“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Ibn Battuta
Since moving to the UAE we have taken advantage of our location and travelled to many beautiful and exotic places, both long and short-haul. During some of the Eid breaks after Ramadan, we have visited some fantastic places either just a drive or short flight away from Abu Dhabi so as this Eid approaches I thought I would share three of them with you. As well as being a perfect travel hub for exploring further afield the UAE is also a great place for a staycation.
QASR AL SARAB DESERT RESORT
Our first foray into the desert was to the remote and luxurious Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara near Liwa in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter. This magnificent desert oasis is just a couple of hours drive from the capital and offers guests the epitome of elegance and relaxation set against a stunning panorama of the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world. This fairly new resort, which opened in 2009 is a signature destination that offers old-world desert charm honouring Emirati heritage and the culture of this region.
As you take the track road off into the desert, this imposing resort which has been designed to resemble an ancient fortress, rises in front of you like a magnificent palace and you can’t help being wowed before you have even left your vehicle. This architecturally impressive retreat blends seamlessly into its sandy landscape with an equally beautiful interior combining Middle Eastern style furniture, textiles, ceramics and traditional artefacts contrasting against the best of modern-day hospitality. Separate low-rise buildings are linked via manicured walkways lined with water features, each accessed via large imposing wooden doors which give way to the coolness of the stone floors and serenity beyond, at night corridors are romantically lit by Arabic lanterns setting an overall pleasant ambiance.
The Arabian decor continues into the tasteful hotel rooms and we had a beautiful traditionally decorated room with dark furniture and rich earthly tones located in a palm tree-lined and fountain filled courtyard with our own private terrace overlooking the dunes, which was particularly spectacular at sunset. The restaurants were superb offering a variety of cuisines and there is also a multitude of activities on offer from camel rides, dune bashing and falconry as well as a fantastic Spa and swimming pools. The service was impeccable from the moment we arrived to the moment we left, nothing was too much trouble.
This resort is a perfect sanctuary for a long weekend to escape city living and just relax, be pampered and enjoy a peaceful little snippet of desert life, I would also recommend it as a fantastic place to take visitors too.
Top Tip: Book this resort if you want to win maximum brownie points with your respective other.
QASR AL SARAB
Location: Qasr Al Sarab Road, Abu Dhabi
Telephone: 02 886 2088
THE CHEDI, MUSCAT
The following year we took the short flight to Oman’s capital to stay at The Chedi in Muscat. This immaculately landscaped five-star resort oozes refinement and Omani charm in an incredible location set against the backdrop of the Al Hajar Mountain range on one side and a private stretch of beach with views across the deep blue Gulf of Oman on the other.
First impressions count right? The colourful lantern filled lobby with traditional low Arabic style seating creates a burst of colour and a gloriously visual start. The understated minimalist luxury continues in every part of this traditional Omani design influenced hotel. Moorish water features adorn the many geometric walkways and courtyards giving an overall tranquil feeling and a series of archways and date palms line the pristine garden and pool areas. The cool white buildings are in contrast to the dark varnished wood furniture in the large tastefully decorated rooms and ours was a low-level affair entered through an open-plan bathroom with a fab rainforest shower, perfectly located in one of the wings of the main building. The hotel has a total of 158 Omani influenced guest rooms set over two-floors as well as villas located in the ground floor pavilions.
With six restaurants guests are usually spoilt for choice but as we visited during Eid only the main restaurant called imaginatively ‘The Restaurant’ was open for dinner serving a fantastic menu of international fusion cuisine from its open kitchens as well as fine wines and an extensive breakfast. We enjoyed lovely simple lunches from the poolside dining outlets and a really fantastic and therapeutic couples massage at the Asian-inspired spa adjacent to the Long Pool that specialises in Balinese therapies. The Chedi has the region’s longest pool, the aforementioned Long Pool which is a picturesque 103-metre-long stretch of tranquil water lined by palm trees and large double day beds on both sides, just perfect for chilling out. The main Chedi pool overlooks the private beach and the Serai pool has large awnings that provides much-needed shade from the hottest summer days which I recommend as a perfect spot for reading.
This hotel is a perfect place to chill out and enjoy an authentic Omani experience, eat delicious food and lap up the high-level of unprecedented service and attention to detail. The Sultanate of Oman has a rich and well-preserved history and a proud heritage and this hotel is in the perfect location to explore Muscat and beyond and experience the culture for yourself. Although in all honestly we never left the hotel and did our exploring on a later Oman driving trip (read more about Oman in previous posts Oman in Pictures, Walk on the Wide Side and Fort and Souk). If you are flying into Oman schedule time for the long visa queues at the airport and if you are planning a road trip take lots of snacks as the visa queues at the border are even longer.
Top Tip: Grab one of the double day beds at the Long Pool and definitely schedule a visit to the spa for a massage.
THE CHEDI, MUSCAT
Location: Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Telephone: (968) 24 52 44 00
BAB AL SHAMS
Bab Al Shams is located in the heart of the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a rustic low-level retreat nestled in the sand dunes where you experience the best of regional culture and the UAE’s heritage. Bab Al Shams which translated means “Gateway to the Sun” is another traditional Arabic fort style hotel set in a desert oasis and while it’s not as breathtaking as Qasr Al Sarab, it’s engaging in its own right. Thick sand stone walls offer shade and many courtyards, narrow alleyways and water features provide cool spots and maintain the individual character and ambiance. The common areas like the lobby and reception rooms are full of artefacts, colourful rugs, weapons and even life-size plastic camels all lit up by traditional style lanterns.
Our first floor room was large and comfortable designed in an old-style Arabic theme adorned with traditional textiles and lanterns, although the bathroom was quite small the room did had a lovely alcove seating area and balcony. The hotel, which opened in 2004 has a spacious pool area with swim up bar and outdoor rain style showers, 115 rooms and four restaurants serving both Arabic and International cuisine. We had Italian at the Le Dune Pizzeria one night, drank cocktails in the atmospheric upper floor open-air Al Sarab bar lounge and travelled to Dubai for the second night to meet friends. As it was the Eid holidays there were special large Arabic buffets on offer, traditional Arabic music and firework displays. The breakfast buffet served in the Al Forsan restaurant was large and had the attraction of a huge honeycomb dripping with fresh honey.
A celebration of Arabic cuisine and culture is available at the Al Hadheerah restaurant with a falconry display, camel caravan, horse show, Oud player and traditional dancing. Food is served from the live cooking stations, wood-fired ovens and spit roasts but it’s quite pricey (The Entertainer Dubai has two-for-one vouchers for this buffet). Although we didn’t experience it the hotel does have the Satori spa which offers a wide range of treatments and the more active guests can explore the desert by jeep, horse or camel or try your hand at archery, falconry and croquet on-site. The service was good and we were welcomed with drinks and cold towels on arrival but check-out was a little slower. This hotel is ideal for a one or two night getaway.
Top Tip: Go for drinks at sunset at the Al Sarab rooftop lounge for a striking vista across the desert beyond.
BAB AL SHAMS DESERT RESORT & SPA
Location: Al Qudra Road, Dubai
Telephone: 04 809 6100
Whether you decide to have a staycation in the UAE or explore new places this coming Eid-al-Fitr, I wish you Happy Travels 😉
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. First photo used courtesy of Qasr Al Sarab Resort, third photo used courtesy of GHM Hotels and the fifth photo used courtesy of Bab Al Shams Resort.