If you’re a resident of the UAE and you find yourself thinking, “I could really go for even. more. sand. this weekend”, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi in Ras Al Khaimah is a pretty ideal choice. Nestled within a desert nature reserve, the pristine rolling dunes are home to both native wildlife – Arabian oryx (saw them), desert foxes (didn’t see; but did see at RAK Banyan Tree’s beach location last year), snakes (only saw tracks), gazelles (saw them) – and some pretty plush pads.
We stayed in an Al Khaimah Tented Pool Villa. Inspired by Bedouin tents, it really makes you think: if Bedouins were living like this, why in the world would you ever want to build a city? The villa was split into two equally-sized wings, one of which was just the bathroom. Nothing else. Just the bathroom. It was like something out of MTV Cribs (does anyone even remember that show?). In short, it was decadent.
The other wing included a king-sized bed, seating area and desk (I envy whoever would use this place as an office). And lots of nice smelly things – incense, oils and candles were scattered throughout. And I lit them all. The entire villa is hooked up with a sound system with speakers in each wing able to be individually adjusted. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows surround the entire villa (and can be covered by thick drapery) so you always have a nice view, and the contemporary decor in light, sandy tones is accented by dark wood paneling and Arabesque detailing in carvings and on fabrics.
Outside there’s a large terrace overlooking dunes and ghaf trees with a few different seating/lounging/dining options. But most importantly there’s a ginormous personal infinity pool. And given the time of year we visited (the start of autumn, so evenings are veering on chilly), the pool was pleasantly warmed. Steam rose from the water in the cool mornings.
I also got to peek at what might be considered the “standard” room – the Al Rimal Deluxe Pool Villa. Smaller, but far from cramped, the bathroom is still generously sized, there are comfortable seating areas and the terrace with desert views still leads to a personal plunge pool. Situated in what felt a bit more like a neighborhood, it had a less secluded feel than the tented villas, but was no less indulgent, really.
There are lots of activities on offer, like falconry demonstrations, archery and horseback riding. I took on the latter, which was pleasant 45-minute stroll through the tranquil desert on a lovely, well-trained horse. You can borrow bicycles and take a ride through the grounds, stopping off to see the resort’s falcons, eagles and owls, or head to a watering hole that attracts oryx and other wildlife.
For dining, we enjoyed a picnic in one of the resort’s desert gardens with Arabic salads, sandwiches and even cookie ice cream sandwiches. In the evening, an Arabic barbecue is set up with entertainment and lots – and lots – of meat. Breakfast is served in Al Waha with a spread of bakery goods, fresh produce and a variety of international breakfast items. And while I didn’t get to experience it, Samar Lounge (with the Moon Bar on its roof) looked like rather a chic spot for socializing.
One of the things that I, personally, have always related to the Banyan Tree brand are its wellness offerings. Not hugely into spas personally, the boyfriend and I did try (and I think think this particular experience is best when enjoyed with another) their signature Rainforest, which takes guests on a “Rain Walk” through a varied hydrothermal experiences from aromatic steam rooms to ice igloos and tropical showers (16 therapies all-told), finally dumping you into a vitality pool. Taking about an hour to complete, it’s definitely worth trying, even if you aren’t into most spa experiences. It’s pretty unique.
And if the desert is not enough for you, the resort has a number of shuttles each day scheduled to take guests to and from their sister beach resort, Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach (which I blogged about previously here).
I didn’t really have expectations either way with Banyan Tree Al Wadi, and I left pleasantly impressed. Certainly one of the best desert experiences I’ve had in this region and the level of luxury, privacy and personalized dining options make it a worthy consideration for a special occasion (or even if you find yourself with the general whim to treat yourself for a weekend).