As any of you who have read my earlier ‘if you can’t live longer, live deeper’ post will know, this year has been a very difficult one, so when my husband and I decided we were due a bit of a break we decided to spoil ourselves and booked into the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort for a long weekend. What an absolutely stunning, elegant, place – we were treated to pure luxury and indulgence from the minute we arrived, which of course was exactly what we needed!
The hotel is located 200 km from Abu Dhabi city in the Western Region of the Emirate and sits in one of the largest sand deserts in the world – Rub’ al Khali – also known as ‘The Empty Quarter’. After the long drive from Abu Dhabi city (around 2 hours) you finally reach the turn off for the hotel, which takes you along a smaller road, winding 13km deeper into beautiful desert isolation as you go.
The hotel setting is just breath taking, and just as you think it can’t possibly get anymore beautiful, it does. The sand dunes have to be seen to be believed – there’s just something so humbling about them – it’s that unmistakable feeling that reminds you in no uncertain terms who’s in charge. The colour of the sand is also just incredible – a deep rusty red that I have never seen anywhere else in the world except the UAE. There’s just something so peaceful about the place that just immediately makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, as though you’ve been there forever already.
The hotel has been designed in such a way that it blends in to the landscape seamlessly – it only opened in 2009, but it looks so comfortable in its surroundings you could be forgiven for thinking it had been established much longer. Earthy colours and textures are matched with traditional style Middle Eastern design which brings sumptuous style and elegance to the resort.
We decided to book a ‘deluxe balcony room’ as we’d read on TripAdvisor room recommendations that the views across the desert tended to be better from these. Before leaving home we also signed up for the GHA Discovery loyalty card (for free) as it offered other extras such as free room upgrade – subject to availability of course. We were given one of the rooms that overlooked the Dunes, facing right out into the Empty Quarter itself, and looking out towards the outdoor Al Falaj restaurant. We were a little worried that the restaurant might disturb us at night when it opened, but the weather was still quite warm when we visited so was not overly busy and was also far enough away not to cause us any disturbance or bother at all.
The interior of the hotel room was decorated beautifully, in keeping with the Arabian feel of the exterior, and the bathroom had quite possibly the biggest bath I’ve ever seen! I loved the way the bath was set back from the rest of the bathroom in its own alcove, which provided a cosy feel to such a large space. Just make sure you allow plenty of time to fill the bath – it takes a lot to fill a beast like this! The Elemis bath salts provided were also another welcome luxurious touch.
The hotel itself is set low into the landscape and as such the accommodation wings extend out for quite some distance to the right and the left of the main body of the building. It’s never too far to walk and there are shaded walkways that lead all the way to the main reception building, but there are also golf carts aplenty for those less able (or willing!) to walk.
On our first afternoon I decided to treat myself to the 90 minute signature massage at the hotel spa and I was not disappointed. The spa is located in a stand alone building facing out into the desert on the edge of the resort and oozes calm luxury and serenity from the moment you step inside. I found my therapist to be friendly and knowledgeable, and any spa awkwardness was avoided by clear explanation of the process along with clarification of my expectations and specific needs. Full length windows allow unobstructed views of the dunes, while outside the windows a water feature runs gently downwards in wide steps which brings a refined sense of grace and opulence to the atmosphere. The treatment rooms are spacious, quiet and very private – the ultimate surrounding and ambience for a blissful experience.
Qasr Al Sarab has five restaurants to choose from as well as private dining options available in the desert or in your own villa. We dined at ‘Al Waha’ restaurant for breakfast, a lavish lunchtime brunch buffet and again once for an evening buffet during our three night stay. The buffets at all times of the day featured a wide selection of foods international, arabic and asian to please a variety of palettes. I was particularly fond of the manakeesh station – you can never go wrong with a good sampling of cheesy bread at any time of day as far as I’m concerned! The flat bread used was thin and perfectly textured so as not to be too gooey or too crunchy and tasted beautifully fresh as we had seen it prepared in front of our eyes.
We also sampled the delights of ‘Suhail’, the resort’s upscale steakhouse and grill restaurant. If you like good food, with a leaning towards globally acclaimed beef cuts and fine wines, this is the place for you! The restaurant has a separate bar near the entrance which is a lovely place to have a pre-dinner drink, although I would recommend sitting outside so as to be able to enjoy the view and evening silence across the dunes. The food was expensive, although for a one off or a special occasion was definitely worth the effort as the surroundings, wine and the food all impressed.
We often like to have a lazy night on trips like these and order in room service, and that’s the one area I have to say I felt could have been improved. Whilst the standard of food that arrived was exactly as you’d expect in a hotel of this class – It seemed that only the most basic dishes were catered for and the range of plates catering to smaller appetites did not provide much choice. I felt the variety on the room service menu was limited, especially given the range of quick, easy to prepare and seemingly room service appropriate meals that are available on other menus throughout the hotel.
On the days we spent by the pool we ate lunch at ‘Ghadeer’, the poolside bar and restaurant which serves a good range of snacks and meals. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your poolside lounger for the restaurant if you don’t want, as you can opt to have your food served right where you are sitting. Throughout the day complimentary refreshing smoothies are also periodically served to poolside guests which was another winning touch. It seems they have thought of everything to ensure you have the best possible experience throughout your stay.
I had heard from a friend that a must do whilst at the resort was to drag yourself out of bed before sunrise, just to experience the beautiful silence of the place. The hotel offers many activities to entertain all tastes, energetic, sightseeing, relaxing and more… On seeing they offered sunrise yoga classes, I decided this would be the perfect activity for me, and the perfect reason to get myself up so early in the morning! It’s always hard to get up on holiday and this occasion was no exception, although I was soon glad I had made the effort. At sunrise the resort is so incredibly peaceful and still – there’s just something in the air at that time that has a powerful effect on warming and soothing the soul. There was only myself and one other tourist for the sunrise yoga so we were able to get lots of attention from the friendly and enthusiastic instructor. There’s something so wonderful about practising yoga outdoors at any time, but add the bewitching sound of silence and the majesty and grandeur of the surrounding dunes and it was just sublime. Sunrise is also the time when the local wildlife is most active, so if you’re lucky you can often spot Arabian Oryx at the nearby watering hole.
All in all, our short break was relaxing and luxurious and met – even exceeded – our expectations. We lived like Kings for the weekend and it was exactly what we needed to decompress and have some fun. I can’t recommend the hotel highly enough for a luxury and exotic escape. The hotel is perfect for those living in the UAE looking for an escape that’s far enough away to feel like you’re on holiday without involving too much travel time or planning. It’s also a great place to visit for an overseas tourist on a UAE sightseeing holiday as it provides the opportunity to visit the villages of Liwa and explore the Empty Quarter from an indulgent and luxurious base. The only problem is that you won’t want to leave!