British archeologists have been digging at several sites in Feynan since the 1990s. In 2005 the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) brought in Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash (w khammash.com) to design a tourist lodge to replace the archeologists’ campsite. His style marries local materials with traditional arid-zone building techniques – thick walls, recessed windows, ribs to cast shadow on exterior walls, shaded interior courtyard, and so on – in the Feynan Ecolodge, a unique building that is functional, sympathetic and attractive.
The lodge is still owned by the RSCN but since 2009 it has been run by Amman-based firm EcoHotels, whose director, Nabil Tarazi, takes a refreshingly hands-on approach: you’ll often find him at Feynan, listening to the local community’s concerns and ideas, negotiating between tribal elders, refining how the lodge operates. Staff at the lodge, and the associated income-generating crafts projects making candles and goat-leather, are drawn from the Azazmeh bedouin tribe, who live in the area around Feynan. The drivers who shuttle guests to the lodge from a Reception Centre in the nearby village, where the asphalt road ends, are all from the neighbouring Rashaydeh bedouin – and every penny of the transport fee goes to them. Benefits are being spread around. The lodge is creating extra income for around eighty local families – perhaps five hundred people or more.
What to expect
The lodge’s green credentials are impeccable. It is not connected to the grid, and generates all its own electricity through solar panels – but only the reception office, bathrooms and kitchen have power; the rest of the building is lit by candles (which are made locally by hand). Water comes from local springs, and is heated by the sun for showers and kitchen use. Over the few chilly weeks of winter, the lodge fireplaces burn not wood but jift, a by-product of olive-oil production made from compacted olive stones and dry residue. The lodge composts and recycles, serving only vegetarian food made from locally sourced products: bread is baked fresh each day by a woman from the local bedouin community.
And the place has atmosphere. Sit out on the terrace, lounge on the sofas, try a spot of star-gazing on the roof, walk in the hills – it’s bewitchingly calm and contemplative. Set down below stony crags under a scorching sun, the lodge feels remote, but crucially not cut off from its surroundings. This is no luxury tourist hideyhole planted down amid rural poverty. Quite the opposite: thanks, above all, to the endlessly cheerful and accommodating local staff, staying here you feel a part of things – protected in a stark natural wilderness yet also with privileged access to the culture of people for whom it is home. Feynan has been named one of the world’s best ecolodges for a reason.
Short walks from Feynan
The choice of walks from Feynan is dizzying. If you want a private guide, rates start at JD81 for a half-day excursion, but the lodge’s guides – all local bedouin – also lead two guided group hikes each day, open to all. One is a half-day walk (up to 4hr; JD13/person), the other a full day (up to 8hr; JD18.50/person). Routes are decided the day before, but could include the informative Copper Mines trail (4hr), explaining the significance of Feynan for ancient copper-smelting, visiting Roman mine-shafts and slag heaps, or sampler trails into Wadi Ghwayr – past Roman ruins into a perpetually flowing stream-bed – or Wadi Dana, for birdwatching and spectacular views (both 4hr). There’s also a self-guided option for a walk to nearby archeological sites (2–4hr), including a Roman aqueduct, Byzantine church and Neolithic village.
Every day, a guided sunset walk (free) leads from the lodge on a short stroll up to a nearby hilltop, for freshly brewed bedouin tea and stunning views westwards as the sun sets over the vast Wadi Araba deserts.
Long walks from Feynan
Longer guided day-hikes venture deeper into the mountains. One varied trail combines the lower reaches of both Wadi Dana and Wadi Ghwayr (closed for a month in autumn for the ibex breeding season). There’s a challenging circular route to Um Alamad, to visit Roman ruins and abandoned mine-shafts – but the two best routes are both one-way treks, requiring either vehicle transfers back to Feynan or onward travel.
The walk from Feynan all the way up Wadi Dana (14km), rising from 325m to Dana village at 1200m, passes from stony desert to Mediterranean scrub forest, taking in a multitude of flora and – occasionally – fauna. You can take the steep walk up and then either stay in Dana or book ahead for a transfer back to Feynan (3hr; JD50/car). Alternatively, do it the easy way: be driven up and then do the full-day walk back down to Feynan. Either way, you can take a guide (JD18.50/person) or go it alone.
Perhaps even better is the full-day adventure in Wadi Ghwayr (16km; closed in winter), negotiating a path through a gorge narrowing into a slot canyon, past palms and giant boulders. The hard way is uphill from Feynan, ending on the plateau at the highland village of Mansoura for the vehicle transfer back (2hr; JD50/car), though there are accommodation options near Mansoura at Shobak – or you can go in reverse, being driven to Mansoura for the hike down to Feynan. In either direction this route requires a guide (JD18.50/person). There’s a full description at w walkingjordan.com.
Feynan is also developing mountain-bike trails, both on- and off-road around the lodge, nearby archeological ruins and the neighbouring villages. They supply bikes and all the gear. Self-guided routes are charged at JD17.50 (half-day) or JD29 (full day), guided trails (minimum 4 adults) at JD29/46.
Out here in the desert, where there is no light pollution, stars fill the sky every night. After dinner each evening, staff set up Feynan’s seriously high-powered telescope on the roof for a spot of star-gazing – amateur for sure, but guides have been trained by astronomers and are able to point out constellations and astronomical features with considerable knowledge. Join in if you like (it’s free), or just lie back on a mattress to take in the galactic splendour.
Under development – and perhaps up and running when you visit – is a programme of cultural encounters with local bedouin families, where you’ll be welcomed into a family tent to be served coffee around the fire, with a Feynan guide on hand to explain the intricacies and significance of the traditional coffee ceremony, and the deep cultural significance of coffee itself to the bedouin. There may also be the chance to participate in making arbood, a doughy, crusty bread baked in the embers of the fire, shugga weaving with goat hair to produce tent panels, or kohl, a form of natural eyeliner. Another idea could be spending a day with a shepherd, shadowing one of the local kids as they move up the mountainsides with their flocks searching for grazing. Ask about these when you book.