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REVIEWED: QASR AL SARAB DESERT RESORT BY ANANTARA, ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

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Those who have had the privilege of staying at Qasr Al Sarab can’t help but use superlatives: grand, magnificent, breathtaking, unique, magical, and the list goes on. But why is this place the subject of so much fantasy and wonder?

Simply because it embodies the dreamlike and incredibly romantic image of a palace amidst vast ochre sand dunes. Qasr Al Sarab is one of those “postcard” places that are exceptionally beautiful and remain etched in the memories of visitors. Welcome to the Liwa Desert Palace, a journey into Emirati culture…

"Qasr Al Sarab is a unanimous choice among passing travelers, bringing together the beauty and adventure of the desert as well as the discovery of Emirati culture”

Getting there

Let it be known that a hotel like this must be earned; you need to be willing to spend some time on the road before reaching it. After over 2 hours and 30 minutes of an epic journey, crossing the breathtaking landscapes of the Rub Al Khali or ‘Empty Quarter’ desert, we arrive at the final stretch of road leading to the resort.

Suddenly, around a curve and nestled between two dunes, the hotel appears like a mirage in the desert. Indeed, it lives up to its name: Qasr Al Sarab means in Arabic ‘The Mirage Palace’.

Practical tip: Be prepared because after passing Abu Dhabi, you’ll find only one gas station on the road to the hotel, and during our visit, they didn’t accept payment cards! Make sure to have a full tank before embarking on the long desert road that takes you to the hotel.

Once you arrive, your check-in will take place in the comfort of the reception or the adjoining library, where you can sit on sofas and sip on a date smoothie!

qasr al sarab anantara

The setting

The hotel’s main highlight is undoubtedly its isolated location in the heart of the desert, surrounded by gigantic and stunning ochre sand dunes. The hotel is located 240 km from Abu Dhabi in the heart of the Liwa Desert, the largest continuous sand expanse in the world. Surrounded by a 9,000 sq km wildlife reserve, the largest in the Emirates, the hotel offers a perfectly preserved dreamlike setting. In addition to the traditional car arrival, guests can opt for a more spectacular entrance by helicopter, landing on one of the resort’s 3 helipads!

It’s also worth knowing that as the crow flies, you’re just about 20 km away from Saudi Arabia…

 

Qasr-Al-Sarab

The hotel’s design is primarily inspired by the architecture of the ancient forts of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, which protected Bedouin tribes in the desert behind their walls and tall wind towers. The construction of the hotel, which began in 2006, took 3 years, including a long period of archaeological and architectural research in collaboration with the Al Ain Museum. Both the architecture and the interior design, featuring numerous antique items, showcase the Arabian culture and heritage, particularly the Emirati culture. The hotel is extensive, allowing visitors to wander through the desert.

The icing on the cake, the hotel features a majestic library brimming with books on the history and culture of the region – an absolute must-see – as well as a souk offering traditional objects. We loved strolling through the hotel’s corridors, observing the various mini-exhibitions of traditional items, or spending a few hours in the library browsing through the provided cultural works.

qasr al sarab anantara

THE ROOMS

The hotel offers 154 very spacious rooms, all with a view of the desert. In addition to the rooms, the 42 private villas each have a private pool. It’s wonderful to stroll through the pathways between the villas at nightfall, and in case you get lost, sundials with a map of the hotel illuminate at night and are positioned throughout the resort. Finally, the Royal Pavilion, the epitome of luxury, offers 10 villas reserved for special events and VIPs.

A 24/7 buggy service is available to take you to the main building or various locations in the resort, including the restaurants.

The enormous round jacuzzi-style bathtubs in the bathrooms are a standout feature of the rooms. You can take a bath like a prince or princess and feel like you’re in One Thousand and One Nights for a moment of relaxation!

qasr al sarab anantara

Leisure & Well-being

Located in the villa area and 5 minutes from the pool, the Anantara Spa at Qasr Al Sarab is a haven of freshness and tranquility, in stark contrast to the desert’s heat. It consists of 4 couples’ treatment rooms, a hammam, and a Vichy treatment room. The range of treatments and massages is very varied, ranging from a basic 1-hour foot massage to the 3-day ‘Anantara Recovery’ treatment, including the 90-minute ‘Shiffa Traditional Rose Hammam’ or the 230-minute ‘Qasr Al Sarab Retreat’. The spa offers a relaxation room and a large outdoor terrace to prolong the pleasure. All treatment rooms have a direct view of the dunes.

qasr al sarab anantara

The hotel offers a whole list of activities for all ages. In addition to the huge pool, tennis courts, badminton, and gym, Qasr Al Sarab offers yoga classes, archery lessons, cycling in the dunes, 4×4 desert drives, camel rides or walks in the dunes, at sunrise or sunset. And to immerse yourself in local culture, don’t miss the falconry show, trips to Liwa to visit the ancient forts, or personalized Emirati cooking classes.

We personally took the camel excursion in the morning and the falcon and saluki dog show at sunset, during which we learned a great deal about these three favorite desert animals of the Emiratis.

qasr al sarab anantara

CULINARY EXPERIENCES

The hotel offers 5 restaurants, each with its own style. Al Waha offers an international buffet, including a very good breakfast with local specialties that you absolutely must enjoy on the terrace facing the dunes in a simply divine morning atmosphere, with birds venturing to your table to try to pick up some breadcrumbs in the early morning!

The Al Gadheer restaurant near the pool offers Mediterranean cuisine, and Al Falaj, located in the desert around a Bedouin tent, offers delicious and hearty Lebanese cuisine, complete with shishas. We had one of our dinners at this restaurant with a fantastic barbecue-grill station that included, among other things, giant shrimp grilled right in front of you and a whole spit-roasted lamb!

Suhail, located at the top of the hotel, offers a magnificent view from its terrace, perfect for a sunset cocktail and/or a romantic dinner. Finally, the Al Liwan restaurant in the lobby allows visitors to play board games while dining.

qasr al sarab anantara

FINAL VERDICT

The palace hotel lives up to all superlatives and offers an unforgettable experience and sensations: watching the sunset atop a dune with your loved one, the first camel ride in a majestic setting, or having dinner like the Bedouins under a tent in the desert, all of this makes it a favorite destination for honeymooners in the UAE.

Qasr Al Sarab is a unanimous choice among passing travelers, bringing together the beauty and adventure of the desert as well as the discovery of Emirati culture through the magnificent library’s books and unexpected encounters. The hotel’s high-quality service optimizes all these moments of pure happiness and creates an idyllic destination for a memorable desert getaway that, unlike mirages, is beautiful and very real and won’t fade from your memories anytime soon.

qasr al sarab anantara
 
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