Driving down from Abu Dhabi to the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab in a taxi, I heard something that I dont think I will hear ever again. ‘Drive straight, for the next 120kms’ instructed the voice on Google Maps. While I looked across the road on either side hesitantly and a little nervous and shot a glance to the driver, he sat passively staring ahead on the empty roads, with not a care in the world for anything but tar and perhaps a mirage or two. As we drove on quietly, the cityscape receded into the brown and orange hues of the desert.
The view from the taxi was nothing but yarns of undisturbed sand. Incidentally, where I was headed was 90 minutes by road from the Abu Dhabi airport. While reaching there is a test of patience with the long drive and nothing but shiny orange sand and the top of a head to stare at, arriving at your final destination makes you forget any inconvenience enroute.
Qasr Al Sarab resort is a 2.5km crescent-shaped property that overlooks the winding valley of sand in the Liwa desert. More significantly, it is located in the Empty Quarter – the world’s largest sand sea – the largest contiguous sand desert in the world which encompasses parts of the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Rub Al Khali (or the quarter of emptiness) is said to be larger in size than the whole of France.
The dreary drive suddenly turns exciting when you see towers and serrated roofs in the distance. As you draw closer, you will be in awe of the magnificence – an Arabian castle in the middle of the desert. Almost literally so.
Driving into this hidden haven, I couldn’t help gawking at this massive property in the middle of nowhere. Yes, right in the middle of no-where. If you wanted a snack, a short walk outside the resort or try and get some shopping done, you will be disappointed. But the hotel does justice to this sadness with its array of food and beverage options.
“Driving into this hidden haven, I couldn’t help gawking at this massive property in the middle of nowhere.”
I digress. Upon arrival at the resort I was escorted to the lobby by the courteous staff. I was served refreshments and soon after the check-in formalities were done I was taken to my room in a golf buggy.
Qasr Al Sarab is managed by Anantara who has time and again proven their inclination towards aesthetically and traditionally designed properties. The 206-room resort, sitting on a shifting sand dune was built by 5,000 workers. There is a lot of history to it, and it just reeks from the halls of this property. It is believed that the Bedouin ancestors of the current rulers once lived here in the Liwa desert.
Traditional Bedouin style is evident in the resort’s architecture. Its designers wanted the raw deal and so consulted with ancient forts and liaising with staff at the Al Ain Museum. Pots, rugs, ornaments and earthen materials as well as metal lamps and embroidered fabrics all add charm to this resort. This may sound clichéd, but the ambience reminded me of Aladdin and the majestic palace where his princess Jasmine lived.
My room (Deluxe Terrace view) had a massive terrace. If it were one of the summer months, from May and September, I would not have a clue of what the terrace looked like. But, I made the trip during November when the evenings or early mornings make you fall in love with these arid desert locales. While I enjoyed some solitary me-time at the terrace and spent a healthy few hours staring into the rustic desert oblivion, the terrace is big enough to have a mini vacation party if you would fancy one!
The property has 205 rooms, villas and suites – from a normal balcony room all the way up to a private villa where you will be embraced in luxury and pampering with facilities like a private pool and a butler service.
Rooms are done up traditionally, once again, wood works, metal lamps, embroidered linen – all in perfect harmony with contemporary requisites such as a large HDTV, speedy Wi-Fi and climate control. Like how the royals in yonder parts live these days. Strangely, I saw no leopard roaming the corridors.
The bathroom was my favorite! Large marble floors with a sinking tub – call me crazy, but inevidently I judge a room by its tub and this one was a winner. Toiletries were branded with Elemis London, another representation of class.
Just an icing on the cake, which is the large terrace that offers serene views of the sun setting away into the smooth sand dunes.
“The bathroom was my favorite!”
At Qasr Al Sarab, not just for breakfast, but for lunch, dinner and tea you dine like a king. This is encouraging because if you get into the mood for a walk around the property or beyond, you will most probably end up in Jordan. Or, you may after all end up at the nearest mall, which is merely 200kms away.
That sort of a long walk would not be a necessity as the resort provides plenty of dining options. Breakfast is usually served at Al Waha – offering an international and Middle Eastern menu. Ghadeer, Al Liwan, Villa BBQ, Dining by Design and Al Falaj are some other options – most serving either regional or international cuisine.
For dinner I opted dining at Suhail, the steakhouse and rooftop lounge. I chose a healthy meal that consisted of green peas soup and kale salad. Being a light eater the soup and salad was filling enough for me, so, I decided to go for the dessert straight. Confessions of a chocoholic – I love chocolates and so my natural choice was the Nutella Cheese Cake. Needless to say, yours sincerely was satiated.
This meant the next morning, I needed to burn some calories. So nipped into my room and changing into my swimwear I dipped into the pool. A good swim and a latte later, I strolled to the well-lit tennis court for a game or two.
Later in the evening I joined a group for a camel trek in the evening to catch the sun set. We were taken on a 4X4 drive and reached a spot where a local guide joined us. I then mounted a camel and rode for 25 minutes. The view, the weather and the animal were all relaxed and placid. The undisturbed landscape and the sand dunes made me nostalgic of a trip I had taken in the outskirts of Udaipur in India. No words or photography can explain these moments, but being there and experiencing it for yourself.
This was the life. I returned to my room, drank up silly on the serene view once again and slept like a baby in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s sandy dunes with not a speck of sand or dust to tickle me awake.
The resort offers some rather interesting activities. If you would like a go at archery, you should not miss the opportunity to check it out during your stay. Apparently, the tribesmen of Liwa took great pride in their hunting skills, according to the resort. Just a short drive away is a range where classes are held for both adults and children over 8 years old. Desert drives are another activity attraction, but of course.
On my must-do for my next trip to this piece of haven is a tour of Liwa. This historic site “emerges like a mirage within the Empty Quarter”. Here you will experience a culture that you would never find in the contemporary landscapes of Dubai or Abu Dhabi or any other emirate. You will get to explore a fort, visit a palm tree farm, a vegetable farm and a camel farm.
“On my must-do for my next trip to this piece of haven is a tour of Liwa.”
Then there is desert yoga – the craze in the emirates these days. In the cities, there is a hype for beach yoga, but this one should be something else! Another interesting one is desert fat biking where you can zip through sand dunes on a, well, fat bike! Horse riding, falcon and saluki show, full moon desert experiences, sand boarding and sand sledding, animal experience (no, still no leopards – only domestic animals like rabbits, donkey, sheep and horses) and a tour of Abu Dhabi are other activities available.
Qasr Al Sarab is nothing like any other hotel I have visited or stayed at in the UAE. Its tranquillity and open spaces offers just the thing you need to spend some quality time – with a partner, with your family, with your friends or even just by yourself to sit back and relax. What would add the cherry on top is a stack of books, or perhaps a pen and paper to start writing a book! Such is the power of this lovely landscape.
What I missed was experiencing the spa. Anyone who is averse with Anantara’s hospitality is well aware of its spa culture. There is no doubt that the Qasr Al Sarab won’t be any different.
Where: Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
1 Qasr Al Sarab Road – Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates
Phone: +971 2 886 2088