The UAE has some amazing beach resorts. But the one thing that is unique about this tourist Mecca, that sets it apart from other warm climate destinations….. is its location on the edge of the vast Arabian Desert called the Empty Quarter, and there are surprisingly very few desert resorts. So being a nature lover, I was keen to experience Anantara Qasr Al Sarab which is Located in the legendary Rub’Al Khali, the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world.
The resort is about 2 hours drive form Abu Dhabi, UAE, and worth it. From the moment you turn off the highway, the zen desert landscape is like a sorbet preparing you for the sensorial experience to come. You drive through a few k’s of rolling sand dunes and some monumental tower gates before being presented with the surreal oasis of an Arabian fort style village amongst velvet sand dunes. Then more towers, gates, a bridge, and finally the entrance arch. Your normal life is eons away.
Meaning “The Mirage Palace “in Arabic, visiting Qasr Al Sarab has all the romance of discovering a remote and forgotten exotic Adobe civilization, lost in the sands of time. The architectural execution of recreating a heritage village oozes authenticity. The Architects, Dubarch, have respectfully played with irregular geometric arrangement of simple Adobe forms, thick walls, small windows and crenelated parapets, typical in Arabic style of the region. The asymmetrical clusters of cubic elements along with multiple setbacks, creates a wonderfully confusing sense of scale, difficult to perceive. Textured cement renders and limewash coatings do well to mimic traditional mud brick an mud render and much of the detail of screens and ceiling linings are made from actual dry date palm leaves in traditional method, giving as rustic hand made feel. Interiors by HBA.
The landscaping throughout is lush and its a delight to wander around the resort and get a bit lost. There are plenty of traditional “Falaj” (love that word) Arabian water canals around, typically used for irrigation and drinking water, even today. I wonder where Louis Kahn got his ideas for the Salk Institute from??
All of the 205 room and suites have varying rolling sand dune views from their balconies and terraces . Extremely calming and even better to walk on barefoot. Would be great if the beds faced the view instead of the TV. Love the big circular tubs.
The interiors are quite rustic and decorative, lacking the minimal simplicity of a true Arabic palace. Some of the FF&E is a bit disappointing with a lot of PVC wicker in the restaurants. Public areas are accessorized with arrangements of Arabic antiques, no doubt found in Soaks of Oman. There is of course a Majlis, should you feel the urge to share the story of your Bedouin journey of how many camels perished on route and the falcon that never returned.
One of the best parts the resort is to wander the BIG dunes, especially at sunset. Great for the calf and glutes. Loose yourself in the caramel ice cream-scape of genies and ancient legends. Then wander back into a mirage that is very real…..Yallah!!
Photos by the author, with the guestroom picks from Anantara
Interested in something similar? Look at Sahrai Hotel in Fez