A Magical, Candlelit Hotel in the Egyptian Desert

Italian journalist Mario Calvo-Platero recounts Kuwaiti liberation, the Siwa Oasis, and a Positano trattoria reachable only by sea.



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Highly subjective takes on life’s most interesting experiences.

What was your most surreal travel experience?

Toward the end of the First Gulf War in 1991, I left my base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and drove for eight hours to reach the frontline Dhahran Air Base in the early hours of the morning. I was included in the first pool of journalists to go to Kuwait City, which was about to be liberated from the Iraqi troops. We left a few hours later on a very unstable Saudi military C-130 to fly to another base, where we had three false landings. We then drove to Kuwait City, just liberated, and were welcomed by the cheerful gunshots of Kuwaiti soldiers upon arrival. There was a celebration in the square with the restoration of the Kuwaiti flag on the tallest mast. And we drove back late in the evening to file our stories. From the time I left Riyadh to the time I went back to the hotel in Dhahran, it was a 48-hour ordeal.

What was a place that defied all of your expectations?

The Siwa Oasis in the Egyptian desert, between the Qattara Depression and the Great Sand Sea in the Western Desert, close to the Libyan border and 560 kilometers from Cairo. The hotel I stayed at had no electricity. It was magic being there at night with only candles. The rooms were spartan but comfortable, reflecting the vision of a cultured Egyptian man from Cairo who founded the hotel and created Siwa as a must-see destination. Besides reading under a palm tree or enjoying the swimming pool, main activities included walks through the dunes or going deeper into the desert on Jeep expeditions. The hotel has a tradition of having very good food, starting with an amazing breakfast, and often meals are communal with other guests of the hotel, which included, in a very clubby atmosphere, the likes of Christian Louboutin, the world-renowned shoe designer.

The most beautiful restaurant experience?

Da Adolfo trattoria near Positano, Italy, on the coast but reachable only by sea. Super relaxed, easy, simple — the epitome of summer.



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Our Contributors

Mario Calvo-Platero

Mario Calvo-Platero is a columnist for the Italian newspaper la Repubblica. Born in Tripoli, Libya, he received a degree in economics in Turin, Italy, and then a Fulbright scholarship to study international affairs at Columbia University. He has covered the White House, American politics, and economics for three decades. He lives in New York with his family.

Giorgia Ascolani Illustrator

Giorgia Ascolani is a half-New Zealander, half-Italian content artist currently based in London. She has created content for Zac Posen, Inglot Cosmetics, Prada, and Mulberry, to name a few.


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