Desert es­cape

Take a lux­ury break in Ras Al Khaimah

Good (UAE) - - FRONT PAGE - Words: sarah Gam­boni

Week­ends look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent these days. With a tod­dler in the house, long gone are the lie-ins and late break­fasts. In­stead, our Fri­day morn­ings now be­gin at a time when our Thurs­day nights used to end, as our daugh­ter Francesca rises well be­fore the sun.

and while ro­man­tic week­ends à deux may be a thing of the past, we’ve re­cently dis­cov­ered that lux­ury ho­tel stays don’t have to be ruled out en­tirely… you just have to find the right des­ti­na­tion.

the three of us re­cently set off for a week­end get­away in ras al Khaimah, the north­ern­most emi­rate in the Uae. Within half an hour’s drive, dubai’s Blade run­ner streetscapes give way to the beige land­scapes of Shar­jah, and soon af­ter that it’s sand as far as the eye can see. Here in the al Wadi desert, wild camels wan­der be­side the high­way, and the sands take on a rich ter­ra­cotta hue, swirling and sweep­ing across the road in whorls.

Within 90 min­utes of leav­ing dubai Ma­rina, we’re pulling into the ritz-carl­ton ras al Khaimah, a luxe desert hide­away in the heart of the 500-hectare al Wadi Na­ture re­serve. We’re led down a colon­naded breeze­way to the lobby, a sun-drenched space of lanterns and lounges, with a 300-year-old Span­ish olive tree at its heart. af­ter check-in, where the staff don’t blink an eye at our grubby, wa­ter­melon-cov­ered tod­dler, we’re whisked away in a golf cart to our al ri­mal Pool villa.

there are 101 vil­las scat­tered through­out the re­sort, each with its own pool over­look­ing the na­ture re­serve. In­side, carved wooden pan­els, lanterns and swathes of fab­ric draped from the ceil­ing give the im­pres­sion that we’re stay­ing in a Be­douin tent, al­beit one with a bath­room as big as a stu­dio apart­ment.

I leave Si­mon and Francesca splash­ing in the sap­phire-blue swim­ming pool while I jump one of the retro bi­cy­cles parked out the front and pedal up to the spa for a mas­sage. While I’m get­ting pum­melled with ex­otic oils, Si­mon takes Francesca to see the ho­tel’s menagerie of camels, horses, gazelles and ara­bian oryx, a ma­jes­tic white an­te­lope with tall, ram­rod-straight antlers.

din­ner that night is an ara­bian bar­be­cue un­der the stars, where we feast on a ban­quet of dips, pick­les and sal­ads; pas­tries filled with salty cheese; tagines of chicken and veg­eta­bles; and smoky skew­ers of lamb, chicken and prawns straight off the grill. In a life be­fore Francesca, Si­mon and I would have sat here for hours, re­vis­it­ing the buf­fet and the open bar, but tonight we’re one of the first fam­i­lies to leave, head­ing back to the villa for a moon­light swim, fol­lowed by a soak in the over­sized bath­tub.

For cou­ples look­ing for a back-to-na­ture stay­ca­tion in the Uae, you’d be hard pressed to find a more ro­man­tic es­cape, but for such a lux­u­ri­ous re­treat, the ritz-carl­ton ras al Khaimah is sur­pris­ingly fam­ily friendly, with camel rides, fal­con shows and a kids’ club pro­vid­ing end­less dis­trac­tions. We see chil­dren of all ages out with their par­ents on the up­cy­cled bi­cy­cles, and each of the vil­las has two couches that could dou­ble as kids’ beds, plus am­ple room for a cot. the staff has set up a cot for Francesca, which she uses for all of an hour be­fore call­ing out to be brought into our king-size bed for the night.

at 6am, our lit­tle wa­ter baby is flap­ping her arms fu­ri­ously, telling us that she’s ready for her first swim of the day. out­side, steam rises off the wa­ter, the dunes are hid­den by a thick blan­ket of mist, and the only sound is the noise of birds flit­ting and chirp­ing among the trees. It’s not of­ten we’re grate­ful for Francesca’s early-morn­ing wake-up calls, but to­day it feels like we’ve been let in on a se­cret.

It also means we’re one of the first ta­bles at break­fast. Si­mon fills his plate with cakes, pas­tries and freshly baked breads, while I zero in on the ara­bian fare: spinach fa­tayer pas­tries, dol­lops of hum­mus and lab­neh, thumb-sized su­juk sausages, hard­boiled eggs and pita bread. as some­one who’s never been big on break­fast ce­re­als and toast, this mezze-style spread is right up my al­ley.

af­ter break­fast, we jump in a golf buggy for a ride to the re­serve’s wet­land, then squeeze in one last swim be­fore check­out. It’s been less than 24 hours since we set out from home, but such is the magic of this desert re­treat, it feels like we’ve been away for days.

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