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Chilling out in the desert - An Al Maha escape

Sheikh Mohammed has a place here. And it’s really not surprising. Of course, our humble little “Bedouin suite”, although dripping in luxuries like antique coffee tables, a mahogany style wooden bedframe and wardrobe, handcrafted furnishings of green and gold, plus a private, temperature controlled pool were nothing compared to his. We assume. We’d never be allowed in to check.

It’s top-notch treats aplenty from the moment you step foot beyond the gates that separate Dubai from this magical, desert kingdom. We were met by our smiley South African guide, Franko, who drove us in his 4x4 to the reception area, explaining everything we’d need to know about the all-inclusive activities awaiting us, during the 10 minute drive. We could be riding a camel across the dunes in a matter of hours - the suffocating humidity of the city rarely hits the desert. We could ride the Sheikh’s ex-race horses, assuming we had three years of experience (they’re rather flighty, apparently) and if we could bring ourselves to rise for 5.15 A.M we could even watch a rare display of falconry. I had to pass on that one. I didn’t even know 5 had an A.M.

I’ll admit, I’ve been wanting to visit Al Maha for ages; ever since I saw some pictures on facebook of a friend, swimming in her private pool as an Arabian oryx sipped from the water behind her. I wanted a private pool. I wanted an oryx. I also wanted a taste of the five star extravagance she and hundreds of other people have described, regarding this 225 square kilometre stretch of sandy splendour, hidden just 45 minutes out of Dubai.

Tripadvisor - the fountain of all travel knowledge should be clue enough that this resort is nearing on a perfect getaway. “This was our fourth visit to Al Maha and it won't be our last. We could go back again and again, it is wonderful!” cries one fan. “This was our second stay at the Al Maha, which is one of my husband’s most favourite places on earth and it was even more wonderful than we remembered. This place is so gorgeous, peaceful, and luxurious, like heaven!” cries another. I think I may just have to write my own page quite soon. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited some fabulous places in the UAE during my time here, but I can honestly say Al Maha surpasses them all.

We could have spent all day just lounging on the super king-sized bed, holding ‘who’s got the fluffiest pillow’ competitions, or flicking through the zillion TV channels. Of course, we hit the pool first. The chilled water was the perfect respite from the August sun. Birds fluttered down, resting on the canvas awning over our suite as we popped a bottle of the good stuff - unfazed by our camera snaps and splashes. No one can see into these little watery gardens, but you can see out. Stretching before you, as far as the eye can see, are acres of golden dunes that stretch to infinity. I couldn’t see my oryx, however.

Dinner time in the Al Diwaan restaurant brought another touch of luxury to the table. My wagyu beef tenderloin and fois gras was heavenly, as was a lobster fused starter. A table of 16 sat away from us and their ooohs and aaaahs spoke volumes as to their own thoughts about the menu, just as they had when we were all perched on top of camels for our group sunset ride at 6.15; mid-way through which we’d been met with cold drinks and photo opportunities in the sand dunes.

The next day was filled with more lounging. The included breakfast buffet (with optional hot plates of eggs, omelettes and whatever else was desired) filled us to the point where all we could do was enjoy the cool water, read, listen to music and take advantage of the mammoth bath tub. And,. just as I climbed out of that temperature controlled pool, padded over the wooden decking, past my plumped up sun-lounger to adjust the music on our (included) iPod alarm clock: “Becky, Becky, quick, quick!”

I popped my head around the door and there it was. Standing there before the setting sun, its spiky horns piercing the dusty sky, sipping confidently and thirstily from the rippling blue water, was my Arabian oryx.

Posted: 12 August 2009

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