Who said Dubai was all about business and duty-free shopping? There’s plenty of open desert to explore, and though the Emirate was hit hard by the global financial crisis last year, it’s still home to some of the most luxe accommodations in the world, including Al Maha.
Though Al Maha is an Emirates Resort, it’s actually managed by Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand, so SPG members should start racking up those points if they want to enjoy a few nights under the desert skies here.
Splendor in the Dunes
After a few days in the gleaming metropolis of Dubai, we’d be ready to hit the dunes for some wide open spaces and fresh air. Al Maha is just about 45 minutes outside the city on a small oasis studded with palm groves, but it might as well be a world away.
The resort has just 42 suites, each with a private swimming pool for escaping the desert heat. Though the walls and wooden decks are permanent, the ceilings are tented, giving each room a magically impermanent feel, like something out of the 1001 Arabian Nights.
The in-room amenities in the super deluxe tents include 32-inch LCD TVs with DVD players and satellite reception, custom-made beds with 300 thread count sheets, spacious en suite bathrooms with his-and-hers vanities and separate walk-in showers and tubs, cordless phones with international direct dialing, and the finer things such as nightly turndown service, twice daily housekeeping, and personalized wake up service. Plus, that most important amenity when temperatures can soar well above 100 degrees: air conditioning and temperature control.
There’s also high-speed wired internet and WiFi in all the guest rooms, which is complimentary for SPG Platinum members.
The rooms seem to us to be the perfect pairing of contemporary amenities, but with a decor aesthetic that hearkens to indigenous desert handicrafts like wood-carved furniture, colorful, tassly throw pillows, unique regional art and antiques, and whimsical touches like an easel that guests can use to sketch the landscape when they feel their creative juices flowing.
Each of the rooms also features a private pool and terrace, views of the surrounding Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the distant Hajar Mountain Massif, as well as windows that open to enjoy the clean desert air.
In addition to the private pools enjoyed by the tent suites, the hotel also has a large common outdoor pool, a fitness facility, a branded Timeless Spa with a full menu of treatments and yoga classes in the morning, access to the Emirates Golf Club, and a host of other outdoor sports that the staff can arrange for guests such as horseback riding, guided desert hikes, four-wheel off-roading, wildlife safaris, archery, falconry, and camel treks.
There’s not much chance of zipping back and forth to the city for dinner, so be ready to settle in for a long evening at the resort. That’s okay, though, because you can enjoy sunset drinks at the terrace bar, overlooking the dunes, by torchlight. Then guests can take their dinner (and breakfast and lunch) at the hotel’s single restaurant: Al Diwaan, which serves both Arabian dishes and international fare, based on painstakingly sourced organic ingredients and Halal meats. Guests can also arrange to have a private dinner out on the sands. By the way, the hotel also assigns each guest a “personal guest service coordinator” who is in charge of everything from your daily itinerary to your dietary needs to the temperature of your private pool.
An Arabian Tale…of Conservation
Al Maha is at the heart of the Dubi Desert Conservation Reserve, and since its opening in 1999, it has been a forerunner of local conservation efforts, with initiatives such as the planting of over 6,000 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses, the reintroduction of endangered desert oryx and other wildlife species,
And just to provide a bit of whimsy, there’s a legend that says this place was once a beautiful oasis fed by a spring that flowed from a rock and was fed by pure underground lakes. It was beautiful, dense with trees and vegetation, where all the desert creatures would come, especially the Arabian Oryx, after which Al Maha is named. After being lost for centuries beyond remembering, it is said that the spring has begun to flow again, and the resort is dedicated to stewarding the oasis and the surrounding Conservation area properly this time. So you can book knowing you're doing the desert good!
What it won't do so much good for is your wallet. Rooms start at a breathtaking $1,116 a night. Glamping on a budget is so 2003.