Weekend breaks from Dubai: Top 9 luxury hotels in the UAE and Oman
The UAE, and in particular Dubai, has an overwhelming abundance of luxury hotels and resorts. I am lucky enough to have been able to experience a range of these stunning properties, a lot of them as a result of my work within Jumeirah Group. Not only did I receive some great company discounts for hotels within the group, including Burj Al Arab, Bab Al Shams (now part of the Meydan Hotels Group) and Madinat Jumeirah resort, but I was also entitled to industry discount with many other hotel groups, and I therefore made it my mission to try as many as possible whilst I had the opportunity. Now that I no longer have this benefit (nor any conflict of interest!) I have reviewed my experiences and listed my favourite hotels in the UAE and Oman below.
1. Six Senses Zighy Bay, Wadi Bih, Oman
So far this is the best beach hotel I have been to in this part of the world, and great value as I bought the stay as part of a fantastic deal on Cobone. We were upgraded to a stunning suite, with our own pool, barasti relaxation area, terrace and sun loungers. The room itself was beautiful, I particularly liked the attention to detail, and despite a few initial issues with the air conditioning, all the staff were incredibly helpful. As part of the package we weren’t able to paraglide in to the resort, but we did have a sunset dhow cruise with some bubbles and sushi which ended the day perfectly, and set us up for the outstanding buffet dinner (which was only topped by the breakfast buffet at the same venue – the choice of jams alone was mind-blowing!!) The beach was also stunning, but as we were entering the summer months, we only managed a short wander before retreating to our chilled pool. Highly recommended, especially for those looking for seclusion and/or romance in an idyllic setting, and who don’t mind the drive to Wadi Bih, Oman (don’t forget your passport and no objection letter for the ladies!)
2. Banyan Tree Al Wadi, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
This was yet another trusty Cobone voucher, the hotel came highly recommended by friends and certainly did not disappoint. We had an Al Rimal Deluxe Pool Villa, which had its own infinity plunge pool and beautifully designed and spacious rooms (although I’m not sure about the need for a sofa in the middle of the bathroom!) My favourite touch here was the outdoor showers (protected from prying eyes by rustic fences) and the bathrooms with external doors that opened directly onto your private garden to allow for a bath time experience at one with nature! With this deal we had a complimentary activity included, and as a keen equestrian, I chose the desert horse riding. My friend was a beginner but joined me initially, riding at a walk through the 100 hectare nature reserve, wandering amongst the gazelles and Arabian oryx at breathtakingly close quarters. Once she’d had enough, I was able to enjoy a long canter through the dunes, and despite having my first fall from a horse (nothing serious, I was more embarrassed than anything!) we had an amazing experience and I would be very keen to go back.
3. Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
This is a resort that we be a frequent retreat for me if it wasn’t so far. It was easily a four-hour drive, although it is possible to go by seaplane as well, and is well worth the journey. The island is a private nature reserve with thousands of free-ranging animals, some very unique to the region and originally brought here at the request of the late Sheikh Zayed. For the active types there are a multitude of options here from hiking, cycling, kayaking and snorkelling, and at the time of visiting guests received two as part of their stay. We tried the snorkelling, which wasn’t much of a thrill for us as seasoned divers, but we did see a large turtle up close, and since then the resort has started to offer dive excursions (a reason to go back perhaps!) We also went kayaking in the serene mangroves, and opted for the obligatory animal safari – we picked the earlier excursion at 6am for more chance of seeing the animals, and were rewarded by spotting the often elusive cheetahs, as well as giraffes and other animals that are a lot more exotic than we’re used to! The food was fantastic, as were the rooms, and the pool was a lovely place to cool off with a sundowner after a long day in the bush!
4. Oman Dive Centre, Muscat, Oman
Non-divers don’t skip past this one, the name can be misleading as this little gem is not limited solely to scuba pros, and is definitely THE place to stay when visiting Muscat. There are only 35 beach bungalows scattered on the sand of this little cove, just around the headland from the Shangri La, and each one is stunning, with bathrooms in the open air. Divers have access to pristine dive sites at the marine reserve that is the Daminyat Islands, where whale sharks are often spotted. There’s not much to do here if you don’t dive, but it’s a fab place to relax and chill out in the peace and quiet, away from the crowds. Food and beverage is limited, with one basic buffet dinner option and a rustic Arabesque majlis bar on the sand that offers shisha under the stars, but for those with more refined taste buds, the Shangri La is nearby and a good choice for a change of scene.
5. The Cove Rotana, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
This resort is stunning, opening your eyes after a poolside nap, you would be forgiven for thinking you had somehow escaped to the Mediterranean. The rooms and villas are beautifully appointed on a hillside sloping down to the sea, and have just the right balance of rustic and luxury. The infinity pool is the main highlight however with a breathtaking view of the coast and the resort’s whitewashed walls swathed in Bougainvillea blanketing the surrounding hills. The restaurants provide an equally impressive array of tantalising flavours – and if the calories weight heavy on your conscience you can always try walking back up the steep pathways to your room, rather than taking the buggy!
6. Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, UAE
I have stayed at Bab Al Shams on several occasions, as one of the closer, more accessible desert hotels here it is a great option for giving friends and family a daytime or evening desert experience without the often tacky touches of typical desert safaris. Again, the key draw here is the pool area – the series of infinity pools overlook the rolling dunes where at sunset it is possible to have the quintessential ‘Arabic’ experience of watching falcon shows and riding camels. The spa provides a broad range of treatments from skilled therapists, although at the time of visiting there were only two treatment rooms, so appointments need to be made in advance of your stay. The visit would not be complete without a visit to the resort’s signature restaurant, Al Hadheerah, probably my favourite Arabic restaurant in Dubai (or more accurately, the UAE). The restaurant is outdoor so is better suited to the cooler months, and it’s advisable not to eat for a week before going because the amount of food on offer is unparalleled (which is really saying something in this city of excess!)
7. Dar Al Masyaf, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE
My absolute favourite beach hotel in Dubai, and my recurring choice of staycation whilst I was working for Jumeirah, Dar Al Masyaf is the luxury villa offering of the Madinat Jumeirah resort, which also comprises the Mina A’ Salam and Al Qasr hotels. These standalone two storey houses offer a private butler on hand 24/7 as well as a daily happy hour from 4-8 where complimentary drinks of your choice are served in your own exclusive courtyard. The villas are scattered around the entire resort, with a choice of beachfront or Arabian houses, which perch over the tranquil waterways of Madinat Jumeirah. I had initially been dubious about taking a staycation in the middle of the city so close to home, and in a resort that I frequent so often for its extensive choices of bars and restaurants, however being away from the main hotel in these luxurious private villas and taking long relaxing walks along the three kilometres of beach really does make me feel a mile away from the city and resort we know and love.
8. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, UAE
Another beautiful desert hotel, Qasr Al Sarab is a destination in its own right. Located on the edge of the rolling sands of the Empty Quarter (the largest sand desert in the world) and within a camel’s whisker of Liwa Oasis, the resort is run by Anantara (the same great minds behind Desert Islands Resort and Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa) and is equally as luxurious. At the time we stayed we were offered a 4WD desert driving experience as part of our stay, which was a fantastic way to see the unending rolling dunes once traversed by legendary explorer Wilfred Thesiger, and a great opportunity to capture the beauty of the desert at sunset on camera. The food was delicious as it has been at all the Anantara hotels I have been to, there was an impressive selection of drinks available at the swim-up pool bar, and shisha is served under the bright desert stars.
9. Burj Al Arab, Dubai, UAE
I just couldn’t leave this iconic hotel off the list! Admittedly, I don’t expect it’s somewhere most people would think about going for a change of scene at the weekend, but for a special occasion this hotel is the epitome of luxury. The accommodation at the famed ‘7 star’ hotel is all suites, each with private butlers who will conduct in-room check in, pack and unpack your bags and attend to anything else you desire. With a ratio of six members of staff to every guest, the service levels are unparalleled and are what lead to the property’s unofficial rating by guests. The suites themselves are unimaginable, all duplex with a winding staircase linking to en suite rooms, resplendent with freestanding jacuzzi bathtubs, multi jet showers, and enormous rooms and mirrors above the beds(!) The downstairs area has an office set up, high-stool bar area and living room, as well as a separate dining room and even a kitchen. The restaurants and bars, as well as the infinity pool in the spa, boast stunning views of the city and coastline, but when the suite is so impressive, why would you want to leave it?
There are of course many other fantastic hotels within easy reach of Dubai, but to date these are my personal favourites. I have a few on my hit list that i am aiming to try over the summer/Ramadan low season when rates drop inversely to the temperature. Al Maha is top of this list, even more so after visiting the resort for a day package which included an awesome massage in the spa, a delicious light lunch and afternoon at the stunning infinity pool watching the desert wildlife – located in a dedicated nature reserve, there are plenty of oryx and gazelles to see, wandering around between the loungers. I am also aiming to try The Chedi in Oman, from what I have seen of the resort when I visited for lunch, it is another elegant property with outstanding service. Other highlights on the list include the remaining Jumeirah and Anantara properties, as I am sure from my experience of sister hotels within these brands that each experience will be equally as enjoyable and relaxing. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to post reviews as I cross off each one of the list!