At dusk, guests trek to the peak of the tallest dune just beyond the resort to take in the beautiful sunset. The desert is a trickster so the walk is a rigorous one and longer than one might expect. But the result is worth the effort. Couples and friends sit on dunes in an ocean of sand as far as the eye can see, some laughing in conversation, some in silent contemplation as the sun sets in the west bathing the dunes in golden and reddish light. This is the endless Liwa desert in Abu Dhabi and its magical resort oasis, the Qasr al Sarab by Anantara.
The United Arab Emirates is a desert fronted by the blue waters of the Persian Gulf. To the uninformed the desert is a wasteland of sand and brutal sun. But to those who know, it is a thing of beauty. As beautiful as a snow-capped mountain or a tropical island. In the UAE’s most impressive sand dunes you’ll find what seems to be a mirage, a five-star oasis and monument to emirate heritage, the Qasr al Sarab by Anantara.
Qasr Al Sarab is a palace embedded in the Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali as it’s known locally. To get there you will drive through rising mountains and endless valleys of sand with no end in sight. The sand changes colors from white to ochre as the dunes rise to greater and greater heights.
Just shy of the Saudi Arabian border you’ll find the five-star mélange of Emirate hospitality, exceptional accommodations, a rejuvenating spa, fine dining, and haute amenities. You’ll arrive through the palatial fort-like entry of a grand entrance. Palm trees line the entry way to this colossal castle in the sand. One of the first things that you’ll notice is that, just like the desert, this place is massive. Everything is huge, from the suites to the breakfast buffet.
It’s no wonder. Anantara is a group of fabulous resorts providing unique experiences based on their location. They incorporate the local environment, culture, and heritage into the design of the hotel as well as the experiences offered. Anantara is derived from the ancient Sanskrit meaning ‘without end,’ evoking the freedom, movement and harmony that form the spirit of the Anantara experience. The Anantara brand and experience is the perfect match to fully enjoy the Liwa desert and like the desert, everything about Qasr al Sarab is gargantuan and without end. This is not a resort. This is a massive village developed to provide you with a fabulous holiday experience.
This man-made marvel was created as a homage to Bedouin life. Throughout the property you find curious artifacts paying tribute to the proud past of the Bedouins, with hundreds of paintings, artifacts, sculptures and tapestries. It is arguably the perfect desert resort of five-star accommodations, world class spa, fine dining and endless activities to enjoy the sand dunes of the Liwa desert.
Through the main lobby and reception, there is a grand foyer just beyond, with a dramatic view of the desert. There is a library with a vaulted ceiling, Moroccan lamps and thousands of coffee table books. As my wife and I walked to our rooms, we saw pools of water everywhere. This is more like a village than a resort, with shaded walkways, manicured gardens, and flower beds at every turn.
The rooms are magnificent with beautiful décor and all the modern amenities one would expect in a true five-star hotel. Rich earth tones contrast with whites, and pops of color in lush Middle East fabrics adorn every room. The earthy hues and rich colors are influenced by the beauty of the desert surroundings.
The king-size bed was extremely comfortable and perfect for long nights of rest or mornings sleeping in. The bathrooms were a delight as well, with a deep soaking tub, separate shower, tasteful décor and Anantara products. But my favorite part was the outdoor living space. This was more than a terrace with two chairs and a coffee table. This was a full living areas complete with a large sitting area, full table, two lounge chairs. Like everything else here it was expansive. Our view overlooked the resort pool and in the distance the private area of the resort. At night, my wife and I would relax with a glass of wine and look at the stars while listening to the sounds of the desert. This is bliss.
There is an even higher level of luxury in the Royal Pavilion Villas, in an exclusive section of the hotel with even more refined services and VIP accommodations. There is a separate check in area, library and sitting area, dining area and spa room. There is also a large outdoor space perfect for group gatherings, weddings, and celebrations. Guests can use either the facilities here or in the main resort area. Each villa has a separate indoor sitting area, dining space. Outdoors there’s a lovely pool, and even and outdoor shower. There’s also a large patio and majlis rooms for relaxing or having a private chat. The positioning of each suite lends to privacy so, although there are other residences nearby, there’s a complete sense of privacy.
No luxury resort is complete without a fabulous dining experience, and the Qasr al Sarab has dining options to delight the most finicky of palates. There are wonderful choices, served complete with the enthralling views of the endless desert ocean.
We opted for dinner at the Ghadeer restaurant which was their Mediterranean restaurant. Couples were having a romantic dinner over candles and families were there as well. In between mouthfuls and conversation, all watched the chefs prepare their culinary masterpieces through the open kitchen.
One standout dish is the Seafood Mix Grill which came with Omani lobster, calamari, snapper fish, prawns, scallop and oriental rice and it was absolutely wonderful. Other tasty options included the Braised lamb shank with Tajine jus, couscous and vegetables. For dessert, the warm apple pie is also a wonderful choice.
Breakfast was fabulous as well. The Al Waha, or ‘The Oasis,’ serves as an all-day dining abundance of gastronomic delights. This was not your typical breakfast bar with tired food under heat lamps. This is first-class luxury so there was an imaginative selection of food options to choose from with fresh fruits, live cooking stations with pancakes and omelets, and endless options of dishes, from Arab specialties to other western breakfast options. The open kitchen was massive and everything was prepared right in front of our eyes.
Qasr Al Sarab is a celebration of the desert and of a proud Bedouin heritage. The resort ensures that you get the most of your stay by enjoying the natural environment and provides activities to do so.
The options range from the thrilling desert roller-coaster experience of Dune Bashing to desert sailing, tennis, archery, the falconry experience to desert walks. In the cooler months there’s a chance to explore the desert with the fine stable of Arabian horses.
But the central figure in Bedouin culture is the camel. This animal has always been a key part of the life of the Arab for its ability to sustain the brutal heat of the desert while transporting people and goods, providing milk and also meat. So one cannot have a complete Bedouin experience without spending time with these gentle ships of the desert.
Our sunrise camel trek began early with a short ride to the starting point. Our group of 20 Lawrences of Arabia set off with a brief talk and the chance to meet our camel companion. The beasts are intelligent, loyal and each has a distinctive look and personality. After we hopped on and the handler’s instructions, the camel gets up and you feel the adrenaline start to kick in. The guide walked alongside as we took in the beautiful kaleidoscope of colors while the sun rays painted new colors on the desert with each rising moment.
Through the dunes and varying landscapes, we discovered new views, all breathtaking. The gentle pace of the camel’s gait was relaxing and peaceful. After an hour of trekking and taking in the magnificent views, we stopped for a sunrise breakfast. Some sat and talked in groups while others went off for a moment to gaze at the view. It was an absolutely marvelous experience with this wonderful beast, the dramatic views and a taste of Bedouin life as we trekked among the towering dunes in the Liwa Desert’s vast Empty Quarter.
In the desert the one element most coveted is water. And at Qasr al Sarab there is water everywhere and nowhere more than the pool. Actually it’s more like a free-form lake with many alcoves and spaces, so it’s never crowded. There is a swim-up bar and restaurant as well, for a refreshing drink while cooling off. It is the perfect place to stay cool during the day or to cool off after a hot day with a twilight swim.
The perfect place to relax and rejuvenate is the Anantara Spa. The spa has a well-earned reputation for providing world-class services rooted in the timeless healing traditions of the world’s richest cultures. The Spa at Anantara provides Arabic rituals and exotic wellness therapies from Thailand.
The spa was just what one looks for to soothe aching muscles and cleanse body and mind with a traditional Moroccan hamman experience. There are services that detoxify and nourish skin with scrubs and wraps that are infused with remedial natural ingredients. Expert and intuitive hands revive tired muscles and unwind a busy mind with a range of heavenly massages, from advanced western techniques, to holistic Asian styles and the time-honored Arabian touch.
This is a comprehensive spa with first-class therapists providing a wonderful assortment of healing therapies. The treatment rooms include couples suites, spa villa, Vichy shower room, Moroccan hammam and an ice room.
I chose the Anantara Signature massage, which was 90 minutes of healing magic. The treatment included the signature blend of oils, combined with wringing, kneading and stretching techniques to stimulate the circulation and promote deep relaxation of the muscles, while restoring the flow of energy along the meridian lines. I went in tired and worn out and left relaxed and renewed and ready to further enjoy this desert oasis.
This is an Anantara property, so a high level of service is to be expected, and this property did not fall short of the mark. The service was inspired, passionate and sincere from everyone, bellman to the front desk to the dining staff and management. The property truly values their employees as they do their guests and it shows. All employees, without exception, share that they are glad to work here and that they are well taken care of from the training to accommodations to staff activities. Anantara knows that when they treat their employees well, the employees will, in turn, value each guest. Each employee seemed earnestly committed to making sure that our stay was an excellent one. It is rare to find this level of dedication to service.
The Qasr al Sarab by Anantara is an epic adventure into a magical land. A castle built to pay homage to a Bedouin culture and giving those from far away a respite in the lap of luxury. From the plethora of desert adventures or just dune gazing, to the fine accommodations, dining, spa and first class service, the Qasr al Sarab is a mystical place like no other.
United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 2 886 2088