If you think all the wild animals in the UAE live in the fish tank in The Dubai Mall, think again. Just 250km off the coast of Abu Dhabi is Sir Bani Yas Island, a nature paradise. Home to a wildlife reserve spanning a whopping 87 sq km, it’s a haven for thousands of free-roaming animals including cheetahs and peacocks and millions of trees and plants. If snoozing near a cheetah sounds terrifying, not to worry, there’s a luxury hotel just a hop away. Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara boasts not only animal-free rooms, but a luxurious Anantara spa and long stretches of beach. The hotel is accessible by car, but can also be reached in 25 minutes by Rotana Jet service from Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Executive Airport on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Perfect for a weekend getaway!
Wildlife & Adventure
Ready to discover your inner nature-loving side? Of course you are and the hotel is ready to fulfil all those calorie-burning adventures with mountain biking, archery, sailing and more. If you’re a shutterbug, head off on the Wadi Walk through naturally-formed salt dome hilltops. You’ll see – or if you’re busy playing with your Instagram ap like us, your guide will show you – sand dunes and ancient fossils. If you like to let a horse do the walking, head off on the Royal Bay Ride where you can trot on the beach! Water babies should kayak through the mangroves on the island’s eastern side. You don’t need to have Jennifer Aniston’s biceps as the trips are only during high tide. If all of this physical activity talk is exhausting you, then we’ve got your adventure sorted. The nature and wildlife drive lets you embrace your Out of Africa moment without having to take a step. After you pile into a jeep, complete with a flip-top roof, your guide will drive you to the nature sanctuary where you can watch Arabian Oryx run past. If you’re lucky, and we were, you might even see a cheetah feasting on its breakfast.
The Pool, Spa & Gym
After biking and hiking your way across the island, you deserve a little pampering. A dip in the hotel’s infinity pool should help, but if the words ‘Ayurvedic massage’ have you drooling, then make your way to the Anantara Spa. The spa’s signature treatment, the Sands of Time, is a 135-minute relaxation extravaganza including a shower, floral foot ritual, sport massage and sand compress. If you’re pressed for time, go for the Marma Abhyanga Massage, an Ayurvedic-style massage. Or if you’re a Cameron Diaz type and just can’t stop exercising, then skip the pampering and head to the fitness centre where you can lift weights with views of the Arabian Gulf.
There are 64 rooms and suites at the intimate hotel, all decorated with a desert colour scheme. We’re big fans of the 120 sq m one-bedroom pool villas which boast direct beach access, a private beach garden and a private pool with sun loungers. There’s a separate bedroom, a king size bed, a living room area, a kitchenette and even ample dining space. Like all the rooms, there’s also a flat-screen TV, original artwork, a rain shower, luxe Anantara bath products, an iPod docking station, rattan ceiling fan and Wi-Fi. The rooms are luxurious with an outdoorsy twist, so unpack your hiking boots and sunblock and don’t go looking for Dubai-style glitz!
The Bars & Restaurants
Samak: You’ll need to pack in some calories before you canter across the sand, and luckily for your stomach, there are plenty of gourmet options at this seafood restaurant. If weather permits, eat outside and order the king crab with oyster mushroom sauce. The grilled fish is hearty and flavourful and the cold white chocolate soup with berries for dessert is plenty indulgent without being too filling.
The Palm: With an a la carte menu featuring various cuisines, you should definitely head to The Palm for the buffet breakfast which boasts some of the best waffles this side of Belgium. The dark chocolate sauce is heavenly and there’s also a wide variety of healthier options if you have more culinary self-control than us!
The Lounge: It’s all about the views at The Lounge. You can appreciate the gorgeous landscape, and lack of skyscrapers, while kicking back with your after dinner espresso, aperitif or grape and bubbly.
Rack Rate: Dhs1,600+
Nature Drive: Dhs150+
Flight: Dhs400 return trip per person on Rotana Jet
Info: Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, Al Ruwais, Sir Bani Yas Island. 02 801 5400, www.desertislands.anantara.com.
From now until 23 December, if you stay three nights you only have to pay for two! The deal also includes daily buffet breakfast for two and return boat transfers between the mainland and the island. The getaway package starts at Dhs1,200.