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A JEWEL IN THE DESERT
In search of the well-hidden charms of Southwest Asia, I escaped this year’s Songkran splashing, and booked a six-hour flight from Bangkok to the United Arab Emirates.
I’ve never been to Dubai, or any other state on the Persian Gulf for that matter, so I thought that it was time to form my own opinion of what jewels are hidden within the sands of this enigmatic empire. My two-night’s stay in Dubai was enough time to have a look at the highlights of this glittering futuristic metropolis. Spectacular art auctions, an exciting party scene, Jumeirah’s legendary Burj Al Arab, and the brand new Armani hotel, located in the tower of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, have restored some of the city’s glitz after the credit crunch took its toll.
I was impressed, but what really blew me away was my adventure trip to an emirate north of Dubai, a spectacle of beauty in the middle of the desert.
It wasn’t love at first sight when I arrived in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). All you see during the 45-minute drive from the airport is emptiness. Mile after mile of untouched sands, uninterrupted by nothing but the odd camel, clouded my vision of this story book land. But the truth is you have to dig deep if you want to discover a treasure chest.If all the isolation has you looking for the nearest power socket, Al Hamra Village is the place to be. This glamorous development comprises private residences, a beach-front 18-hole championship golf course, a 200 berth marina, and several super luxury hotels in varied locations.
The jewel in the crown of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of the emirate, is the Al Hamra Palace Hotel - currently under construction, and scheduled for completion early next year (www.thepalacerasalkhaimah.com).
“With its unique arabesque ambiance, and top quality service, it will rise beyond the 7-Star hotel status,” boasts Swiss General Manager, Philippe Rubod. His qualified 25 years of experience is with premier-hotels in Switzerland and the Ritz Carlton Group, and he is without question, a confirmed professional in the management of luxury hotels and resorts. “But this is a real challenge,” he explains. “Planning the management structure, preopening, and operation of a ‘Leading Hotel of the World’ of such massive dimensions, including the organisation of more than 850 employees, are quite the tasks to accomplish...”.
Designed by Italian star architect, Maurizio Papiri, as a monumental Arabian palace, the ‘all-suite’ resort features 350 suites, 220 serviced apartments, 12 restaurants and bars, a world class spa, and a one kilometre private beach. Other highlights include four swimming pools, an underwater champagne bar, and a limousine service that proudly boasts a fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms and Maybachs. In fact, the best way to visualize this colossal undertaking is to get a bird’s eye view.
Thanks to Captain Amith, Chief Pilot of Jazirah Aviation Club (www.jac-uae.net), I went sky-high in a microlite plane, admiring the shimmering blue waters of the gulf, the imposing majesty of the Al Hajjar Mountains, and finally the lush green oasis of Al Hamra Village & Golf Course, blazoning amidst the golden sands. Other extremely rewarding activities, during my four-day private tour, were the thrills and fun of a desert safari, including sand-boarding, camel riding, and dune-bashing. My visit was a mind-bending, roller-coaster trip over the desert’s peaks and troughs at breakneck speeds. I cruised the gulf aboard the sailing schooner Lejaine, plunged into the natural hot waters of Khatt Springs, and had a camel milk bath, à la Cleopatra, in the resort’s intimately designed Ladies Spa (www.khatthotel.com).
Last but not least, I savoured a delicious BBQ dinner around the camp fire, sitting in a traditional Bedouin tent while watching a performance of Arabic belly dancers at sunset.
Another oasis of indulgence is the brand new Banyan Tree Al Wadi, located in the middle of RAK’s dramatic desert wilderness. From a single boutique resort in Phuket in 1994, Banyan Tree has grown from a small Thai hotel operator into a global multi-business empire, known for its chic contemporary design, and tropical garden spa concept. It’s the perfect place for couples looking for romantic escapades, so opt for a suite in a Tented Pool Villa with flowing canopied ceilings. For the chill-out vibe, pick the Samar Lounge - a double-storey cove, or the Moon Bar - an exquisitely designed roof terrace Shisha lounge. Dine under the stars to complete your nomadic Bedouin experience (www.banyantree.com).
All in all, Ras Al Khaimah is a getaway to a secret luxury lifestyle world, fascinating in its reverence to the past and dedication to the future.
“Time may blur names, faces and dates,” said the Crown Prince, “but it will never remove the memories of those places that made a difference in our lives.” Inschallah!
Also see my article in ‘Samui Holiday Magazine’ – a luxury lifestyle and travel publication (June Edition)
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