An enthralling stay in one of the world’s last untouched destinations.
Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea megaproject is one of the most exciting developments in the Kingdom. Once complete, the area will be home to regenerative tourism projects, five-star hotels and lush landscapes. If you’re dreaming about visiting, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Airport is accepting weekly flights from Riyadh, acting as a transport hub between the capital and the “Maldives of the Middle East.”
The airport has been designed with convenience in mind and is being positioned as the future of travel. Plans include drones that will whizz luggage from the Kingdom’s newest international airport straight out to the resorts. While this is not happening right now, my ascent into RSI is perfectly timed with golden hour, as the hues of the desert give way to the glistening waters of the Red Sea. There’s little air traffic besides private jets, but the sense of anticipation crackles in the air like electricity.
The Red Sea megaproject sounds like something out of a science fiction film. A development encompassing Maldives-like islands with proposed glow-in-the-dark sand on the beaches, robotic maids and an artificial moon. Naysayers may find this notion implausible, but as the Kingdom forges ahead to complete the ambitious project in line with Saudi Vision 2030, the Red Sea is already welcoming tourists.
I’m one of the first media to touch down in the development 1,200 kilometres from the capital. While the glittering coast beckons with its untouched coral reefs and abundant marine life, I’m headed inland for an altogether different experience. Welcome to Six Senses Southern Dunes, The Red Sea.
A Desert Oasis
Winding our way inland from the Red Sea, I spot roaming camel herds as we journey towards the mountains and a different type of sea: the golden sands of the alluringly named Southern Dunes. It’s a one-hour drive in an electric car from the airport, though a helipad is also available if riyals are not an issue.
The location may be remote (AlUla is a four-hour drive, and Jeddah is six hours away), but it’s the isolation of the desert with its Martian-like landscape that forms much of the charm at Six Senses Southern Dunes. This desert enclave, where sand buttresses up to stone-like waves in the ocean, is the ideal place to kick back, relax and immerse yourself in nature and Arabian hospitality.
I enter into ‘the oasis’, a canopy that resembles a flowering desert rose when viewed from above. Surrounded by lush foliage, several experience pods await, each housing something unique, from a gelateria (don’t miss the Saudi coffee flavour) to a majlis with a pool table and even a sadu weaving experience.
Deluxe Desert Stays
Six Senses Southern Dunes is home to 36 guest rooms and 40 pool villas. Designed by the British architectural firm Foster + Partners, the design draws inspiration from the vibrant colours and intricate patterns of traditional Bedouin attire while taking full advantage of the stunning vistas of the dunes and mountains.
For guests looking to luxuriate, the resort offers a selection of stunning Pool Villas, available in one-, two- three- and four-bedroom options. Each features a private pool, spacious living and dining areas and outdoor terraces.
Covering an area of 90 square meters, my one-bedroom Pool Villa presents stunning mountain vistas. This villa includes a king-sized bedroom, a spacious seating area, and an exquisitely designed bathroom featuring a sunken bathtub, double vanity, indoor shower, and outdoor shower. The room is tastefully decorated with a sweeping canopy above the bed so you can live out your 1001 Arabian Nights fantasies, abundant soft furnishings, ample closet space, and artwork woven from the hair of Arabian horses. Comfort and convenience reign supreme, with a bedside panel controlling everything from the curtains to the lights.
The pool terrace, complete with a temperature-controlled private pool, is strategically placed to provide an unobstructed view of the landscape while lounging on the day bed or comfortable sun loungers.
The GEM (Guest Experience Maker) is your butler, concierge, and personal assistant all rolled into one. Contactable 24/7 via WhatsApp, they can assist with arranging excursions, restaurant reservations, transportation, and any queries, from how to work the Japanese toilet to heating the private pool while you’re at dinner.
Don’t be surprised to see wildlife, such as the Arabian Red Fox and wolves, from the deck. Built on the edge of the dunes, without a power line or telephone cable in sight, the construction has seen little obstruction to the landscape or wildlife habitats.
With several distinct dining destinations, you won’t go hungry at Six Senses Southern Dunes. All-day dining restaurant Bariya is the place for bountiful breakfast buffets and à la carte evening treats. Seated on patterned textiles beneath a canopied ceiling that resembles the curvature of the dunes outside, I gorge on fresh garden salads, pizzas, proteins and regional Arabic dishes.
The Pool Bar & Grill serves light bites and American grills in a stunning setting atop the crest of a dune. Here, I dine on poached Red Sea Prawns and oxtail flatbread while sitting in a swing seat overlooking the desert infinity pool. At night, local fish, prime beef and seafood are grilled on a charcoal barbecue.
Located at the resort’s highest point, Al Sarab is a fine dining restaurant serving with a sunken bar offering a vibey atmosphere for sundowners, while the terrace, with its low-slung sofas, is the ideal spot to watch the hues of the sky turn from orange to black as the stars scatter across the sky. The setting is spectacular for an immersion into Saudi cuisine with dishes like silky sweet potato hummus, the risotto-like Saleeg and shrimp maklouba, and the national dish of Saudi Arabia: Kabsa.
Merkaz is the place for Arabic tapas, homemade kombucha and a stunning coffee menu encompassing cold brews and hot favourites. The space features a garden where fresh mint and lemongrass are plucked for the beverages.
At Six Senses Southern Dunes, you are a captive audience. The adjacent desert and mountains offer ample opportunities for exploration. From sunset hikes and nature walks to fat biking and sandboarding, the sea of dunes becomes a playground for cultural immersion. If you want to swap the sand for the sea, scuba diving and fishing excursions can be arranged.
At the Cooking School, I learn how to prepare Middle Eastern vegan dishes from Six Senses’ plant-based chef. The state-of-the-art kitchen, with its sparkling marble islands and state-of-the-art technology, adds an educational element to the stay. At the experience lab, I chatted with the Six Senses Sustainability Director about how the resort supports the local community and the various wildlife conservation projects.
The subterranean Six Sense spa feels like it’s been carved directly into the sand and offers a Himalayan salt sauna, plunge pool, steam room and Turkish hammam. Spanning 3,974 square meters, the honeycomb walls of this wellness hub reflect the gentle, rolling patterns of the dunes with its sandy hues. The upper floor boasts a cutting-edge gym and fitness suite, with desert views to inspire as you work up a sweat.
The treatment rooms offer a holistic anti-ageing centre, beauty treatments tailored for both men and women, bio-hacking, a sensory suite housing a meditation dome, outdoor treatment cabanas, and a pool bar. The spa incorporates local Arabic influences into the wellness journey, with aromatic notes of frankincense paying homage to the region’s rich incense heritage. The Desert Bliss treatment uses the warmth of a quartz sand treatment bed to clear and balance the body’s connective tissue, or you can opt for the Deluxe Gold Hammam experience.
An outdoor terrace allows for crafting creams and beauty products at the Alchemy Bar. Small touches make all the difference, such as the privacy indicator, which is a set of eyes peeking through a niqab – if closed, the room is occupied.
The mirage-like outdoor swimming pool is flanked by regal cabanas, swing chairs and sun loungers in abundance, offering infinity views across the undulating dunes.
28,000 kilometres of islands, beaches, deserts, mountains and volcanos on Saudi Arabia’s western coastline are being developed with tourism in mind and a vision to position the Red Sea coast as a leading destination for eco-luxury.
My visit to Six Senses Southern Dunes was an immersive and enthralling stay in one of the world’s last untouched destinations. Paying homage to Nabataean architectural heritage and its majestic desert surroundings and tailored wellness approach, a stay at Six Senses Southern Dunes The Red Sea is nothing short of memorable.
Having spent years writing about Amaala, Neom, Sindalah Island, and Trojena, the rapid development along Saudi Arabia’s western border may seem like a pipe dream, but my experience in the Red Sea left me astounded. The realities of Saudi Vision 2030 are present for all to see. With a ski resort in the desert, the floating city of Oxagon and the 170km horizontal skyscraper known as The Line all on the way, the future is now!
GO: Visit www.sixsenses.com for reservations and more information.