What happened when I ‘found myself’ in the middle of the desert at the Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara in Abu Dhabi? What happened was I almost didn’t check out.
I had to laugh when on arriving literally in the middle of nowhere, I logged onto the in-house wifi and saw the choice ‘walk in guest’ as an option.
“Walk in guest?” I scoffed. Given the resort is in the worlds largest uninterrupted desert and a ninety minute sand dune filled drive from Abu Dhabi I can’t imagine that option gets used much. But maybe I’m wrong.
What I do know is that if I happened to get lost in any desert and was fortunate enough to stumble across this heavenly oasis there’s a high chance I’d probably never leave again.
Set in the same golden sands that housed the film set for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara is in my humble opinion one of the finest resorts I’ve ever stayed in. Perhaps the finest.
Built by the Abu Dhabi government at a staggering cost of US $5 billion in 2014 as one of the Resort group’s 38 worldwide properties, it’s fort like palatial design wows you from the moment it appears out of the dunes like a vision from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
A mirage? No, it is real and I only felt a little cheated I wasn’t lumbering in on a camel myself with a trailing caravan of friends and family behind me (and ahem, my harem). “We shall set up camp here tonight” I’d exclaim. Or someone else will for us anyway.
Instead I was ‘oohing and aahing’ with my new friends from the modern comforts of our air conditioned four wheel drive as we sped across the long sand bridge and in through the hugely impressive turreted gate house.
The vehicle stopped. And then aside from the sprinkle of cool water from a marble fountain, angelic bird song in the swaying palm trees and warm welcoming hello’s from the staff… All was silent.
Where am I? Eden? Am I still alive?
Walking around the expansive (205 room and villa) resort with its intelligently designed water irrigation system to cool the place and abundant shady enclaves, the peace and quiet is everywhere and that feeling of calm remains wherever you wander.
How’s the serenity? There’s fragrant Frangipani trees, vibrant Bougainvillea’s that curl around the shadow streaked mocha coloured stone walls and the odd fellow guest to pass on the pathways who will nod and give you that knowing look in agreement that ‘yes – this place really is heaven.’
What to do? It’s up to you but relaxation and unplugging from every day reality is the key here.
Laze like the proverbial ‘lizard flat out drinking’ by the huge, sail covered pool or sit on your own furnished balcony and terrace with a good book from the well stocked library or simply stare out into the sandy infinity chomping dates, baklava (oh the baklava) and sipping mint tea.
If you’re feeling adventurous (and you haven’t eaten recently) you can go dune bashing in a 4WD, sand boarding, Fat tyre biking, or camel riding or maybe hit the huge, extremely well equipped gym which rumour has it, many international sporting teams come to train in.
Which makes me wonder – do they walk in?
I decided on a whim to hike up the adjacent and huge sand dune to see the sunset and was followed by a gaggle of cashed up, noisy Argentinian couples. Some of the female contingent were wearing g-strings (yes really) staggering up the soft sand on what was a climb that was much harder than it first looked.
But the view was so worth it, even with my excited new South American friends taking a gazillion selfies and holding an impromptu desert party up there.
Night times here are extremely special too and after a couple of contemplative Gin and tonics up on the roof terrace it was time to sit back and experience dinner under the stars in the resorts Bedouin styled dining camp.
As the magical sound of the traditional Oud played, my travelling friends and I tucked into tasty mezze plates and sizzling barbecued meats including fragrant beef and chicken with freshly baked warm roti’s together under the full moon.
Yes the wine was expensive and limited for choice, but this is the United Arab Emirates and you’re in the middle of a desert, not the Hunter Valley so it would be naive to expect otherwise.
The Qasr Al Sarab is a great place to venture to for anyone (looking to spoil themselves) really. Come here to chill on your own for some ‘you’ time, as a couple to experience quality time out together, or as a family for some desert fun. Everyone was represented while I was here with affluent Euros making up the majority.
All of the rooms are beautifully appointed with balconies or terraces and a mix of Bedouin and contemporary design and artefacts, the comfiest of beds and bathrooms with huge marble baths to soak your soul in. There’s even a soap menu where you can choose from a spice infused range.
You can also take your relaxing to the next level with the famed Anantara Spa that features an array of treatments to soothe any lost travelling soul and complete the wellbeing picture.
My only criticism? That I couldn’t stay longer. Three days would have been perfect to really soak it all up fully. I had just one night.
There is an unerring magic here that gives you the feeling that we are all but grains of sand ourselves in a desert of something much bigger than us.
Deep and philosophical I know, but that’s what happens when you’ve just eaten twenty seven complimentary dates and sixteen pieces of baklava and are riding on a giddy, sugary high of unreal sensory moments.
My advice. Put it on your bucket list and you can decide for yourself.
Rooms start at AUD $684 for a double including breakfast per night. Head to qasralsarab.anantara.com for more
Get there with Etihad Airways flying to Abu Dhabi.
The writer was a guest of Qasr Al Sarab and Abu Dhabi Tourism.
Have you been to the Qasr Al Sarab Resort or Abu Dhabi? Share your thoughts below.
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