The UAE may be only 41 years old, but the country’s heritage goes back hundreds of years. And now holidaymakers have the chance to experience traditional Arabian living first-hand, with a few modern luxuries thrown in.
Arabian Nights Village, which opened in October 2012, is situated about two hours from Dubai: driving into miles of unchartered sand, past the emirate’s camel farms, you soon set upon two imposing towers standing by the entrance. Inside the walls are coloured stone bungalows, barasti huts modelled on the traditional coastal residences, plus traditional Bedouin tents with modern amenities. There are also rooms available in the towers beside the front gate: the Al Manhal Tower Suites are designed to look like opulent palaces of old.
The Bedouin tents give you a taste of days gone by, but with added A/C and washrooms. You’ll also find a small souk, a huge swimming pool with sun loungers, an al-fresco dining area and a restaurant with tables and comfy sofas outside. The village, which took three years to build, can accommodate 60 guests in its 30 rooms and bungalows.
If Arabian Nights’ philosophy is to capture the spirit of a more simple time, it has managed it very well indeed, but in some unexpected ways. Modern technology isn’t welcome here. There are no TVs in the rooms, no Wi-Fi, and you’ll struggle to even get a phone signal.
While the village embraces traditional Arabian heritage, there’s a more modern twist when it comes to the activities on offer. Guests can be transported from Abu Dhabi to the resort in a fleet of SUVs, and the first stop on the tour is at a camel farm. It’s very easy to get up close and personal with the ships of the desert here as they wander around in a huge pen, letting tourists pet them and take photos.
Next up is a spot of dune bashing. Adrenaline junkies may be disappointed not to take the wheel themselves, but the banks of sand are so steep that one wrong move and your SUV could be rolling down a hill. It’s still a thrilling experience and we recommend sitting in the front seat to get the most out of it. The drivers tease and stop at the top of the steepest inclines for a few seconds for added dramatic effect.
There’s also time to get in a spot of sandboarding before reaching the village. Snowboarders will find the only real similarity between the sports is the equipment, although a sandboard is smaller than a snowboard. Boarding through sand comes with its own problems: you’re strapped in loosely with Velcro, as opposed to the more traditional bindings, and it’s much heavier going and slower than snow.
Once at the resort, you can have a go at camel riding and quad biking. The camel ride is free, but you’ll need dirhams to head out on one of the bikes. Henna painting is also available, as is the chance to meet a falcon.
The village is home to a small souk which sells the various glasses, cutlery, bowls and accessories used to decorate the rooms. They’re all made from local designs.
Culinary options are limited – you’re in the middle of the desert, after all. There’s only one place you can go for dinner and breakfast. The good news is the food is great, served Emirati-style at low chairs and tables positioned around a stage.There are 70 staff in the village, who all live in accommodation next door, and their commitment to customer service is impressive. They’re attentive without being pushy, a vibe that fits perfectly with the quiet surroundings. Another nice touch is the free water, soft drinks and plenty of fruit and dates supplied in your room.
Need to know
It’s a two-hour trip from Dubai: either make the journey yourself, or arrange for pick-up in a fleet of 4x4s from Al Raha Beach. If you choose the latter, you’ll be able to visit the camel farm and go sandboarding and dune bashing en-route to the resort. From Dhs1,250 per room per night, including breakfast and dinner and most activities; Dhs3,750 per night in a tower suite, which can hold six guests.
www.arabiannights.ae (02 676 9990).