There is something deeply evocative about escaping to the undulating desert, immersing yourself in your very own 1001 Arabian Nights fantasy. But, full disclosure: my fairytales always feature five-star service, spectacular gourmet spreads and, in Covid-centric times, complete seclusion. With the opportunity of Instagram-worthy scenic settings an added bonus.
If you’re looking for my kind of Aladdin-esque experience, then booking at the Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa will fulfil the brief in every respect. Set amid seemingly untouched Abu Dhabi dunes, this property that oozes boutique-hotel vibes is a bit of an insider secret.
The resort rises like a mirage from the dunes as you drive up to it, comfortably ensconced in its surroundings, modelled on a traditional village – but with every mod con you could think of. Fountains gurgle at every corner, as waterways trickle through the earthen courtyards; there’s a sense of serenity and you feel soothed as soon as you enter. The city, with its hustle and bustle feels a world away.
The Arabesque style continues into the rooms and suites which are dotted around the resort; I would request one near the main pool if possible as that’s also closest to the multitude of eateries and the spa. Our spacious quarters included a stand-alone sunken tub that’s made for luxurious soaking, a huge shower and his’n’her sinks plus a guest restroom, dining area and lounge plus two terraces. The one-bedroom suite was bigger than a lot of apartments and would be ideal for families. You’ll sink into the comfy beds at night, only to be lured awake by the promise of an excellent breakfast, complete with freshly made patisserie and their trademark shakshuka, served by always-smiling staff eager to please.
Given its remote location, you’d think this spot could get away with being lax on the gourmet front. But we feasted on some of the best dining we’ve ever had in a hotel. From the crisp, cinnamon-dusted pastilla and rich tagines, washed down with fresh mint tea at atmospheric Moroccan-accented Al Mesayan to casual pool-side lunches at Panache and international flavours at all-day dining Bait Al Hanine, the food was one of the highlights of our stay. Don’t forget to book the Italian trattoria Terra Secca ahead of time – it’s understandably popular, with Abu Dhabi enthusiasts driving over from the city for a taste of their signature pizzas. At sunset it has another draw; ponies from the nearby stables come to join in on the grazing, so while you feast of olive-oil soaked focaccia followed by perfectly done filets, they nibble on the grass providing a charming backdrop.
Not one to just relax in a discrete poolside cabana or lounge in the water book in hand, no matter how inviting? This might be the place for you as there are also a plethora of activities you can pack into an itinerary. From sunset horse rides orchestrated by the expert Al Jiyad Stables, catering to children and adults of all abilities from complete novices to cantering aces, to camel excursions, archery lessons and a not-to-be-missed falcon show you can schedule in as much or as little as you’d like. Chats with Davies, the resident ornithologist are fascinating; he’ll even introduce you to Obelisk the owl and give you detailed insights into the lives of his falcon charges.
It’s worth the two hour journey from Dubai to have another signature deep tissue massage from the extraordinary Yao. I requested she work out the stubborn knots in my shoulders, and she obliged, adjusting her touch at pressure points and leaving me stress free at the end. The tranquil Saray Spa also comes fully equipped with a Snow Room, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam plus hot and cold plunge pools and a hammam; guests often spend their whole day being pampered here.
Living in the Middle East for the past fourteen years I have experienced my fair share of desert adventures and staycations; but for a full Princess Jasmine experience, this is definitely one I would hurry back for.
Find the Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa in Al Wathba South, Abu Dhabi BOOK HERE