• Private pools • No noise, no light. Just a starry, starry sky • A desert resort that is, actually, a long (long) way into the desert Location: The hotel is situated in the Rub ‘Al Khali (Liwa Desert) in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter, which is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world. Expect to see sand, and lots of it, while you’re there and while you’re getting there.
The drive to the hotel, even if you’re travelling from downtown Abu Dhabi, is a long one. That said, seeing such large swathes of desert is a novel experience. But it does get repetitive after a while, so this is the sort of drive that needs a killer soundtrack and cruise control.
Character: When you do eventually arrive, it’s clear you’re at a truly luxurious resort. We were greeted in Arabic (fortunately we’d practised our as-salam ‘alaykum before we arrived). Post our Arabic greeting exchange, we were smoothly ushered to the reception, checked in and whisked to our room in a hotel golf buggy.
The property is designed to reflect the region’s cultural heritage and specifically those of the Bedouin tradition. Inside the property, which is spacious and airy, guests are presented with locally hand-crafted furnishings at every turn with rich colours and embroidered fabrics softening the experience of several beige stone walls.
Externally, the property captures the simple elegance and grandeur of an old Arabian fortress. This is set against a backdrop of rolling red sand dunes that stretch out into the distance as far as the eye can see. Be it morning, afternoon or dusk, the result is a stunning vista.
There are many resorts in the Middle East that try to bottle and repackage the old forts, Bedouin heritage and Arabian culture of days gone by. Few, if any, do it as effortlessly and perfectly as Qasr Al Sarab.
Service: The butler service is becoming more and more common in luxury five-star resorts, and this one is no different. There’s a 24/7 butler service here, and whether you’re at the pool, riding a camel or ordering a pizza to your room, expect top-notch treatment. Rooms: The hotel itself describes the villas as ‘private palaces’, and they’re not far wrong. Like the resort, an Arabian fort theme rings throughout the rooms. The real stand-out memory from our stay is the over-sized terrazzo bathtubs. You could (genuinely) fit an entire football team into one. Restaurants & bars: There are five restaurants covering everything from steak and chips to cake and coffee. The pick of the restaurants is Suhail Rooftop Bar & Grill, good for steak and a stunning view of the night sky. Ghadeer, meanwhile, seems to be the busiest restaurant, offering a relaxed Mediterranean affair by the pool in the day and a romantic candlelit experience by night. If you’re meeting friends, try the Al Liwan Lobby Lounge for some traditional Middle Eastern coffee.
For those who don’t want to venture from the comfort of their villa, it’s possible to arrange a private barbecue in your ‘private palace’. Naturally, this comes with your own chef and butler. Facilities: The resort is designed as a place to relax, so lots of attention has been paid to the spa experience. The tranquil surroundings lend themselves to relaxation, so we wholly recommend you book a treatment. We’re not the most adventurous when it comes to spa treatments, so we went for the signature massage. The treatment includes a blend of oils, kneading and stretching techniques to stimulate the circulation and promote deep relaxation of the muscles. It works.
The spa includes four couples’ treatment suites, a spa villa, a Vichy room, a traditional Moroccan hamman and an ice room. Aside from the spa, there’s a top-notch gym and a swimming pool. The large pool even has a swim-up bar that is shaded, so even in the hottest months you can enjoy a mocktail while lounging in your swimwear.
Activities: There are two types of activity on offer: resort based and excursion based. The excursion based activities take you into the Empty Quarter and include archery, desert walking, camel trekking, dune bashing, falconry shows, horse riding, fat biking, land sailing and much more.
Closer to home in the hotel property itself, you can have a go at cooking classes, yoga and swimming.
There are also dedicated kids’ and teens’ clubs. Younger guests can enjoy activities such as billiards, table tennis and other fun activities. Remember, most of the activities are family friendly, so it’s relatively easy to keep the kids entertained.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara