by Veronica Stoddart
Indeed, they served as a precious refuge for merchants, pilgrims, and weary travelers throughout the decades, a place where they could replenish their supplies of water and food., Oases, in fact, defined the trajectory of ancient trade routes and for visitors, they offered the balm of a dip in a natural pool, the cool shade of sheltering palms, and a refreshing reprieve for body and soul — just as they do today.
But what, exactly, is an oasis? It’s an area in an otherwise arid region made fertile by a source of freshwater that supports plant and animal life. The water comes from a natural spring or other underground source, making true oases relatively rare throughout the world. For example, the Sahara, the largest nonpolar desert on Earth, supports about 90 major oases in an area as large as the continental U.S. South America, meanwhile, has only one.
For travelers seeking these miracles of the desert, a handful of high-end resorts offer stylish accommodations at some of the world’s most beautiful oases. One of them is right here in America and recently benefited from a $200 million upgrade.
Ancient waters bubble up from the ground to support an entire ecosystem at The Oasis at Death Valley, a secluded resort tucked into one of the world’s most dramatic desert settings, the 3.4-million-acre Death Valley National Park (the largest park in the Lower 48). This wondrous winter vacation destination in America’s great desert is just two hours from Las Vegas and a little more than four hours from Los Angeles.
It offers spring-fed pools averaging a comfortable 87 degrees, the lowest USGA golf course on earth, cascading bougainvillea-adorned Xanadu Gardens, and spring-watered groves of stately date palms. It’s also a natural haven for wildlife: kit fox, desert cottontail, coyotes, roadrunners, and various species of birds all thrive on or near the oasis.
Dating to 1927, the historic property encompasses two lodgings: the luxurious AAA Four-Diamond The Inn at Death Valley and the family-friendly The Ranch at Death Valley. The historically accurate restoration preserved the original design, materials and colors of the buildings, while updating the infrastructure to modern standards.
The result is a return to the elegance of Old Hollywood, when the Inn attracted likes of Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, and Carole Lombard — and more recently, the cast and crew of Star Wars. Accommodations at the 66-room Inn marry classic decor with modern amenities. Fine-art color landscape photographs bring the splendor of Death Valley right into the rooms. Want total privacy? Stay in one of 22 new Inn casitas or 80 new Ranch cottages.
In the evening, dine on classic fare regionally flavored with cactus, citrus, date, and even pomegranate from the garden, while gazing at the desert salt pans and majestic Panamint Mountains. Watch a glorious sunset from one of the stone patios or admire the Milky Way from the Stargazers Deck in this internationally recognized Gold Tier Dark Sky Park. And hoist a cold one at the Last Kind Words Saloon, a cowboy paraphernalia-festooned throwback to the Old West.
No wonder basketball Hall of Famer and broadcaster Bill Walton has been a regular guest at The Inn for more than two decades. “It’s everything I love. I love nature, I love the changing light, I love the desert air here,” he says. “The spring that feeds this resort is just phenomenal. The quality of the water.”
“They took paradise and they made it better,” he adds. “They’ve made the hotel even nicer while maintaining the culture and the tradition and the history, the architecture, and the stonework.
“Every time I come here, it’s such a healing place, it’s such an inspiring place … a place of enlightenment and imagination and creativity. You’re just awestruck by the magnificence and the grandeur of nature in Death Valley.”
While the Oasis at Death Valley is a rare upscale oasis resort, here are four others at some of the world’s most beautiful oases — from the sands of the Sahara to the Arabian Desert.
The Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara at Liwa Oasis in the United Arab Emirates shimmers like a mirage in the undulating dunes of the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert, known as the Empty Quarter. This upscale retreat on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi resembles a vision from One Thousand and One Nights emerging from the date-palm producing Liwa Oasis that’s still used by local Bedouin tribes to this day.
Imagine an all-villa luxury retreat in the middle of the windswept Saudi Arabian desert, in an oasis that has served as a trading crossroads for millennia. That’s Banyon Tree AlUla, set in the sprawling AlUla Oasis in Saudi Arabia, a lush haven on the ancient Incense Route that has provided life to residents, travelers, and flora and fauna for eons, due to its natural springs. That spring-fed land harbors a profusion of date palms stretching to the horizon like a dense green tapestry.
Rock the kasbah in this exclusive resort at the edge of the Sahara Desert. The Dar Ahlam is a restored 19th-century kasbah, or fortress, with a storybook setting near one of the most beautiful palm groves in Morocco — Skoura, dubbed “the oasis with 1,000 palm trees.” Springing abruptly from the ochre landscape, the Skoura oasis near Ouarzazate, Morocco, also harbors more than 100 bird species, thanks to its centuries-old underground water canals.
A gateway to the legendary Sahara, the luxurious Anantara Sahara Tozeur Resort & Villas sprawls near the mountainous, spring-fed Chebika Oasis at Tozeur in southwestern Tunisia. Here you can sample classic desert experiences: witness a desert sunrise from your own pool villa, feast on Middle Eastern cuisine Berber style under the stars, traverse the shifting dunes at sunset astride a camel. Relax in the marble Ottoman hammam and soak in a traditional Berber bath. And enjoy the Arabian Nights pavilion where chefs roast lamb and belly dancers and snake charmers move to traditional music.
The former travel editor of “USA TODAY,” Veronica Stoddart is a multi-award-winning travel writer, who work has appeared in dozens of publications and websites. She considers travel a force for good in the world.
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