• The rainforest spa experience is unlike anything we have tried before • The villas feel totally private and secluded with views over dreamy desert dunes • The in-room barbecues and picnic hampers, available through room service Location: Reached by a quiet road that snakes through dunes, by the time you reach Banyan Tree there’s nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. The scene only get more remote from here on out. After check-in (in a stunning light-filled lobby, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows) you’re taken by golf buggy to your villa, and once the doors close behind you, it feels blissfully isolated. Nothing but sand, sky, a rippling plunge pool and the odd oryx.
Character: Everything about this hotel blends seamlessly with the desert landscape. Inspired by traditional Bedouin living – and designed to be as sustainable as possible – almost everything is made of wood or stone. Villas are nestled among the desert shrubbery, traditional watchtowers sit on hills and cushioned chairs perch on the edges of dunes where you can relax with a picnic overlooking a lush oasis.
Service: Staff are perfectly discreet and unobtrusive, but never at the expense of impeccable service. They know you’re here for complete peace and privacy, and respect that as much as possible, but any request – whether ordering room service or inquiring about the hotel’s activities – is seen to immediately and with genuine warmth.
Rooms: We stayed in an Al Khaimah Tented Pool Villa. The huge bedroom and bathroom (with a deep-soaking tub, rain shower and dressing area) curve around outdoor decking and a sapphire plunge pool that looks out over rolling desert. Windows and double doors surround you on all sides, hung with gossamer curtains and heavy drapes. Outside you’ll find sun loungers, a table and chairs and a huge, shaded sunbed. On our visit, a 5am wake-up call was utterly worth it to sip coffee in the cool dawn air and watch as a couple of wild oryx inspected the shrubs around the pool. There’s something totally relaxing about the light and the space, as well as the way everything opens out and flows down to the desert.
The smaller Al Rimal Deluxe Pool Villas are just as beautifully designed, and still have private pools, but without the Bedouin tent-feel. All rooms have Bose surround-sound, a 41-inch TV and well-stocked mini bar. If you’d rather be beachside, villas at Banyan Tree RAK Beach have a dreamy quality. Everything is hung with white drapes, including the four-poster bed, and plunge pools here look out over the coast. Restaurants & bars: Safran serves predominantly Thai cuisine including fragrant fresh seafood curries, spicy salads and a fantastic pad Thai with mango salad. Al Waha serves authentic Arabic food and a few Indian dishes (we can heartily recommend the biryani), while Moon Bar has a beautiful rooftop overlooking the whole hotel and surrounding area. Breakfast includes a good buffet of hot dishes, continental and deli options, in addition to an à la carte menu that includes delicious fluffy waffles, eggs and more. A wide range of tea, coffee and fresh juice is also offered. Our favourite thing about the dining options here, though, are the alternative experiences such as a private, romantic dinner at the top of one of the hotel’s watchtowers. You can also order a barbecue and enjoy it in the privacy of your own villa with a personal chef and butler (or opt to do the cooking yourself), and we love the picnic hampers that come with all sorts of refined treats like pâté, fruit platters and cookies.
Facilities: If you book just one spa treatment here it should be at The Rainforest. Follow a trail of 16 hydrothermal therapies and facilities: walk down a rain corridor; stand under a tropical storm; immerse yourself in rainforest mist; steam in the Aroma chambers; relax in a sauna and then drench yourself in a bucket shower before heading into the ice igloo. It’s one of the most refreshing spa sessions we have ever tried, not to mention the most unique. Other facilities include a gym and library stocked with titles in various languages. Each villa has a set of bikes, though you can ring for golf buggy pick-up at a moment’s notice. Guests can use the facilities of Banyan Tree RAK Beach and vice versa; there’s a regular free shuttle bus between the two. Also, of course, there is a beach, and an impressive main infinity pool with a bar, which is a beautiful spot for sundowners.
Activities: There are numerous activities here, from nature walks and stargazing to horse and camel riding. We also tried an archery lesson with a fantastic instructor. Two of the most fascinating activities are the owl interaction (one will fly to your gloved arm) and falcon show where you can watch the birds swoop in at break-neck speeds to capture their ‘prey’ in the form of raw meat.
There’s a good kids' club, with a playground, for ages four and above, including, for example, bed-time stories under the stars, nature-based activities, and arts and crafts.
GET A DISCOUNT WITH HOTEL TONIGHT Name: TIMEOUTDUBAI Value: 150 AED Min Spend: 400 AED Redemption period: 14.12.2015 - 21.12.2015 Booking/Checkin period: 06.12.2015 - 23.03.2016 Markets: all markets
Banyan Tree Al Wadi