Glamp in RAK or taste Arab cul­ture on the out­skirts of Dubai – Fri­day of­fers hot tips and must-visit places.

Friday - - Contents -

It’s not of­ten you can an­swer the ques­tion, ‘what did you do over the week­end?’ with ‘sat by a bon­fire in the desert and gazed at the stars.’ At Alma Re­treat (alma means soul in Por­tuguese and Span­ish), a newly launched mind­ful­ness and well­ness re­treat in Ras Al Khaimah near the Be­douin Oa­sis Camp, you’ll see the stars more of­ten in two days than you have in the last year, es­pe­cially from the roof­less bath­rooms.

‘It’s a unique way to feel at one with na­ture. There is you and then there’s the sky,’ ex­plains Sarah Arnold, the founder of Alma. ‘That’s the idea of the glamp­ing ex­pe­ri­ence we pro­vide. We don’t want guests to rough it, but we don’t want to cre­ate the ster­ile ex­pe­ri­ence of a ho­tel ei­ther.’

The pretty blue-green and white can­vas cab­ins are kit­ted out with a func­tion­ing toi­let, shower, fresh tow­els, a bathrobe and a marsh­mal­low-soft dou­ble bed with cush­ions ga­lore and a detox foot mask that leaves you feel­ing re­ju­ve­nated and fresh in the morn­ing.

The com­mu­nity area is all about self­ser­vice – a wood and straw struc­ture is laid out with com­fort­able di­vans, low ta­bles, and a drawer stocked with fresh fruits, herbal teas, pro­tein shakes, con­tain­ers of detox juices supplied daily by Detox De­light and nutri­tion bars. Pro­cessed and junk are words that don’t ex­ist here at the re­treat. There’s a tiny li­brary shelf, too, where you’ll find the most off­beat read­ing ma­te­rial – books on Chi­nese medicine, Ayurveda, mind­ful­ness, yoga and the law of at­trac­tion. Pick as you please to feed mind and body.

It’s not all book learn­ing here – Alma lets you prac­tise the mind­ful­ness they preach through a holis­tic ap­proach. Dur­ing my two-day stay we dab­bled in Hatha yoga, med­i­ta­tion, High In­ten­sity In­ter­val Train­ing (HIIT), healthy eat­ing and art classes, which are all an in­te­gral part of the re­treat.

We start the week­end with a gong med­i­ta­tion art class con­ducted by Soul Art Cen­tre. In­struc­tor Zarine talks us through the process telling us what to ex­pect dur­ing the 30-minute ses­sion; soon af­ter we’re asked to paint what­ever we want to. The pos­i­tive vi­bra­tions of the gong are sup­posed to re­veal your in­ner­most thoughts and de­sires and that then trans­lates into the paint­ing. There’s no struc­ture to the art we cre­ate, it’s ab­stract and in my case, a mish­mash of colours and shapes. Zarine is a vet­eran in her field, con­duct­ing classes across the coun­try and this pro­fes­sion­al­ism is re­flected in all of the re­treat’s part­ners and vol­un­tary in­struc­tors.

Yoga in­struc­tor Diana Azavedo has been teach­ing for over nine years in Dubai, as has Coach Marco, a Dubai-based fit­ness trainer who spe­cialises in func­tional train­ing and HITT rou­tines. Even the be­gin­ner’s rou­tines will leave you sore and ex­hausted the next day but the re­treat has a sweat-lodge, built in the Na­tive-Amer­i­can tra­di­tion, and an ice bath to treat and cure fa­tigued mus­cles. Mind­ful­ness and fit­ness are sup­ported with healthy eat­ing; Alma of­fers guests four kinds of por­tion-con­trolled, or­ganic di­ets – ve­gan, fast­ing with juices, raw and Pa­leo. It’s a great way to test out a meal plan you wouldn’t usu­ally en­ter­tain – I sur­pris­ingly en­joy my ve­gan din­ner of string beans, mashed sweet potato, pine nuts sautéed with onions and mush­rooms. Break­fast is muesli, yo­gurt and berries in a Ma­son jar and lunch is quinoa salad. Ve­gan, I learn, isn’t all faux meat, tofu and in­sipid flavours.

Alma Re­treat is Sarah’s pas­sion and pet project that she jug­gles with a full-time job as an IT con­sul­tant. The Ger­man ex­pat, who is also a cer­ti­fied yoga teacher, de­cided to cre­ate a sanc­tu­ary here in the UAE sim­i­lar to what she ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing her trav­els abroad – to pro­vide a respite for peo­ple from the hec­tic rat race of the city and re­cal­i­brate. Alma’s iso­la­tion and calm is a jar­ring con­trast from our 24/7 life­styles.

Sit­u­ated smack in

the mid­dle of RAK’s ex­pan­sive desert, a few kilo­me­tres off the Al Wadi Re­sort, the camp is sur­rounded by noth­ing­ness and end­less sand dunes – a few hours here and the chirp­ing of birds and whistling wind melt stress away.

While soli­tude, self-re­flec­tion and dis­con­nect­ing from the out­side world and tech­nol­ogy are im­por­tant ob­jec­tives of the re­treat, the idea Sarah says is not to alien­ate or in­su­late peo­ple. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key; guests are en­cour­aged to share their sto­ries dur­ing group dis­cus­sions on mind­ful­ness as well as bond and make new friends through part­ner work­outs and eat­ing to­gether at the com­mu­nity meals. As the 15 of us of stand in a cir­cle around a bon­fire to mark the end of the re­treat, we’re no longer strangers. There’s a sense of unity in hav­ing found some sem­blance of bal­ance to­gether. We leave armed with tech­niques to stay healthy and bat­tle stress. I can’t think of a more pro­duc­tive and rest­ful way to spend a week­end.

Prices for a one-night, two-day re­treat are Dh799 per per­son for a shared cabin or Dh999 for a sin­gle per­son, in­clu­sive of meals and ac­tiv­i­ties. Visit ia­malma.com

Alma Re­treat closes for the sum­mer in June, re­open­ing only in Septem­ber. There’s a spe­cial fam­ily re­treat for Easter on April 14.

With noth­ing but the desert for miles, Alma Re­treat’s glamps are a great way to detox weary city dwellers’ mind, body and soul

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