Shift­ing LARA SAGE ex­plores the United Arab Emi­rates, from its world-class re­sorts to its desert vis­tas and fu­tur­is­tic cities.

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Travel -

Where to stay: Qsar al Sarab by Anan­tara

One of the most ex­quis­ite places I’ve ever vis­ited, Qasr al Sarab is in­spired by the grandeur of old desert fortresses. It’s set on the dunes of Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Desert, on the north­ern edges of the Empty Quar­ter – the largest un­in­ter­rupted sand desert in the world. At 6,500 square kilo­me­tres, this ex­panse of sand is big­ger than France; three quar­ters of it lies in Saudi Ara­bia, the rest in the UAE and Oman.

Qsar al Sarab’s iconic lobby is adorned with lo­cal fur­nish­ings, while earth­en­ware pots add charm to walk­ways and bal­conies. Else­where, lanterns, carv­ings, sculp­tures and paint­ings de­pict in­dige­nous desert cul­ture with scenes of camels, sun­sets and fal­conry.

Built on a cres­cent-shaped dune, the gue­strooms and vil­las have earthy colour pal­ettes and are de­signed to re­sem­ble old sand huts. Each one faces west to max­imise the sun­set views, and is kit­ted out with mod-cons such as high­def­i­ni­tion TVS, Wi-fi, rain show­ers and gi­gan­tic bath­tubs.

Tra­di­tional geo­met­ric pat­terns abound in the re­sort’s de­sign, from the shad­ows cast by lanterns at night to walk­ways bathed in sun­light. En­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity was considered through­out; spe­cially de­signed dou­ble-glazed re­cesses, over­hangs and bal­conies re­duce heat trans­fer, while wa­ter fea­tures cre­ate a sense of calm cool – the cur­va­ceous freeflow pool is rem­i­nis­cent of an oa­sis.

A mul­ti­tude of ex­cur­sions are on of­fer, in­clud­ing a Fal­con and Saluki show that’s well worth the 5.45am wakeup for – our tim­ing was im­pec­ca­ble, as we caught the moon set­ting and the sun ris­ing dur­ing the show. Fal­cons are revered birds in this re­gion – worth up to a mil­lion dirham (S$385,000!) – and the show re­veals their amaz­ing speed and hunt­ing skills. When their heads are cov­ered by tra­di­tional leather head­dresses, they sit still. In flight, though, they have the speed, agility and long-dis­tance vi­sion to make them mas­ter hunters – their hard-hit­ting force can even kill a young gazelle.

The other ex­treme desert hunter is the Saluki dog, or Per­sian grey­hound. Built with mus­cu­lar thighs and big lungs set in a large ch­est cav­ity, yet with skinny bod­ies, th­ese beasts can reach a speed of 72 kilo­me­tres per hour. Yet their de­meanour is lov­ing; as our guide said, they would lead a bur­glar to a fam­ily’s stash of gold and jew­els!

Other ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude sand board­ing and sled­ding, archery, ac­tion-packed 4x4 dune bash­ing, horse rid­ing and camel rides. For the non- thrill- seek­ers, soft drives take you on a jour­ney among the tallest dunes, or you can im­merse your­self in a Mid­dle East­ern cook­ing class be­fore in­dulging in the Moroc­can ham­mam, sauna or ice room of the spa.

I also rec­om­mend the tra­di­tional Al Falaj Be­douin- style meal, where you dine un­der the stars on low cush­ions and ori­en­tal car­pets set in the dunes. We feasted on cold mezze, open-flame grilled meats and prawns, shish taouk and lamb kofta, be­fore in­dulging in hand­made Ara­bic sweets, all to the live sounds of a Qua­noun (tra­di­tional stringed in­stru­ment).

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