd.
The staff themselves are all from the local area and their employment is just one of the ways Feynan gives back to the local community. According to Nabil Tarazi, who runs Feynan, 80 local families (400 people in total) benefit from Feynan in one way or another.
The lives of the locals are simple but fulfilling in ways that we (who are obsessed with being busy and can’t live without our iPhones) might struggle to imagine. When asked if many of the locals migrate to the cities, Suleiman, a guide from the local area replied, “Very rarely. Why would they? Life is very simple here but we have everything we need: clean air, fresh food, beautiful surroundings, a livelihood… It would be very hard for someone who’s used to this quality of life to move to Amman.”
Another huge appeal of Feynan is its environmentally friendly outlook and mission (despite the fact that the Middle East is one of the least environmentally friendly regions worldwide). Fifty percent of the lodge’s income goes towards conservation and what little electricity the buildings use is solar powered. According to the staff, the whole lodge consumes less electricity than a two-bedroomed apartment in Amman.
The candles that light the lodge at night are handmade locally by Bedouin women; Water is served in refillable clay jars (also made locally, of course) in order to avoid using plastic bottles; All waste is either recycled or composted.
The hundreds of candles that light up the lodge at night are made at Feynan by local women (image: The Long Run)
Its buildings are beautiful and the experience it offers is authentic and wholesome, but what really sets Feynan apart is that it is a business that truly cares – not only for its guests, but for the environment and the local community upon which it depends.
Feynan is the perfect destination for…
Creatives and artists looking for a peaceful retreat; hikers; travellers seeking an authentic cultural experience; environmentally-conscious travellers.
Feynan in 3 words:
Serene, authentic, caring.
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