Something Dubai is not short of is desert and whether you live here or are simply visiting on vacation, you simply must experience a night in the desert. Now for those of you that are conjuring up images of camping, lack of creature comforts and creepy crawlies, let us reassure you, that a stay at Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is so far beyond camping, even glamping, being one of the most luxurious, unique retreats in the entire region.
Nestled in a vast and verdant palm oasis, located somewhere between Dubai and Al Ain, this beautiful luxury resort sits in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which forms the beating heart of Al Maha. It has been designed to showcase the heritage and typical architecture of the Bedouins, offering a true sense of desert adventure to those experiential travellers who think they’ve seen it all in the UAE. Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa isn’t glitzy but it sure is glamorous.
Arriving at the resort is an experience in itself. After navigating your way to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turning of the main road, you arrive at some imposing steel gates and this is where the adventure begins. Directed to park and wait for your 4×4 escort, you’ll marvel at the impressive dunes peaking in the distance. You’re assigned a guide who takes you on the 10 minute drive through the wilderness to the resort itself as you gain a sense of delving deeper and deeper into the desert. Soon the landscape begins to noticeably change, the tarmac gives way to burnt orange sand, the perfection of the sculptural beauty only disturbed by the odd grazing Arabian Oryx or tuft of tree. It’s realy quite something.
The Arabian Oryx and the Gazelles are the star attractions in the reserve and if you’ve never encountered the symbol of the UAE’s cultural heritage then you must partake in one of the guided nature walks or drives offered at the resort as part of your stay. However, as we encountered first hand ourselves there are plenty of opportunities to observe these fascinating creatures up close for the indigenous Arabian wildlife regularly stops by your private plunge pool and sundeck at your villa for a refresher.
Moving onto the accommodation here, which is without a doubt unique to Dubai in each and every way. As mentioned do not come with the expectation of gold leaf walls and plush, patterned carpets for the style here is traditional and that is every bit as remarkable and rich in its luxury as the most contemporary of hotels in the region.
Rooms range from the standard Bedouin Suites (anything but standard) to the Presidential Suite which as you can imagine by its name is something you’ll require very deep pockets for. Sleeping up to 6 people and coming in at 530 metres squared this suite is the finest of all offered at Al Maha, complete with three large bedrooms.
Staying in one of the Bedouin Suites, number 22, which if you can request offers spectacular undisturbed views out across the desertscape, is a real treat. A complete hideaway from the humdrum of daily life. You’re completely private, with thick foliage separating neighbouring villas. The great thing about the accommodation here is that all villas are completely detached, meaning that you really do get to enjoy complete peace and quiet.
Stepping inside the Bedouin Suite is quite breath-taking and photos unfortunately do not do it justice. Such attention to detail has been paid to the decoration which is lavishly authentic with rare, handcrafted Arabian furnishings, antiques and artefacts. You’ll want to photograph each and every thing here for it’s a treasure trove of tradition. Thoughtful touches such as binoculars and an easel with art materials add to the personalized touch that a stay here offers, allowing you to express the inspiration that the landscape and wildlife brings. A custom-made super king-size bed takes pride of place in the room, impossibly comfortable and offers direct views out to the stunning scenery, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better view to wake up to in Dubai. A spacious bathroom is found to the back of the tented suite with large walk-in shower, bath and obligatory ‘his and hers’ vanity areas. Perhaps the piece de resistance of the Bedouin Suite however, and a main reason why this resort is so popular is the private sun deck compete with sun loungers and a temperature-controlled swimming pool (5×4 metres) for your own personal use. The wooden terrace is a great place for relaxing quietly or as an intimate setting for a personal dining experience where you can dine at your leisure in the seclusion of your villa gazing out in amazement at the never-ending vista of the dramatic desert views.
From days spent relaxing by your pool to making the most of this exciting destination, as part of your stay each guest is entitled to two different complimentary desert activities. Try your hand at archery or indulge in some adventurous dune bashing as you ride over the mountainous dunes in a 4×4 for a thrilling experience, a must for anyone who has not done the popular desert safari before. Feeling slightly more lethargic after a day spent basking in the Middle Eastern sunshine, we opted for the sundowner experience where slightly before the searing sun is due to set you are whisked off high into the dunes to toast the view with a sparkling beverage and let the emotions of witnessing the beauty of the resort at this time of day wash over you.
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is renowned for its gastronomic excellence and whilst dining options can feel somewhat limited on longer stays, the cuisine really is excellent. With menus that embrace both the east and west culture, dining here is an experience in itself. Al Diwaan is the sole restaurant here and is where you will take breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cuisine offered here is a refined eclectic selection of timeless classics with light, contemporary dishes being offered at lunchtime and evenings being a more formal affair with a wide selection of a la carte offerings. Breakfast is the only time a buffet is offered here, and has a wide selection of hot and cold dishes catering to an international clientele. If you don’t want to visit the restaurant for dinner you can enjoy deck and in-suite dining where a variety of excellent dishes are available.
For an extra special occasion opt for a magical experience of fine dining under the twinkling of the stars for a luxurious picnic. Persian carpets give way to starched white linen and all that you and your loved one have to do is enjoy fine far and each others company under the flicker of a flame.
For an after dinner aperitif or a spot of animal-watching, the Hajar Terrace Bar sits just above the main restaurant and has a small seating area complete with telescope. It’s a great, relaxed place to enjoy a cocktail whilst taking in the fantastical views of the reserve itself.
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is one of those rare properties that stir something deep within the soul, it’s a place that everyone should try to visit at least once, if not only for the stillness that a stay here offers. Through thoughtful design and excellent hospitality it has managed to capture the true essence of the Bedouin soul and showcase it through its commitment to harmonizing with the surrounding landscape. It’s a bucket list property if ever we encountered one.