A hidden jewel of the Middle East

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a work educational trip, taking in many of the beautiful luxury hotels that provide such a strong lure to travellers worldwide.

As a destination rapidly on the rise, Abu Dhabi is beginning to make significant waves in the industry, and this will only strengthen further once the opening of Saadiyat Island is complete in the latter stages of 2011. Following this, the unveiling of both the Guggenheim and Le Louvre are planned, and the new Jumeirah Etihad Towers is already open and flourishing.

But Abu Dhabi also features not one but two hugely impressive desert retreats, one of which I am going to focus on today. A three hour drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport into the arid wilderness will take you to the stylish Anantara Qasr al Sarab located in the vast Liwa District.

The absolute sheer remoteness of this hotel is intrinsic to its appeal. Not for everyone though, the 360 degree sand dune views as far as the eye can see might feel bleak to some, but inspiring to others. And this location is admittedly no good if you’re after shops, nightlife and attractions nearby. But as an escape from everything, the hotel revels in own charm and identity.
Driving into the hotel you barely notice you’ve arrived, as it has been constructed using the similar pastel colours of the desert so as to blend seamlessly with the environment. This Arabian fortress, with its epic cast iron doors, life sized ceramic pots and rustic wall designs is certainly a one-off, and that’s exactly what Abu Dhabi’s ruler wanted when he commissioned the build.

The quirkiness factor of Qasr al Sarab captivates you from the word ‘go’. Lavish internal spaces, aromatic hanging gardens, grand water features and a special underground access route for staff meaning that they seem to seem to appear magically like Aladdin from the lamp – all contribute to the carefully controlled ambience of the hotel.

The lead-in Deluxe Room type here is stunning with an emphasis on Arabian design, the use of golds and deep browns is prevalent throughout and the furnishings and marble bathrooms are exquisite.

Experiencing Lobster Thermidore as part of a banqueting style (I refuse to call it buffet) all day dining restaurant is also not something you’ll see very often, if ever. And it was delivered beautifully. But perhaps the real highlight was the rooftop bar and grill looking out on the vast, stunning starkness of rolling desert. The perfect spot for cocktails as the sun goes down.

The spa concept is one tailored absolutely towards relaxation, and a comprehensive hydrotherapy circuit is both accessible and well worth sampling. One thing to note is that the sun feels hotter here due to the desert surrounds and absence of cover, so afternoons by the delightful pool area are to be enjoyed with an extra degree of caution.

The early morning sunset walk through the dunes via 4×4 vehicles was a memorable experience and guests can also book a falconry encounter or archery session in the desert. The desert safari and BBQ dinner is naturally a popular excursion and all are bookable through the dedicated excursion centre.

This niche hotel is perfect for spa recovery breaks and short luxury stays – and ideal as a twin centre option offering the perfect contrast from the vibe of Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Carole Booth is Commercial Director at Destinology.

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