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Anantara Sahara Tozeur

by Abbie Kozolchyk

Sometimes, just getting away from the day-to-day is enough. Then there are those moments when the urge for full-scale retreat is so strong that, to borrow from John Gillespie Magee, you want to slip “the surly bonds of earth.” And that’s where Anantara Sahara Tozeur comes in.

So otherworldly is the surrounding Tunisian desertscape that it’s passed for an actual alternate universe (or at least a galaxy far, far away) in multiple Star Wars installments since George Lucas first filmed here in 1976. From the endless salt flats to the shimmering dunes—and the winding canyons to the hidden waterfalls—nothing about this place feels less than surreal, making retreats here especially effective: The backdrop alone takes you out of yourself.

And there’s no better spot to capitalize on those vibes than the local Anantara outpost, still effectively a newcomer given its debut just before, well, 2020. Set on 40 acres alongside Chott el Djerid—the Sahara’s largest salt lake—this resort places you squarely at the heart of a desert idyll, where several of the 93 suites and villas look directly onto the saline infinity from plunge pools, deck chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Rivaling that ambient dreaminess is the house spa, whose fusion menu reflects both local tradition and the brand’s Thai heritage. Then again, cultural crosscurrents are hardly new to this region—where Berber, Roman, Byzantine and Arab rule alternated through the ages—and centuries’ worth of camel caravans brought healing ingredients from far and wide. So while the hammam-based treatments are the arguable superstars of the lineup, they’re perfectly complemented by Thai Herbal Compress Massage, Traditional Thai Massage and Relaxing Jasmine Massage—hallmarks of any Anantara spa.

But back to that hammam. All soaring vaults, marble surfaces, petal-strewn basins and misty niches, the place induces transcendence whether you go for a simple steam and scrub or something more involved. In the latter category, there’s everything from the 120-minute Royal Hammam Signature Experience (a scented steam session, mud soap cleanse, sloughing with a traditional kesse mitt and a custom massage) to the 180-minute Imperial Journey (scented steam, a mud bath, a local salt and soap exfoliation, a custom massage and an argan-infused facial treatment).

Beyond the spa, Anantara’s wellness offerings range from a fitness track that borders the Chott el Djerid to three resort pools, but you’ll also want to take your recreation off campus. Hike through the starkly beautiful canyons of Tamaghza and Mides, each with its own hidden water features and falls; wander the dazzling palm oases that dot the region, with plenty of stops for fresh local dates, pomegranates and citrus; ride camels—then walk—out onto the local dunes at sunrise or sunset, when the undulating sands shift from gold to orange to purple under your (ideally bare) feet; and stroll the Medina of Tozeur, where the ancient geometric brickwork blends seamlessly into the surrounding desert.

There are also abandoned Berber villages, Stars Wars locations and—most mirage-like of all—the vast salt flat to explore. Just be sure you’re back at the resort in time to have at least one Berber Nights experience: a succession of traditional dishes and musical acts served up in a village-like setting under the Saharan stars.

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