I love the idea of camping – hiking in nature, eating meals outside, watching the sunrise with a group of close friends – but I less like the actual mechanics of camping – setting up the tent, cooking the food, and sleeping on the ground.Glamping, or glamorous camping, was made for me. It’s all the good parts of camping without having to do any of the work. Recently, a group of 10 people – including my husband and me – held a corona-friendly overnight glamping trip at Metzukei Dragot above the Dead Sea. The glamping was organized by Keshet Tours, which usually works with groups from abroad, and the level of service was definitely far above what we Israelis are used to. Somehow I ended up being the group coordinator, and Tami Dayan of Keshet Tours asked a series of questions about our group, including if there were any food allergies. One member was allergic to sesame so no sesame products were served on the trip.I am a self-proclaimed wine and coffee snob. I said we would bring our own alcohol, making this basically BYOB-glamping. We each brought a bottle (or two or three) of wine from boutique Israeli wineries, and some good single-malt Scotch, which we all enjoyed. I did ask if there would be good coffee in the morning, or if I should bring my own coffee and a French press. I was told there would be good coffee in my future.We arrived at Metzukei Dragot at about 3 pm after a hike in Ein Gedi, hungry and thirsty. I hadn’t expected food until dinner, and was just about to dig the potato chips out of my backpack, when I saw the picnic table set up on a platform overlooking the Dead Sea. There were small sandwiches and trays of dried fruit and nuts, and most importantly there was coffee! Not just coffee, but a Nespresso machine with a milk frother, as well as a French press with several types of ground coffee. Now this is camping!
“Would anyone like hot soup?” Tami asked, as the sun began to go down and the temperature began to drop, handing out cups of a nicely spiced freshly made vegetable soup.She then took us to the tents where we would be sleeping. They were not large, and had room for just two single mattresses that together made a double “bed.” The mattresses had sheets, pillows and blankets, and the tent could zip making it much warmer inside than outside, but you are still sleeping on the ground.Next to the “bed” was a small table with a battery-operated lamp and some nice toiletries, including a handmade cinnamon-scented soap (which I am still enjoying), mosquito repellent which we luckily did not need, earplugs (there is actually a bar up the road although the music was not very loud), and a hand-towel.The bathrooms were in a separate building just two minutes away. The bathrooms and showers were both simple but clean. They were well-lit all night. My one issue was that when I woke up at night to use the facilities, I had to put on shoes, unzip the tent, and walk up the hill. By the time I got back, I had woken up and found it hard to get back to sleep.But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First there was dinner, and what a meal it was. As a serious foodie (and a restaurant reviewer for the Jerusalem Post) I enjoy good food. When we arrived at the campsite, I was immediately drawn to a large piece of meat that was roasting on a rotisserie. The chef, Moshe, carefully checked the temperature of the meat, which was a beautiful piece of entrecote.“We like it medium rare,” I told him. “Anyone who wants it cooked more than that doesn’t know how to appreciate good meat.”Around 7 p.m., we sat down to dinner. The platform now held five tables to allow social distancing with a buffet table in the middle. While we had been relaxing and watching the sunset, the staff had cooked up a storm. The meal was as good as any I’ve had in a restaurant in Israel, and included a huge array of meat, chicken and vegetables. And the entrecote was outstanding. Dessert was a huge array of little pastries that would not be out of place at a bar mitzvah.
During dinner we shared the wines we had brought, and then moved to the campfire. Here is where I felt very spoiled. The staff had make a large campfire, left us a lot of wood, as well as a large amount of chestnuts (already scored for cooking) and marshmallows on skewers. It all went very well with the single-malt scotch that my companions had brought.The next morning we got up very early to see the sunrise. The coffee machine was already set up, and the sunrise was stunning. Breakfast was another feast, including a salmon that had smoked all night in the coals, as well as freshly made shakshuka and lots of cheeses and fancy salads.Then came something even nicer. “You’re going to be on a tiyul all day,” said Esti Ohana, also of Keshet Tours. “Here are some bags to pack up lunches if you want.”She even gave us reusable shopping bags as well as snacks for the day.After breakfast we packed up and headed out to Qedem, the “secret” hot springs next to the Dead Sea near the closed Mineral beach. The beach is closed because of sinkholes, and we saw some amazing ones. Qedem is not exactly secret as there is a sign on the highway telling you where it is. Apparently if you ask locals for directions, they will give you misinformation as they want to keep the site to themselves.We hiked down a stone embankment to shallow boiling pools next to the Sea. When we got too hot, we plunged into the Dead Sea. It was a lot of fun except we hadn’t thought of the fact that as this was not an official site, there was nowhere to wash the salt off.We then drove to Ein Fashcha, a national park nearby that has freshwater pools and more importantly, showers. After a picnic lunch, we headed back to Jerusalem, feeling as if we had escaped the reality of corona, at least for a little while.■To organize your own glamping trip contact Tami Dayan at email@example.com