11 May 2012 - Gulf News
Great getaways in the region
Make the most of the gorgeous weather before summer really kicks in with a local weekend escape - these five destinations are all within driving distance and are great R&R spots
Six Senses Zighy Bay
Head to: Six Senses Zighy Bay
Why go there: For a grown-up glam getaway for two, there are few resorts in the region - or even the world - that can compare with this one. Tucked away in a remote corner of the Hajjar mountains of Dibba on the Oman border, it is so remote that you are required to leave your car at an arrival lounge at the foot of the mountain, from where you're driven in an SUV by the resort's expert drivers, up the precipitously rough mountain track to the property.
That is unless, of course, you choose to paraglide in! Offering a truly unique arrival experience, the paraglide option sees you lift off from over 290 metres above sea level, take in the stunning surrounds of the rugged mountains hovering over the glimmering blue sea before landing on the beach, ready to walk towards your date-smoothie welcome drink - made from the resort's own date palms - for check-in. The adrenaline-inducing flight is a truly fitting start to what is guaranteed to be a superlative stay. Another thrill-seeking option is to arrive by speedboat, or via an equally dare-devil off-road drive across the mountains.
The sprawling, all-villa resort has been built to preserve the heritage of the region, with its design resembling a traditional Omani village. Think rambling walkways, stone-constructed villas, and little touches, like Omani-dagger-shaped keys for the rooms. Sorry, I meant villas.
Epitomising rustic luxury, each villa features private infinity pools, an outdoor majlis seating area, traditional Arabian summer house - yet another outdoor lounge area - and an outdoor rain shower.
And that's just outside. Indoors, you have spacious bathrooms with oversized tubs, some of the most comfy beds you'll ever sleep in, and all the other mod-cons you're used to, from wi-fi to flat-screen TVs. Plus, you have personal butlers to cater to your every whim. The resort has a strong eco ethos, from the use of natural materials everywhere - whether it's the limestone walls, or the handmade paper the bathroom amenities are packaged in - to having its own water purification plant for drinking water. Each villa also comes with its own bicycles to ride around the expansive grounds, and there's an on-site organic garden, where the majority of the fruit and veg used in the restaurants comes from. This is something that all Six Senses resorts around the world have perfected - the art of offering a back-to-basics experience without compromising on any luxuries.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from your villa or the lovely little beach footsteps away, there is plenty to do - or not do - here. From adrenaline-pumping water sports and mountain safaris, to slightly calmer pursuits like sunset cruises and nutrition classes at the organic garden, you will be spoilt for choice.
If it is the ultimate relaxation you're after, then head to the Six Senses spa. A luxe haven of natural wellness, the spa offers not only a wide array of therapies, but also a full complement of wellness activities, from yoga and meditation to personalised detox programmes.
The hotel has a regular stream of visiting wellness practitioners, with special retreats designed around their area of expertise.
However, on your romantic weekend the signature Holistic massage in a couple's treatment room, will be the perfect relaxation remedy. This is best followed up by a romance-fuelled dinner date at the spectacular Senses on the Edge restaurant. Located slightly off-property, the restaurant is located on a cliff edge nearly 300 metres above sea level. The secluded setting, bird's-eye views of the bay below, and flickering candlelight, offer an unrivalled ambience for the gourmet seven-course set menus.
A lingering meal here is the perfect way to complete the beach-private-pool-spa-dinner loop, for the perfect romantic weekend break. With this sort of an itinerary, it's easy to slip into the resort's Slow Life formula. Because here, time really does seem to go slower.
Get me there now: Prices start from around Dh2,630 per villa per night (subject to taxes). Visit www.sixsenses.com/sixsenseszighybay or call +968 26735 888.
- Sudeshna Ghosh
For a... luxury escape
Head to: St Regis, Saadiyat Island
Why go there: With its talcum-powder beaches, azure blue sea and swaying palms, it would be easy to believe you were in elegant Barbados, sophisticated Mustique or laid-back Jamaica.
But who needs a cramped long-haul flight, or the possibility of lost luggage and jet leg when paradise, in the shape of St Regis Saadiyat Island, is right on our doorstep?
Just one hour away from Dubai - and travelling in style if you book the chauffeur-driven Bentley transfer to Abu Dhabi - the resort, which recently won ‘Abu Dhabi's Best Beach Resort' at the World Travel Awards, boasts three restaurants, private butlers, a kids' club that the adults will want to play in too, and dolphins. Four, in fact.
Their appearances are legendary. Hotel guests can be spotted lying in hammocks, or on beds and sofas being served cups of tea, gazing out to sea for a chance to glimpse the pod. We were very lucky. The dolphins had been elusive for four days prior to our visit, but decided to show off, leaping from the waves, for 20 minutes as we watched, entranced, while squishing our toes in the white sand.
Not to be outdone, a giant turtle lumbered out of the sea to become the centre of attention. Gasping at the sheer size of it, my children scoured the beach for grass to feed it, and begged to take the ‘big tortoise' home as a pet.
It was only my gentle insistence that our bath wasn't big enough for a Hawksbill turtle to swim in that convinced them to leave it and explore the Sandcastle Club instead.
Decked out as a series of caves, complete with pool, slides and water games outside, and gizmos and games galore inside, it'll be hard to prise your children away from their new-found friends. We sunbathed while watching ours play until sunset, then went back to our sumptuous suite to get ready for dinner.
Colonel John Jacob Astor IV was the man who created the original St Regis hotel on New York's Fifth Avenue with the aim of emulating the elegance of his discerning guests' mansions. Astor died on the Titanic but, more than a century later, the Abu Dhabi version of his original vision oozes sophistication. Our two-bedroom suite boasted giant plasma screens, double beds big enough for entire families, an ensuite bathroom larger than a studio apartment, and views overlooking the Arabian Gulf.
After languishing in the enormous bath, it was time for dinner. Our butler had thought of everything, including steaming my dress and my husband's shirt so we looked ultra crisp as we headed to the south-east Asian restaurant, Sontaya.
Surrounded by water, the chic eatery has a dining-al-fresco feel. The glass windows overlooking the water meant I had to keep a close eye on my three-year-old, who wanted to explore the view. Her attention was soon grabbed, however, by the mouth-watering menu of lobster, corn fritters Thai-style and my stir-fried vegetable rice, which the chef made especially when I told him I was a vegetarian.
Food features highly at St Regis, with an array of cuisines to choose from, including Mediterranean and a grill. Breakfast is a sumptuous affair, although we found we were still quite full from our delicious dinner.
But while my family went to run off their waffles and maple syrup on the beach, I headed to Iridium Spa for one of their signature massages.
For 60 minutes a therapist kneaded, pummelled, stretched, manipulated and cajoled my muscles until the knots in my neck and shoulders vanished, and I felt so relaxed I almost fell asleep.
We'd planned to go sight-seeing as there's plenty to visit nearby. First on anyone's must-do list has to be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with its 82 domes. It houses the world's largest chandelier and hand-knotted carpet, and is open to non-Muslims too.
There's also Al Maqta Fort, Yas Marina Circuit for F1 fans and Ferrari World on Yas Island for fun and rides all the family will love.
But I just wanted to soak up the sun on the beach, make sand castles and splash in the surf. After all, with such a beautiful resort just down the road I can come back to hit the tourist trail on my next staycation - or the one after that.
Get me there now: Rooms from Dh1,710, visit Stregissaadiyatisland.com or call 02 498 8888.
- Karen Pasquali Jones
For a... beach break
Head to: The Cove Rotana Resort, Ras Al Khaimah
Why go there: A chilled glass of an umbrella drink by my side, a handful of friends with whom I can discuss world economics, a pot of curry bubbling on the hob and Pink Floyd working the surround sound… and I am in what Lonely Planet calls ‘Middle of Nowhere' - basically, a state of mind that doesn't require me to seek R&R at pretty spas, glitzy shopping malls or even five-star hotels promising to refuel and recharge my work-battered soul.
But - there is always a caveat - if you were to offer me a room with a 180-degree view of a virgin beach, in a villa with a pergola balcony, perched on undulating landscape where made-to-order sunsets melt into turquoise water, then I'll be more than willing to step out of my homely cocoon.
The Cove Rotana delivers all of that and more. Located at the mouth of a stunning water inlet, it has more than half a kilometre of picture-perfect beach stretching out in front of you, beyond which the water of the Arabian Gulf shimmers to perfection.
With more than 200 rooms and 75-plus villas of varying sizes to choose from, this charming hotel has attractions for every member of your family. From a club for your young ones that promises to keep them engaged while you explore the resort's other attractions, to a fitness centre and spas for you, Cove Rotana boasts three pool-side bars and a couple of casual and comfy restaurants that offer soothing ambience along with the stunning view of the coastline. If the thought of washing off your accumulated stress in the Arabian Gulf is too overwhelming for you, then this resort has two extra-large pools to choose from, perfect for families who want to get a honey skin-tone while honing their water volleyball skills. And for those who don't want to share their time in the water with anybody else, there are several villas that have private pools attached. For the adrenaline junkies, the resort has a host of water and beach sports activities to choose from.
As far as my other half and I were concerned, we found our ‘Middle of Nowhere' state of mind the moment we spotted a couple of oversized lounge chairs under equally massive umbrellas. Armed with iPods streaming (what else but) Pink Floyd and Paulo Coelho's latest, we let the calming solitude work on our stress frowns.
It wasn't long before the MoN state of mind was replaced by hunger pangs and the two of us headed to Cinnamon, a restaurant that offers a decadent international buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
From a pasta station that prepares your penne the way you want it, to a seafood counter that cooks your selection of lobster and shrimps to perfection with condiments of your choice, it's a great place to enjoy not just what is on your plate but your company as well. The resort has another outlet called Basilico, a Mediterranean restaurant with an Italian emphasis, perfect for a leisurely evening with family and friends.
For our second round of MoN, my husband and I decided to go for a stroll on the dimly lit cobblestone pathway that criss-crosses the resort. On an almost-full-moon night, with an exquisitely gentle breeze and some silly conversation for company, we realised that once in a while it is okay to escape to such magical places for that elusive serenity. To get to Cove Rotana from Dubai, it takes about the same amount of time as Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon would take to wind down on your CD player - around 45 minutes.
Get me there now: For details on offers, reservations and attractions, visit www.rotana.com/rotanahotelandresorts/unitedarabemirates/rasalkhaimah/thecoverotanaresort or call 00971 7 206 6000.
- Mrinal Shekar
For... family fun in the sun
Head to: Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara
Why go there: If you're looking to get away from it all and spend some quality time with your family, you can't beat the Desert Islands resort, which offers a host of fun activities. Situated on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, this low-impact resort is set in a wildlife sanctuary, which can be discovered by foot, bike or 4x4.
Start your day discovering the reserve's plants and wildlife - your kids won't have any complaints about being dragged out of bed to enjoy an early-morning safari. They can get up close and personal with oryx, giraffes, cheetahs and hyenas. Once you've devoured the on-land attractions, take yourselves off in kayaks to navigate the tranquil lagoons and mangroves, which are great for bird watching.
After your adventurous morning, you can cool off in the resort's infinity pool, while the younger ones can head off to the Teens & Kids Club, which houses an all-important large flat-screen to watch movies, plus is fully equipped with computers for fun learning activities and games. If they're entertained long enough, you can even sneak off to the resort's spa and treat yourself to the menu of traditional Thai and Ayurvedic treatments.
Once you've enjoyed your pamper session, there's still time for more fun with the kids before dinner. Book yourselves up for one of the many activities offered by the resort, which include archery, hiking, mountain biking or a spot of snorkelling.
The resort has a family-friendly attitude throughout all of its restaurants. You can enjoy a buffet-style breakfast at the all-day-dining restaurant, The Palm. Lunch is relaxed at the poolside Al Shams bar, and dinner can be taken on the outdoor deck at Samak, which offers a perfectly breezy setting for a slap-up seafood feast.
Rooms are housed in the resort's main building, which is just five-stories high, decorated in an Arabic style, in keeping with the feel of the whole island. Ground-floor rooms offer direct access to the pool area, while rooms from the second floor upwards all have beach-facing terraces. If you truly want to get away from it all, you could book the whole family into one of the large stand-alone villas, which have their own private garden (perfect for family-style dinners) and pool.
To get there from Dubai, it takes around four hours to the Sir Bani Yas Jetty, next to Jebel Dhanna. From here it's another one-hour boat ride and then a short bus ride to the resort. Or you can book a charter flight direct from Dubai. For more information email [email protected]
Get me there now: The resort currently has offers on package stays. These include a ‘Stay 3 Pay for 2' option, which includes three nights' stay, breakfast and boat transfers for two. Nightly rates start from Dh1,200. Visit http://desertislands.anantara.com.
- Charlene Stubbs
For a... green getaway
Head to: Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah
Why go there: Simple: it's the perfect choice for either an active adventurous weekend or a quiet ‘green' holiday with the family.
Reaching the resort is almost as much fun as spending a weekend at the five-star property. If you are heading from Dubai, the route to Fujairah, which was recently opened, is awesome. The 40-kilometre highway that cuts through mountains will take you less than an hour and is sure to have the kids in the back of the car glued to the windows - not kicking the driver's seat as they are so often prone to do when bored.
But it's the resort that's truly amazing. Hugging the UAE's east coast, the Moroccan-style property, which boasts 321 rooms and a range of sophisticated restaurants, overlooks the spectacularly green sea - on the day we visited it was abuzz with various water sports activities.
"It's almost always busy as this property is a magnet for people who love to indulge in water sports,'' says KAC Prasad, the friendly executive chef of the resort, who took us on a short tour of the property. A man who is as passionate about food as he is about the environment, he is proud that the resort is doing all that it can and more to preserve the pristine surroundings by organising regular clean-up drives and implementing green measures to save resources.
"We take extreme care to keep the environs clean and green,'' he says; one reason why the hotel received the Green Globe Certificate. (Green Globe Certification is the worldwide sustainability system based on internationally accepted criteria for sustainable operation and management of travel and tourism businesses.)
Tastefully designed, luxurious while not screaming out ostentation, the resort has low-rise Arabian-styled architecture, with the tallest structure being three-stories high.
It has a lovely, clean, private beach, a superb swimming pool, top quality restaurants, spas for men and women, and plenty of opportunities to indulge in a variety of water sports, including windsurfing, diving, snorkelling and kayaking at a dedicated Water Sports Centre. If you still have energy left, you can hire a boat and go away for a fishing trip or, if you'd prefer, lace up your hiking boots and burn some calories by taking off on a safari trip inland, all arranged by the hotel.
The only disadvantage is that if you do all of that, you'll not have as much time to wallow in and enjoy the absolutely luxurious, well-appointed rooms in the hotel.
The piece de resistance as far as facilities are concerned is without doubt the swimming pool and, by the number of people who were in it or relaxing by its side, it is also the most popular.
As for food, we were spoilt for choice. Apart from Asian fusion restaurant Sensasia, there are five restaurants - Al Moltaqa, Bliss Discotheque, Bahari, Mammone and Al Majlis - offering a range of cuisines from Continental to Arabic.
We chose Sensasia, which overlooks the pool. Enjoying a lovely Thai meal under the stars is something that has to be experienced to be believed. The waters of the aquamarine pool reflected the festoons of mini, twinkling lights on the trees, lending a fairy tale feel.
We could have spent the entire night there, but the sumptuous room was inviting. Walking back through the landscaped garden is a dream and at night, with low-level lighting, was almost magical.
With views of the sea, the deluxe room had all the facilities of a regular five-star hotel plus an exclusive area for the children's beds. Perfect!
The breakfast included Indian delicacies as well as American and Continental food. The kids couldn't wait to head to the Jay Jay Kids' Club, which has both indoor and outdoor play areas, a children's pool and a hobby centre where kids can spend hours under the watchful eye of the staff while you can relax by the pool with that lovely, tall, cool beverage. Ahh bliss!
Get me there now: Visit www.miramaralaqah.ae or call +9719 2449 994.
Source: Gulf News