I admit to being something of a desert nut. Something about those undulating sand dunes, the wild swing in temperatures in a single day, the nomadic tribes that still roam the sands, and the always-looming element of danger conjure romantic visions of One Thousand and One Nights. Add to all that a private villa with a plunge pool overlooking the dunes of the Rub’ al-Khali, and we’re talking sheer perfection.
Qasr al Sarab, a desert resort by Anantara, is the ultimate oasis in a sea of sand, yet it’s only 90 minutes from the United Arab Emirates metropolis Abu Dhabi. Literally coming out of the desert, this “Mirage Palace,” as it’s sometimes billed, is a bridge between ancient traditions and modern luxury. This is where you come when you want to tune out the rest of the world and step back in time. The legendary Rub’ al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, has not much changed since the days of roaming Bedouins and camel caravans. At Qasr al Sarab, it can be experienced in the traditional way. I highly recommend a camel trek across the dunes (but not in summer, as it can get brutally hot), even an abbreviated one. It’s so liberating to be in the middle of nowhere, listening to nothing but the whisper of a breeze across the sand.
Being on camelback is fun, of course, but coming home to luxe digs is not so bad, either. The resort is tastefully decorated in contemporary style with plenty of references to the local vernacular, both in design and architecture. I love the keyhole windows and ramparts along the roof line for their sense of place. The textiles, hammered lanterns, inlaid furnishings and myriad textures allude to the region without hitting you between the eyes. Overall, it’s very modern, very chic. But in my estimation, it’s the views that make the experience so priceless: the dunes painted red by the setting sun, more stars than you can count, the infinite horizon of a world without borders.
From $735 per night.
The Qasr al Sarab … my kind of sand castle.
The endless dunes of the mighty Rub’ al-Khali
The architecture is inspired by desert traditions.
A villa bedroom. Each villa has butler service and a private plunge pool (see image at top of page) overlooking the desert.
A treatment suite at the Anantara Spa