A stay in the desert is the closest most of us will get to holidaying on another planet. These resorts perfectly embody the trend for pared-back luxury, shifting the focus from overblown opulence to one of pampering and soul-soothing; favouring enriching experiences over materialism. Their remote locations, coupled with other-worldly vistas and five-star comforts make these places unbeatable when it comes to getting away from it all…
Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara, Abu Dhabi
This bucket-list topping resort is located in the aptly named Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi – it’s a seriously special hotel, with staggering desert views from all rooms. There’s a photo opportunity at every turn, whether you’re snapping a captivating sunset, the view from your oversized bathtub, the twinkling night sky, or food-boasting on Instagram. Top of the do-list are spa visits, dune-bashing in a 4×4, sandboarding, camel trekking, and open-air dining in the desert. The staff are unspeakably accommodating; you’ll be treated like royalty from the moment you arrive (something they’re well-used to – the whole resort was formerly reserved exclusively for use by the Abu Dhabi royal family).
Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Alila Jabal Akhdaris a boutique hotel with a rugged charm, overlooking the ‘Grand Canyon of Oman’. It’s a grown-up resort, best suited to adults (although children are allowed – and there is a small play centre to keep them occupied whilst you indulge in the spa or relax by the infinity pool). The hotel’s low-rise architecture pays homage to its surroundings, using rough-hewn stone, carved-wood furnishings, and panoramic windows to capture the jaw-dropping views. The Jabal Villas are the most sought-after rooms; these sprawling beauties feature steam rooms, private terraces (ideal for stargazing) and straight-lined plunge pools, but it’s the views across the canyon that take centre stage. This resort is a great option for twin centres – combine it with another hotel in Muscat (the tranquil Chedi springs to mind), or drop in on your way to a far-flung Thai island.
Al Wadi Desert – A Ritz Carlton Hotel, Ras Al Khaimah
Formerly the Banyan tree Resort, Al Wadi Desert is set within the set within a nature reserve. At just an hours’ drive from Dubai, it’s well-combined with a stay in the city. It’s recently been taken over by Ritz-Carlton, who bring with them all the hallmarks of luxury: impeccably trained staff, top quality amenities and a hefty investment to take the property up a notch. All of the rooms come with a private pool, but the larger tented rooms (decked out in Bedouin style) are the most coveted – this is glamping at its most glamorous.
Things to do range from basking on your private sundeck to falconry, horseback riding through the dunes, and sunset hot-air balloon excursions. The spa is also worth a visit; as well as a knot-busting choice of massages, there are wraps to relieve sun-kissed skin, and invigorating body scrubs concocted using locally grown spices. The signature Rainforest aqua therapy is quite an experience – you’re given an hour to explore fourteen stations of H2O-heaven, ranging from hamman baths to chilled showers – the perfect contrast to the sun-baked landscape outside.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, Oman
Anantara really knows what makes a successful desert resort – this is the second from the Thai hospitality brand to feature on this list. Resting on the fabled ‘Green Mountain’ of Oman (which admittedly still looks quite barren to us, although there are a few pretty juniper trees dotted about), it’s the highest five-star hotel in the Middle East, boasting terrific views over a large canyon below (which, if the mood takes, you can attempt to capture on canvas by joining the landscape painting class).
One of the best places to take in the vista is from Diana’s Viewpoint, where the late Princess Diana once stood (many years before the resort was built). This resort is well-suited to families, with a host of activities to keep everyone busy with everything from abseiling to archery. There’s a climbing wall, an excellent kids club, a separate teens club, hiking and mountain biking excursions – as well as a sublime spa, and a host of fine dining experiences. The in-house chef also runs cooking courses, starting with a trip to the souks of Nizwa in search of authentic ingredients, before returning to the resort to prepare several traditional Omani dishes.
Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, Dubai
The original UAE desert resort (and definitely still one of the best), Al Maha is a romantic, eco-conscious resort located in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (just under an hours’ drive from Dubai). It’s best suited to honeymooners (combining their stay with a few nights in Dubai city), couples, or groups of friends. Children under 10 are not allowed.
Most of the suites are stand-alone tents, decked out with Arabian antiques and oriental carpets. Even the smallest tents are a whopping 75m2 in size, with a fully-fitted bathroom (complete with a walk-in shower and over-sized bathtub), a custom-made king-size bed, air-conditioning, and a private temperature-controlled infinity pool that overlooks the dunes.
Highlights include sunset camel rides (complete with a ‘strawberry and champagne’ stop at the top of a dune), and the safari-style wildlife drives. Depending on when you book, a stay here works out very good value compared to some of the other luxury desert resorts in the region, since all meals and two activities per day are included in the price (it’s almost an all-inclusive package, minus alcoholic drinks).
Spencer Groves is Commercial Director at letsgo2.
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