Bab al Shams Resort: escape to the dunes
In the eyes of the world, Dubai is a truly global city. It boasts some of the biggest brands in hospitality and produces theatrical marketing campaigns that show just how modern and smart it is (hence Dubai's most recent investments in robot police and flying taxis).
It spends millions of dollars trying to convince the world that it is so much more than a quiet little city in the desert, but sometimes that's exactly what you want. And to get it, you need to travel outside the hustle and bustle of the Dubai's metropolitan areas, into the dunes.
About 45-minutes away from Dubai International Airport – right near Al Qudra Lakes - lies Bab al Shams Resort and Spa. It's hardly the same as trekking out into the Empty Quarter (so named as it is both very big and very empty), but it does the job of providing a solid desert experience. Yes, it's close enough that it's not a bother to get to (and makes getting back to the city relatively simple if need be), but it's far enough away that you no longer see Dubai's glistening skyline. Indeed, save for your fellow hotel guests and staff, you're more likely to see a desert oryx than another soul.
Unlike some of Dubai's newer hotels, which are towers of gold and steel, the architecture at Bab al Shams was inspired by traditional Arabian forts. No building is higher than two-storeys, and pathways meander past pillars and wind towers (which are built to catch the breeze and provide natural air conditioning). Everything is tastefully themed; courtyards are adorned with Moroccan lamps, and there are Persian carpets and Bedouin-patterned pillows in all the rooms. It's a Middle East mishmash of design elements that fits together, without becoming tacky.
There are 113 rooms and suites, and all offer amazing views of the surrounding dunes. Rooms aren't huge – they're on the cosy side – but each is decorated with enough lanterns and rugs to feel like you've stepped back in time. There are no private pools here, but the larger suites have garden terraces that open up to the grand infinity pool area, made up of four interconnecting infinity and plunge pools. The Sartori Spa offers and extensive range of treatments, and there's also a small gym if the resort's extracurricular activities – archery, camel rides, falconry and 4x4 dune-bashing – don't tickle your fancy.
Next door to the resort – accessible by golf buggy – is Al Hadheerah, an Arabian Nights-themed cultural village-come-restaurant. It might slide towards the tacky side, with an array of 'traditional' souqs on the way in, selling the usual tourist trap items like stuffed camels, fridge magnets and silk scarves, but the food is good. Expect a huge buffet of Middle East favourites, along with entertainment in the form of live music and whirling dervishes. Worth a visit if you, or your travel companions, are new to the region.
Bab al Shams is close enough to be comfortable, but far enough away that you truly feel as if you've left Dubai behind. Staff are welcoming and helpful, and there's more than enough dining options – away from Al Hadheerah – to keep short stays at the hotel interesting. It's a must visit if you're new to the region and want an authentic Middle Eastern experience, or simply to get away from the hectic lifestyle that a city like Dubai can't help but promote.
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