“Beware of camels near the road” says the huge yellow warning sign. An indication, I’m sure, that we are entering desert territory.
Israel’s Negev Desert, to be precise.
But we’re not here to see the camels. We’re spending the weekend with their South American cousins.
We’re heading for the Alpaca Farm just outside Mitzpe Ramon, a quiet town (literally, when you arrive on Shabbat) halfway between the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv and the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Ten minutes down a single-track dirt road and we’re in the middle of nowhere. No neighbours, no light pollution, no phone reception.
David, a freshly-discharged IDF conscript, shows us to our cabin.
The four chalets are strung across the hillside, joined by a wooden walkway and surrounded by pretty plants. We leave the car and lug our overnight bags up the short flight of steps. Thankfully for our daughter, who’s a bit perturbed by the free-roaming llamas, there’s a gate to stop the camelids from popping up at your window at night.
Our accommodation is basic but has all we need; a sleeping and living area with kitchenette, and en-suite with a shower. There’s a sofa bed for our three-year old and space enough to eat indoors, but there’s also a small terrace area outside, with seating and a hammock – an instant hit.
It’s late afternoon and we almost have the farm to ourselves; the last of the day’s visitors are making their way to the exit. We pick up some food to feed the animals, but after two spitting incidents decide to take the 20-minute walk up to the ‘Llama Swing’ instead.
The sand-coloured rocky terrain is not what I imagined a desert to look like. It’s big though – this place covers half of Israel – and from that little wooden swing you get an idea of just how big.
Dinner time is approaching, and we are pointed in the direction of the Spice Route Quarter in Mitzpe Ramon. Once an industrial zone, I can imagine that on any other day this place might be buzzing; like Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District, except kosher.
But it’s Shabbat. We drive through the shuttered streets, then, a light! We head straight for it. It’s a hotel – InnSense – with a Bistro. The food is surprisingly good, and the service friendly.
The next morning, we’re up way before breakfast. We head up into the hills again with the aim of walking to the edge of Makhtesh Ramon, a huge erosion crater with 500-metre cliff edges. Accompanied by two farm dogs, we navigate three hills before we decide to turn back; I can’t see the farm and I still can’t see the crater. Later that day we would take the short drive to see the Makhtesh for real.
Back at our cabin our cooler-box breakfast had been delivered. It was packed with an eclectic selection including omelette, salad, labneh, croissants, granola and chocolate yogurt. Three-year-olds love chocolate yogurt for breakfast, which kind of made up for her new-found dislike of alpacas!
More info on our stay…
We stayed at The Alpaca Farm Mitzpe Ramon, which cost £175 for one night on a bed & breakfast basis for two adults and one child. There are four self-catering cabins and one larger cabin for groups available. The farm also has a horse riding centre.
For more information go to https://www.alpacas-farm.com/home