Discover how environmentalist Dr Mounir Neamatalla built a luxury destination out of salt rock.
Titan hoteliers used to come packaged as slick-talking Trump types with reputations measured by the opulence and grandeur of their buildings. That was until visionaries like Dr. Mounir Neamatalla, an Egyptian environmentalist, helped strip the language of leisure of all its ostentation by binding it to the Earth. President and founder of EQI, a Cairo-based company with a mission to create models of sustainable development throughout the region, Neamatalla proved that ecology and luxury could make happy bedmates with the opening of the Adrère Almellal Oasis—Egypt's first eco lodge—in 1997.
Located an eight-hour's drive from Cairo, Adrère Almellal (which means "white mountain" in Berber) is an eco-friendly luxury resort inconspicuously cradled within the sun-kissed mountain range of Siwa, a remote oasis in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Attracting visitors who crave ultimate tranquility and soul-cleansing purity, it's a brazen example of beauty laid bare.
Neamatalla employed the skills of local craftsmen to create the resort's salt-rock and clay architecture, simultaneously bringing sustainable development to the indigenous Bedouin population while exalting the elegance and efficiency of age-old tradition. Amid noble purity and honorable intentions, it is a place where electricity and telephones are absent; the only light is sourced from candles and the starlight shining from the still desert sky. Amid the ancient olive and palm groves of Siwa, Dr. Neamatalla talks about craft, ecology, and tradition - the cornerstone of his revolutionary desert oasis.
What is your definition of luxury?
Peace of mind and joy in life. And most importantly being able to share it with others.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
First thing in the morning as you open your eyes to meet the day.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Close to my heart. It could be Siwa...
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A spring in the middle of the desert.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
My sister Laila.
What inspired the idea to build a luxury resort using the philosophy of 'sustainable environmentalism'?
The inspiration was not an accident. It was the result of a life-long endeavor, the culmination of a way of thinking and a way of perceiving life.
Building an eco-lodge eight hours deep into the desert with no electricity... were you ever concerned about attracting visitors?
No. I knew they'd come.
What were some of your greatest challenges in developing Siwa?
Dealing with narrow-mindedness and shortsighted interests.
What are some of the most unique aspects to Siwa's design?
Its collaborative nature co-created by countless hands, minds and feelings.
Siwa is a very exclusive destination, what kind of clientele goes there?
Principally those who are looking for a new experience that brings them closer to the unknown: life in the middle of the desert.
What reactions do you hope to provoke from your visitors concerning Egypt, nature, the concept of luxury, environmental responsibility, etc?
Deference to the power of the natural elements, appreciation of Egypt's diverse cultural heritage and attentiveness to the importance of all forms of dialogue.
Which experiences do Siwa visitors rave about most?
The ability to remain conscious of the moment yet connected to the ways of the past and receptive to the offerings of tomorrow.
In your opinion, what is the ideal itinerary before, during and after vacationing at Siwa?
Allowing oneself enough time in Siwa. What happens before and next will surely unfold as it should.
What should people pack for their trip to Siwa? What are some of the essential items that one must never forget?
Warm wear at night, light wear during the day. Forget your mobile phones if you can and remember your swimming suit at all times.
Do you plan on expanding the Siwa concept in Egypt or elsewhere?
Yes. But to each initiative its own life and its own soul.
What are you currently working on?
Siwa's sister, the lost oasis of Qara.
To reserve a room at Siwa, contact:
Environmental Quality International (EQI)
18 El Mansour Mohamed Street, Zamalek
11211 Cairo, Egypt
Tel: (202) 7381327 / 7367879
Fax: (202) 7355489