“Happy wife, happy life!” said Suleiman, our Bedouin hiking guide.
I stopped hiking. “Where did you learn that phrase?” I asked. I had been under the impression he was single. He looked barely 25 years old.
He turned to wink at me, but didn’t share the source of this ancient wisdom.
While I happen to believe in the truth of that phrase, I hadn’t expected to hear it expressed by my young Bedouin guide, hiking up a mountain hillside adjacent to the Feynan Ecolodge Jordan. But as always when one travels, amazing moments await us around every bend in the road. And Suleiman was leading us to another such moment.
After an hour of hiking, we’d reached the top of the mountain, just as the sunrise reflected the colours of the Wadi Araba mountains and desert. It was a magnificent sight. I stood in silence and stared at the hills, the colours changing as the sun rose higher in the sky. This was a special place.
Sustainable Feynan Ecolodge Jordan
Like an oasis in the wilds of Wadi Rum, the country of Jordan sits as a calm refuge in the Middle East. The small nation has worked to build a peace both in and outside of its borders, as well as promote a safe and thriving tourism sector for visitors from around the world.
Jordan has no shortage of UNESCO World Heritage site-worthy attractions – Petra, Jerash, Wadi Rum – that should be on a traveller’s must-see list. But as in most countries, it’s worth going off the beaten path in search of less discovered treasures, such as the Feynan Ecolodge Jordan and the Dana Biosphere reserve.
Feynan Ecolodge Jordan was built in 2005 as a model of environmentally sustainable and socially responsible tourism that also supports 45 families in the local Bedouin community. The Ecolodge is co-managed by EcoHotels, a privately owned Jordanian company, in partnership with The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. This partnership offers travellers a unique opportunity to explore a little known area of Jordan’s wilderness, meet its native Bedouin people, and learn its ancient history with minimal impact on the local environment.
Feynan Ecolodge is located in the ecologically sensitive Dana Biosphere Reserve, an hour north of Petra’s historic ruins. The Dana Reserve is the second largest nature reserve in the country. This biodiverse, mountainous area is unique in Jordan. It encompasses all four of the country’s bio-geographic zones and includes a variety of rare animals and plants.
The area was an ancient caravan trading route for thousands of years, and was once exploited by the Romans as a copper mine. You can still see evidence of this mining activity along many of the hiking trails from the lodge and throughout the reserve.
Sustainability at Feynan Ecolodge Jordan
Feynan is totally off-grid. This is an amazing thing to me, but as the most advanced ‘eco’ hotel in Jordan, Feynan Ecolodge takes its sustainability very seriously. The lodge generates 100% of its own electricity through solar panels on the roof, and stores excess power in batteries. Only essential low-wattage appliances in the kitchen and lobby use electric light, and yes, you can power your cell phone if necessary. Lodge rooms and the dining areas are all candle-lit, making for magical evenings perfect for rooftop stargazing.
Laundry is air-dried in the warm desert breeze, and hot water is heated through the same solar panel heating system. The lodge’s architecture and thick walls promote cool air flow during hot desert days. Though heating is rarely required, olive pit charcoal – jift– is pressed and burned in two fireplaces in the main lobby area to provide any necessary heat. The jift is a recyclable and natural by-product of Jordan’s annual olive harvest. No trees required, which is a good thing as there are precious few trees to be found anywhere in Dana Jordan.
Jordan is a water poor country. Water resources are incredibly precious, and they don’t go to waste at Feynan. Water supplies are sourced from a local spring near Wadi Dana, and low-flow faucets control its use at the Ecolodge. At dinnertime, drinking water is served family-style, placed on tables in locally produced clay jars. As a guest, you are encouraged to arrive with your own reusable water bottle for refilling.
The environmental focus and sustainability of Feynan Ecolodge works because Feynan is just as focused on promoting the local economic sustainability of the 45 families in the neighbouring Bedouin community. The property purchases local food and supplies, organizes cultural experiences, and employs young men as drivers, staff, and activity guides.
Feynan Ecolodge Activities
Whether you’re looking for active adventure in the reserve or immersion in Bedouin culture, many activities are included in a stay at Feynan Ecolodge.
Bedouin Cultural Experiences
Feynan offers a fantastic half day of local community experiences for a modest fee that goes directly to the Bedouin family you visit. Spending a day among the Bedouin in a goat-haired tent, learning more of their culture and traditions is one of the most insightful experiences you can have in Jordan.
Feynan is one of the few areas where it’s possible to sit down and literally make and break bread with local people. You’ll learn to bake (and eat) delicious Arbood bread baked in ash, grind Arabic coffee scented with cardamom pods from scratch, and learn to make and wear kohl eye makeup. If you visit in summer, you can even learn how to make a tent from goat hair. These Bedouin cultural traditions are taught by members of the local community, one of the last remaining Bedouin groups in Jordan.
For a more active and potentially strenuous experience, spend the day (8-9 hours) with a local shepherd and his or her goat herd. You’ll break bread and drink tea with the shepherd, and certainly gain an appreciation for nomadic animal husbandry in the desert lands of the biosphere reserve!
Hiking in the Dana Biosphere Reserve
The Dana Reserve is the perfect place to test your skills of hiking in Jordan. From the Ecolodge itself, there are various hiking trails ranging from easy two-hour strolls to all day endurance hikes in the heat of Wadi Ghwayr.
Our group woke up before the sunrise to enjoy a guided hike in the surrounding hills. The spectacular sight of the sun’s rays reflecting the colours of Wadi Araba’s desert mountains was worth every early morning step.
One of the most incredible hiking trails in the world passes through Dana. If the 650 kilometer (400 mile) Jordan Trail is a bit more of an ambitious hiking experience than you were thinking, consider Feynan as a beginning or an end. If you’re interested in hiking portions of the Trail rather than the entire route, the Dana to Petra Region section is approximately 73 km, so a good 4 day hike. Still major, but not a month long trek.
Biking in the Dana Reserve
The Dana Reserve is a rocky and hilly place, and the mountain biking tours are more on the robust side. You can do a self-guided ride, or hire a guide to show you some of the reserve’s historical and archaeological spots, such as the oldest copper mine in the world.
This former Roman mine was the last home for many slaves who were transported to the desert two thousand years ago to mine precious copper deep below ground. The history of how the copper was mined, transported and smelted is fascinating. Though I did spare a thought for the countless thousands who’d died in the name of Roman Imperial glory.
Dark Sky Stargazing at Feynan Ecolodge
The remoteness of Feynan make it perfect for Dark Sky activities like stargazing. The Ecolodge’s rooftop terrace is decorated with large pillows and cushions. After ascending the candlelight staircase, grab a pillow, rest your head and gaze up to the heavens for a spectacular light show.
Feynan’s Bedouin guides point out the constellations in a quiet navigation of the stars. Without light pollution, you may see planets and stars as you’ve never seen them before. There’s also a powerful 10 inch Mead telescope that brings the night, and Jupiter’s moons, that much closer.
Feeling the weight of the night sky, and sipping cup upon cup of sweet mint tea, I drank in the awesome stillness of Dana and the vastness of the desert reserve. I was indeed a happy wife, living a happy life, celebrating the remains of a perfect day at the incredible and sustainable Feynan Ecolodge.
Photo Credit: Claudia Laroye, Shutterstock
Note: The writer thanks Visit Jordan for its gracious hospitality. As always, her opinions are honest and her own.