When only authentic will do, visit this palatial resort for desert dunes and dramatic dining.
Whether you’re a local or tourist in the UAE, at some point you’ll want to have – cue music – an Arabian night. With so many hotels claiming to offer an authentic experience, it can be difficult to make a decision. Qasr Al Sarab, Desert Resort by Anantara, however, does just that and more.
The five-star hotel offers the kind of luxury that you only find in fairy tales. The property is located 74 miles from Abu Dhabi airport and in the world’s largest sand desert, also known as the Empty Quarter. The dramatic dunes are fifty shades of gold, and the fitting name means palace of mirages. So, as we drive up to the fortress-style site, with castle-like crenellations and several storey high ceilings and doors, we feel like royalty.
Qasr Al Sarab has a spellbinding story, which adds authenticity to the concept. The hotel is located on a rich historical site, as it had settlers dating as far back as 7,000 years ago. Today, it welcomes tourists from around the world. Plus, celebrity guests have ranged from Tom Cruise (who loved riding the buggies) to Zendaya (who was filming Dune).
The check-in goes from the personal (a welcome drink and dates) to impersonal (an incorrect name). My surname and first name are mixed up, and I am addressed as Mrs. Despite raising the issue, it remains this way throughout my stay.
Rooms and suites
Qasr Al Sarab boasts 140 rooms, 14 suites and 53 pool villas. When we check into a one-bedroom villa, we can see why it is one of the most Instagrammed hotels in the world. The picture-perfect villa features a Bedouin chic design, a private swimming pool and dunes on the doorstep.
The room is so vast it fits a desk, king-size bed, kitchenette, table for four and a sofa. The Arabic features range from traditional lanterns to ornate carpets. The big bathroom feels like a luxury hammam with a bathtub and rainfall shower. While the Elemis products could do with an upgrade, it exceeds #bathroomgoals.
If you’re worried about being disconnected in the desert fear not, the WiFi is exceptional throughout the hotel. The niggles come from the user-unfriendly lighting panels, and faulty plug socket by the bed. Oh, and the water.
The best part of the villa is the private garden with a table, outdoor shower, sun loungers and temperature-controlled pool. While we are eager for this to be the highlight, it gets a little too authentic – the water is cold, which means two cold showers and no pool time.
Be warned: this is a sprawling site, so buggies are essential. While the staff are attentive, they can take time to get to your room.
Restaurants and bars
Over the years, Qasr Al Sarab’s restaurants have not matched the splendour of the hotel – until now. The hotel has bought in the former winner of MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants, 3Fils. The 3Fils x Brix collaboration draws inspiration from around the world. Start off by unrolling the message in a bottle – the 12-course menu, no less – which is like a map of the world. This is one for foodies, as each dish is presented with finesse and a fable. The highlights include the perfectly cooked Wagyu, and the curious is-it-or-isn’t-it caviar ball dessert.
Al Falaj by Dina Macki is oh-so-romantic. Dine under the stars and on the sands whilst sitting atop Bedouin carpets and cushions. British Omani Dina has created a brilliant buffet with lamb, seabass and her signature cheesecake kunafa. Plus, if you get cold, ask for the big blankets, which are like warm hugs.
Other restaurants include the all-day dining Al Waha, which has recently welcomed a new chef. Plus, the high-end grill, Suhail; FACT Award-winning Mediterranean restaurant, Ghadeer; gourmet gelato at Below Zero; and Naseem Pool Bar.
Spa and facilities
In so many hotels, the spa and facilities are often an afterthought, but at Qasr Al Sarab it’s one of the main focuses. Thanks to its desert location, it has fun-filled, family-friendly activities: camel rides, desert drives and walks, falcon and saluki shows, fat bikes and on-trend padel courts. Make sure you visit the farm with Arabian oryxes, horse stables and camels.
Anantara Spa blends Thai philosophy with Arabic influences. The treatment menu spans traditional hammam rituals, facials and massages (including a four-hands massage), alongside meditation, sound healing and yoga.
The spa feels like your personal sanctuary, as the room contains desert views and its own bathroom. The set-up creates a seamless process, which means no stopping and starting from the changing room to the treatment room. Plus, the signature 60-minute body massage leaves us relaxed.
Qasr Al Sarab has all the authenticity for an Arabian night – and we’d happily spend a thousand and one here.
GO: Visit www.anantara.com for reservations and more information.