Staycation review: Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
A true oasis of luxury in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter…
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is an unashamedly palatial oasis, a true ‘sand castle’ overlooked on all sides by towering dunes. It’s known as a luxury retreat for the international travel market’s seclusion seekers, offering premium pampering, walkabout wellness journeys, bedouin-inspired experiences and royal court-level service. And, fun bit of movie trivia for you: It was recently the temporary ‘location shoot’ home for the cast and crew of the first two new Dune movies. But we wanted to check in, and check out just how well it functions as a staycation setting for families.
The journey to Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is an incantation, it’s part of the resort’s spell, contributing in no small part to the experiential sense of exclusivity and secluded allure. It’s two hours from Downtown Abu Dhabi (and three hours from Dubai), along desert roads that chase an ocean of rising and crashing sand through the Empty Quarter. On your journey, way beyond the clawing shadows of skyscrapers you’ll cross over the latitudinal parallel marking the Tropic of Cancer. At the end of the voyage, the hotel appears — nested inside fantastical geography — a natural dune valley, marshaled by towering amber peaks. And at night, with air free from light pollution and air particulates, the sky is a sequinned robe of burning stars. Truly a humbling sight.
Look and Feel
UAE desert hotels represent some of the most spectacular ‘getting-away-from-it-all’ vacation opportunities available anywhere in the world. They’re a rare breed, in scenery and in the level of juxtaposition between home and holiday. And Qasr Al Sarab is perhaps the truest archetype of these sorts of resort. The line in the sand between it and other similar properties, is one of extent, quality and range. Guests are welcomed into a space defined by that timeless sort of elegance, with design touches that honour heriatge, celebrate the local, and demonstrate a disregard for compromise. Its name means ‘Palace of the Mirages’ and with its patchwork of palms and pool villas, billowing curtains and shaded courtyards — it’s a name that fits the crown extraordinarily well.
This desert chateau holds 140 rooms, 14 suites and 53 pool villas (the category we stayed in). The design themes from the hotel’s communal areas continue into the private quarters, with exquisite finishes and a romantic reverence for the bedouin lifestyle. Large private plunge pools, sit in the rear of the villa and offer panoramic views of the surrounding desertscape. Also outdoors there’s a rain shower and cabana-style day bed, inside you’ll find all the modern conveniences, and assorted gadgetry you’ve come to expect of stays away.
Relaxation is the chief mantra at casa Qasr. And whatever that means to you. There’s plenty on offer at the spa, beyond the usual treatments and massages, a Traditional Moroccan Hammam with marble beds for example; an ice room; Biologique Recherche-trained therapists; desert yoga sessions; sunset meditation and more. There is a huge (supervised) kid’s club, a teen’s club, gym, padel courts and swimming pools. Desert specific activities include sandsurfing, camel riding, nature trekking, star gazing, dune buggying, archery, falconry and saluki shows, fat biking, horse riding and an alfresco cinema to get star struck at. And opening soon, an experience quite unlike any other of the region —Ezba. Here guests will be able to get up close to native wildlife, meander through the farm space and see sustainability, environmental and rehabilitation projects in action.
Food and Drink
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara recently made it known that this aspect of the resort, would be given priority for enhancement. And it’s already bearings some tasty fruit. We checked out their temporary ‘Around the World’ menu pop-up. It was a collaborative 12 course degustation menu with former MENA 50 Best top restaurant, 3Fils and sister sweets brand BRIX, and it was an incredible triumph. And following a comprehensive menu glow up at the hands of a locally based cheffing legend, the recently relaunched Al Falaj by Dina Macki is now serving regionally inspired aromatic awe on majlis style seating, under the stars.
Pro tip: There’s a page of special offers on the anantara.com – with discounted room rates for GCC residents, bonus added extras and some attractive package inclusions. But even just going off the standar rates — you can pick up villas from around Dhs4,000, suites from Dhs3,200 and rooms from less than Dhs2,000 (all rates quoted before tax). This isn’t shoestring budget territory, but when you compare it to similar properties — it genuinely does translate into fantastic value.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa Desert. Book at anantara.com