More memory points were to crop up again and again during the gal’s stay at Lazib Inn Resort & Spa, the luxury oasis retreat owned, designed and run by Olivier and Nanette Masson. After a cup of LavAzza coffee watching the sun rise, a good early morning programme includes a walk round the estate – or follow Olivier Masson, who runs around local villages for, he claims, 90 minutes every dawn. Breakfast is in the Blue Donkey restaurant, named for the full-size painted-resin animal hung upside down from the ceiling. Egyptian or European? Opt for the latter and no fewer than 12 dishes arrive, some ceramic, some the hotel’s RAK china, all bearing a different edible. Since many of the current guests are Egyptian, presumably they choose their national breakfast, which helps warrant the hotel’s 9.3 rating from booking.com
I then had a choice. Take a tuk-tuk to Tunis village ceramic school, which I thought I could doafterwards, or head off for antiquity. History, please. With Olivier Masson at the wheel of the Toyota Pajero off we set for a two-hour desert tour. First we went to one of three waterfalls, sadly rather low on water right now – best times to visit, apparently, are November and April when there is more flow, which is partly the reason that over 300 bird species, including many flamingos, transit here on their annual migration between Eastern Europe and southern Africa, especially Lake Victoria. Today there were only local youngsters, the boys wading in water that was too shallow for diving.
We continued, alone in the white-sand desert, shuddering over the corrugated unpaved road…. Eventually the 360° unrelieved vista of sand-sand-sand was punctuated by some barrel-roofs buildings ahead. Officially called ‘the visitor centre and the eco-lodge at Madinet Madi’ this is a lonely museum, guarded by a Sadat look-alike in a floor-length grey gallabiyeh and pristine white scarf. Beyond is 300 yards of wood boardwalk, leading to Pharaonic ruins, Madinet Madi. It was built in the 12th dynasty by Kings Amenemhat III and IV and it is now being restored, apparently, by Italians, but there was no sign of any activity at our visit – see me, alone, with one of the sphinx, above. And with that, time called for us to leave. We will go back quickly, through little villages, said Olivier Masson.
This admirable hotelier and host calls anything, from four still-constructing (or already breaking down?) breeze block buildings up to a city with the hustle and bustle of, say, Mumbai ‘a village’. At one point we were stuck behind a full-size Maersk container on a trailer, trying to navigate through an ants’-nest of busy black and yellow tuktuks. We did make it back – see a video, below – but instead of two hours total it was just under four. There, as ordered, the perfect snack lunch awaited, in my room (oh what a sign of a true modern-luxury hotel) and I packed-and-ate and was ready to go. Driver Tarek was already there. At least a fifth of Lazib Inn’s workforce, local lads all, in bright coloured logoed polo shirts, were there to say goodbye. Have you REALLY had a good time, asked one (their English teacher doubles as reception manager). Absolutely, I said honestly, and I cannot wait to come back. NOW SEE A TASTE OF DESERT VILLAGE TRAFFIC