Castles made of sand: the desert design trend you'll want to explore in the winter

By Lauren Jade Hill | 25 Mar 2020 | Travel, Design

These amazing architectural designs are certain to inspire your future travel plans
* Amangiri, USA - Camp Sarika
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Innovative architecture in inhospitable landscapes has become one of the most aspirational trends of the moment. We explore the dramatic debuts reflecting otherworldly landscapes to inspire your next winter break... 


More lodges have been popping up amid the rolling dunes of the Namib Desert. This property from eco-luxury experts &Beyond is the latest to capture attention having just reopened after a complete rebuild. The new-look desert lodge combines inspired new design, created to withstand extreme elements, with optimum sustainability, pairing a bold geometric structure crafted from rock, steel and glass with solar panels and a water recycling system. Interiors frame the desert landscape in the changing light, shaded terraces enable you to make sublime use of your outdoor space and lap pools reflect the stars at night. Retractable skylights for in-bed stargazing also make the most of the NamibRand Nature Reserve’s status as a Dark Sky Reserve...

Namibian artisans created the interior furnishings and natural fabrics were added for an organic feel. Each element of the design circles back to Fox Browne Creative’s intention of creating a refined desert retreat that sits in perfect in harmony with its natural setting. With 215,000 hectares of desert wilderness to explore in this area alone, the focus here is on immersing guests in the extraordinary desert environment for an experience you won’t forget.


Hailed as North America’s first landscape hotel, Ambiente Sedona is one of 2020’s most intriguing openings. Taking shape amid the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, this architecturally impressive property promises a new way for travellers to embrace sustainable tourism in one of the world’s most stunning locations. Ambiente’s ambitious developer, Two Sister Bosses, has teamed with design firm ASUL Architects to create 40 cube-shaped luxury guest atriums. Cleverly elevated and encased in glass, each gives the illusion of floating above the ground, reflecting the surrounding trees, sky and those magical rock formations...

Further proving their dedication to the environment, the design team has ensured these structures sit harmoniously in the terrain, without detracting from the natural beauty. Each structure’s elevation ensures minimal impact on the natural vegetation and the whole property follows the biophilic design concept of incorporating nature into the build. Earthy elements complete the modern but natural theme, with luxe details such as double- sided fireplaces, platform beds and rooftop with daybeds just made for stargazing. Landscape architects Krizan Associates have also aimed for minimal impact, preserving the native forest while reactivating the site’s ancient waterways. A trailhead from here provides direct access to over 200 miles of stunning panoramic hiking – if you can bear to leave your beautiful room... 


The Negev Desert is a vast expanse of arid plains and rolling sand dunes. The newest addition to the Six Senses portfolio nestles into a cliff-side overlooking this dramatic terrain from the small community of Shaharut – which is the Hebrew word used to describe the moment before dawn – in the Arava Valley. The 58 villas and suites here occupy 18 hectares complete with luxury villas, a restaurant, poolside bar and sumptuous spa. For this project, Six Senses collaborated with the development company Arava Vineyards whose shared philosophy includes a dedication to wellness and sustainability. Architecturally, the property has been designed to preserve the natural terrain and integrate thoughtfully into the desert topography...

Villas built from local rock are furnished with items sourced from local artisans while landscaping integrates regional cacti and indigenous desert blooms. Exterior lighting is kept to a minimum to preserve the clarity of the star-filled night skies. You can tuck into meals making the most of delicious local produce, sample traditional wellness therapies in the spa and stop by the Earth Lab for insight into the property’s sustainability efforts. For more exploration, set out on a dune walk with Bedouins and traverse the land on a jeep safari before ending the day perfectly – with a movie under those dazzling stars. 


Aman’s prominent desert lodge Amangiri turns ten years old this year. To celebrate this milestone, the luxe resorts specialist has created a sister desert property, Camp Sarika. From April, this new camp will welcome guests to relax in its 10 tented pavilions within a 600-hectare wilderness of canyons and vermillion rock formations, a 30-minute hike or short drive from Amangiri. Just like the original lodge it’s joining, Camp Sarika will draw on the culture and landscape of its surroundings, and as its name – deriving from the Sanskrit words for open space and sky – suggests, you can expect unobstructed views and a connection to the wilderness in one of the most geologically dramatic places on Earth...

Designed by Luxury Frontiers, the tented pavilions will combine the spaciousness and clean lines of Amangiri with natural materials that reflect the desert light. Private terraces with fire pits and heated plunge pools complement the generous living and dining space and a common pavilion, designed by Selldorf Architects, boasts a restaurant, lounge, spa suites, pool and Jacuzzi. Just as a sense of place is expressed through the design, each element of the experience pays homage to the desert setting. Gastronomy will feature the freshest local produce, traditional Navajo wellness practices will allow guests to connect with nature through the spa and explorations will include hiking and horseback riding. Choose your adventure. 


Legendary Thai wellness resort Chiva- Som – which has itself just emerged from a comprehensive renovation – is looking to the Middle East this year to launch a brand new wellness destination. This new property, in the north of Qatar, will be the first full- immersion wellness resort in the Middle East and the world’s first centre for Traditional Arabic Integrative Medicine (TAIM). Drawing on the history and culture of this vibrant Middle Eastern hub, the name Zulal – which translates to purified water – is inspired by the traditional journey across the desert to the sea and search for water...

Resort developers Msheireh Properties have devised a design that sensitively combines the local heritage with landscaping integrating village-inspired walled gardens and ornamental pools. Chiva-Som’s distinct identity runs throughout: the resort’s core principles of sustainability continue here, along with its commitment to celebrating local culture. Book a stay and you’ll dine on a menu of Arabic and Mediterranean wellness dishes – all deceptively delicious – and experience cutting- edge treatments that draw on local tradition.

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