The United Arab Emirates isn’t usually the place where couples decide to spend their honeymoon.
In that department, it’s the tropics, and certain areas of Europe that reign supreme and admittedly, scorching heat and skyscrapers don’t scream romance the way a secluded beach or a walk down La Seine does.
But if you know where to look, the desert can be incredibly romantic. Think about it: burning orange sunsets over silky sand dunes, dinner by firelight under a canopy of stars, an exotic and new environment to be discovered together… and the best part: You get to live something that most people haven’t.
Passing up on a desert getaway is a travel faux pas that this post will, hopefully, save you from, and to help you out, we’ve narrowed down our selection of the best three resorts in the UAE you want to be in after saying “I do”.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
The first item on our list hails from Abu Dhabi, but chase the skyscrapers and shopping malls out of your mind, roll past them and let them fade in your rear-view mirror, because we’re heading away from the city and into the mystical Rub Al Khali desert on our way to the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort and it’s hands down one of the most impressive luxury hotels in our collection.
Built in the Liwa oasis, where the tribal roots of the UAE’s leaders can be found, the Qasr Al Sarab is often visited by the nation’s sheiks and its level of service and amenities, if you’ll excuse the cliché, is fit for kings.
The resort stands amidst the sands like a fortress, and before you reach the front gates (where you’re greeted with warm smiles and few luxury humvees parked on the outside), it’s easy to let your imagination run wild with belly dancers in the halls and turbaned guards standing post…
Of course that’s not the case, but don’t be disappointed, because reality is just as magical!
Reflecting the heritage of the Emirates, the resort sees your expectations of what a palace in the sand ought to look like, and raises it tenfold by presenting a blend of unique artifacts, quality material and modern touches for unique effect.
Common areas, such as the library, are clad in paintings and memorabilia depicting the bedouin lifestyle and the arched windows of the lobby give onto an endless sea of sand which you can appreciate from a leather seat and crisp air-conditioned interiors. You can’t help but feel that you’re in an oasis of luxury, right in the midst of the most magical and dangerous setting on earth.
Then, of course, the Rub Al Khali is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world. Its sheer size and beauty makes it a foreboding, but mesmerizing entity that you’ll fall in love with, and at times, it even steals the show from the resort.
And if you want to (and why wouldn’t you), you’ll get to interact with it a lot during your stay.
Amidst its dunes, you can discover the art of falconry, archery, camel trekking, desert walks, and much more, but whatever you do, do not miss the dining experience under the night sky, where by the warmth of a hearth and with steaming cups of mint tea, you point out entire galaxies with the tip of your finger in the canopy of stars above. It’s the bucket list experience you never knew you wanted.
So how is all this beauty and luxury conducive to romance? With approximately 2 km of real estate and 206 rooms, the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort is not what you would traditionally call intimate. But ironically, all this space is precisely why this can be as secluded an experience as you can get as you’re not likely to be stepping on anyone’s toes here and the room sizes could probably fit a sheikh’s retinue. But of course it’s all about the setting.
Stare out at the mesmerizing landscape from the candlelit terrace of the restaurant and they’ll be magic whether you’re a newlywed or happily married for a while.
Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara
Designed with couples (and billionaire sheiks) in mind, the Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers an action-filled honeymoon experience that doesn’t skimp on luxury.
For the adventurous souls, we challenge you to get bored with an activity list that reads like the script of an Indiana Jones movie: horseback safaris, bike treks in the desert, kayaking, pearl diving and more…
Sir Bani Yas island (the resort’ location) is the UAE’s founding ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s, pet project for boosting the number of endangered Arabian oryx. After “greening” the islands with irrigation and a hefty budget, the island is now home to the Arabian wildlife park.
Here you’ll see a host of animals including oryxes, giraffes, cheetahs, flamingos and more, but be warned, it’s no Serengeti, but as you’re offered the opportunity to jump on a magnificent Arabian horse and discover it all on horseback, we’ll say that it is an experience in it’s own right that cannot be compared.
But cheetah spotting, pearl diving and…romance?
Ok so this might not be the most ideal resort for the “take it easy and sunbathe” newlyweds but, even those can find a happy medium here.
Because some of the rarest creatures you’ll find on the resort are, ironically, other couples. With only 64 villas, this is an exclusive experience which you can live in near privacy should you choose to. And, if you would rather leave your khakis and boots safely in your home drawer, it won’t be too much trouble finding Sir Bani Yas island’s soft side, and it’s every bit as wonderful. Our tip: ask the staff to prepare a romantic dinner by the beach or over the island’s wadi and you’ll know exactly what we mean.
The room of choice is without doubt the One Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa, which comes with a separate living area, a private plunge pool, daybeds and acres of space. It’s the perfect place to return to after a day of adventuring, or simply to stay in
Six Senses Zighy Bay
One of the most soulful experiences money can buy is the Six Senses Zighy Bay. Built to emulate an ancient Omani village, it’s as rustic and charming as its inspiration, but since this is a Six Senses resort, it’s a multimillion dollar take on rustic, and that’s fine by us.
The sand beach resort is one of the most isolated hotels in the UAE, with buzzing Dubai a safe two hours drive away, you’re truly cut off from the rest of the world, nestled between turquoise waters and the majestic Al Hajar mountains. If you jump on one of the bikes for a tour of the area, all you’ll meet is the beautiful landscape, some locals, and last (but not least) goats. Lots of them. But if you want to be cut off from the world, you’ll struggle to find better, especially with only 79 rooms on offer.
A bit of sunbathing here… a bit of paragliding there… Soulful types will love the feeling of isolation and the setting while health junkies will delight at the activity list that they can kayak, paraglide and bike through (among other things). Yes the list of activities is impressive, but in our opinion this place is all about relaxation.
There’s just something about this mesmerizing landscape and the isolation that creates a little bubble of intimacy which we just don’t want to burst. With 300 staff members (thankfully unobtrusive) for 79 rooms, you really don’t have to do anything here but work on being a happy couple, but if you do want to go through all the exercise, you’re spoilt for choice and that’s what makes the charm of this resort.
And one visit here won’t be your last if you can help it.
Make it a point to book a cruise on a Dhow because cocktails and sunsets just taste and feel better when you’re lounging on the decks of these traditional fishing boats. Or just take it easy on the sun beds or in the plunge pools of your villa.
Whatever it is you want to do, there’s no going wrong because this gem is one of the most versatile and intimate hotels that we’ve come across.