The National - News
EXPLORING THE UAE UMM AL QUWAIN
▶ In the fourth part of our series, Melanie Swan has the lowdown on this small but attraction-packed emirate
Umm Al Quwain might not be one of the UAE’s most famous emirates, but it certainly has some hidden gems. From outdoor activities to traditional Emirati culture, there are plenty of reasons to visit even if only for a day.
Here are 10 top activities to try while you’re there:
A once-unknown spot in the emirate, the picturesque location in Khor Al Yeefrah is now being upgraded with the likes of thatched parasols, swings, a cafe and barbecue areas. There are kayaks for hire to go out and explore the wide variety of flora and fauna in the protected area that surrounds the emirate, and a DJ is on hand playing tunes at the weekend. A small entry fee is required for cars, but the facilities and the beautiful location make it a worthwhile trip. It is already a popular picnic spot for sunset.
Escape to Kite Beach Centre, where Zanzibar meets Bali. This laid-back beach destination has the emirate’s first certified kitesurfing school. Classes are available for all levels and instructors are all International Kiteboarding Organisation-certified. There is a small admission charge (check website for updated prices), but it’s a great place to spend the day and soak up the sun, as well as enjoy other water sports activities such as snorkelling or kayaking. Guests can also sleep overnight or hire cabanas for four-hour slots – but book ahead as it’s peak season. www.kitebeachcenter.ae
This quirky concept uses only natural materials out on the sand to create something that looks closer to what would feature in the Flintstones than a traditional gym. Several wooden pieces of kit make up this fun fitness centre tucked away in Kite Beach Centre. A great place to come with friends and very Instagrammable, it’s guaranteed to provide some laughs, as well as challenges with giant wooden dumbbells, barbells and monkey bars among some of the adults-only “toys” there. @tarzan.gym on Instagram
Thunder Road Pizza & Grill
We often speak about Dubai as the country’s gastro hub, but Thunder Road is an absolutely hidden gem. Run by Italians, the restaurant offers flavours that will transport you to Italy, with dozens of home-made cheeses, pizza to die for and, to top it off, beautiful views of the ocean from the terrace. Their home-made burrata is a musttry. Located at the Barracuda Beach Resort, it’s Italy meets the US with a pool table and children’s playground, making it well worth a day trip up the coast. There is even a grocery store inside to pick up some authentic goodies brought in from Italy. www.thunder-road.ae/ barracuda-branch
An abandoned aircraft
An abandoned Russian cargo plane has become quite the attraction on the tiny emirate’s coast. The Soviet-era aircraft lays out in the sun by the Barracuda Beach Resort, seen clearly from the E11 motorway leading to the hotel at the location that was once an airfield.
For aviation fans, it is a fascinating site, previously shrouded in mystery. Now we know the Ilyushin IL-76, also known by its Nato-operating name “Candid”, first flew for the Soviets in the 1970s as a replacement for the equally legendary Antonov 12. It was useful for remote areas of the Soviet Union as it could operate on unpaved runways. The model seen in Umm Al Quwain is a four-engine turbofan and was built for the Soviet air force in the 1970s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it found a new role as a charter and operated in the UAE from the late 1990s.
Coordinates: 25.580214, 55.652882 on Google Maps
Vida Beach Resort
The newest addition to the Umm Al Quwain tourist scene is the Vida Beach Hotel, which allows pet owners to enjoy the emirate’s pretty coastline without having to find a sitter. One of a number of hotels to see the gap in the market for the growing number of staycationers in the country looking to take their fur babies away with them, the hotel is chic and, as expected with Emaar, the attention to detail is impressive. www.vidahotels.com
Umm Al Quwain Fort and Museum – Fort Al Ali
One of the emirate’s most prized assets, the fort turned museum offers a wealth of history to visitors. It’s the oldest historical building in Umm Al Quwain and dates back to 1768 under the rule of Sheikh Rashid Bin Majid Al Mualla, the founder of the Al Mualla royal family. The fort began as a residence and venue for his government, but now stands as a monument to the tiny emirate’s past since opening as a museum in 2000. Visitors can see the old prison, weapon room, military room and many more domestic quarters of the property, offering a window into the design and building techniques of a time long before today’s modern UAE. The Falaj Mualla Museum and Umm Al Quwain Centre of Antiquities are also worth a trip for history buffs.
Hop on a boat from the coast over to Siniya Island, east of Umm Al Quwain, where the eight-kilometre island offers a wonderful insight into the emirate’s historical and natural beauty. Residents of Umm Al Quwain settled on the island
200 years ago before moving to the mainland. Characterised by its mangroves, ghaf trees and desert flora and fauna, visitors can spot a wealth of nature on the island – from birds such as the Socotra Cormorant to the Arabian gazelle. There are also 65 different archaeological sites on the island, including graves, structural remains and towers.
Dreamland Aqua Park
One of the region’s oldest water parks, Dreamland has become an institution. Established in 1997, the park is spread across 250,000 square metres and boasts more than 30 rides, slides and attractions. This space is more than a waterpark – families can also camp overnight or rent an air-conditioned cabana for a day to enjoy the park’s landscaped gardens on the coast. www.dreamlanduae.com
Labsah Camel Racing Track
One of the most classical Emirati traditions is camel racing, a favourite activity of royals and non-royals alike. It offers a chance for locals to display their prized possessions, and is an experience like nothing else in the country. While it’s a little bit more rough round the edges than the likes of the Dubai World Cup with magnificent horses, this is where the more authentic side of the country can be seen. Races around the 4-kilometre track usually happen during weekends in the winter months.