Asking guests to re-use towels is as close as many hoteliers get to adopting any eco-credentials, and this usually says more about saving laundry powder than saving the planet. At the other end of the spectrum, holiday-makers willing to make the dusty 10-hour journey from Cairo to the remote oasis town of Siwa will be richly rewarded with one of the world's most unique hotel experiences.
Sitting on the edge of a serene, glittering salt lake, the Adrere Amellal eco-lodge (above) takes its name from the Siwi Berber translation for "white mountain", which forms the dramatic backdrop for the hotel, a huddle of biscuit-coloured, traditional-style houses made from the local building material, a mixture of sun-dried rock salt, straw and mud called "kershef". But spectacular setting aside, Adrere Amellal is also a shining example of how a hotel can be both environmentally sound and stylish.
The hotel was conceived by Mounir Neamatallah – a Cairo-based environmentalist with no previous experience of the hospitality business – as a way of promoting sustainable tourism among unique geographical and cultural surroundings. It has been built to rely on solar and alternative energy and all of its 46 rooms are sparsely decorated, with a tasteful scatter of rugs and furniture hewn from date palms.
The swimming pool – usually an eco no-no altogether – is set in a grove of date palms, too, and naturally fed by an ancient underwater spring discovered by the Romans. As much produce as possible is grown in the organic vegetable gardens or sourced locally, so guests are lucky enough to find themselves spreading home-made date and olive jam on their toast in the morning.
Even the boutique, run by Neamatallah's sister, is stocked with clothes hand-embroidered by Siwi women and vases carved from salt crystals. And while these wouldn't look out of place in a boutique in Notting Hill, the eco-fact is that they support local artisans and provide an all-important extra income stream.
Just beyond Adrere Amellal's doorstep, the towering tawny dunes of the Sahara stretch far into the horizon, providing the excitement for daytime explorations. At night, the electricity-free hotel is illuminated by hundreds of candles and lanterns, while the twinkling stars provide the only after-dinner entertainment. AO'R