Living in the desert can be all kinds of fun, but sometimes we crave something a little greener. Say hello to Al Ain. The emirate, known as The Garden City, thanks to its lush plantations and oases, is the ideal remedy to the occasionally overwhelming sandiness of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s also super close. The drive from Dubai is approximately an hour and even less from Abu Dhabi. You might also be surprised to learn it has a hair-raising activity park...
Al Ain is the birthplace of UAE founding father HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and is also one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements. The state is fed by natural springs that originate in the rocky mountain surroundings, allowing nature to blossom, hence the lushness. It really does feel like a desert oasis.
We stayed at Aloft Hotel, ideally located next to Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium. Aloft feels fresh, trendy and cool. It perfectly complements the contemporary exterior of the stadium. Each room features bright colours set against a muted grey background. Ours also had a giant floor lamp that hung over the very comfortable bed. Kooky details and bright accents are what this place is all about. The bathroom was stocked with Bliss products and had a giant walk-in shower room with a rainforest- style shower head. Cosy robes come as standard, as does the huge telly opposite the bed. So, if all you want to do is chill and catch up on movies, you will be more than catered to.
Do try and leave the room at some point, though. The rooftop pool area will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a hip hotel in LA. Sunbeds line the edge of the infinity pool, which overlooks Al Ain. Jabeel Hafeet Mountain sits prettily on the horizon to the left, making the pool the ideal place for that all-important smug-face selfie. Food and beverages are available to order from the team of attentive sta at the pool bar. We sipped on refreshing drinks and nibbled delicious burger sliders while lounging on the all-too-comfortable pool beds.
There are four restaurants in Aloft to choose from when deciding what to eat. Olive Tree is a sit-down restaurant, perfect if you want to spend a little more time enjoying your meal (and company). The vibe is relaxed and informal, no suits necessary. W XYZ Bar and The Rooftop are both great for light grazers. Both have delish snack menus, beverages and cool tunes – just the thing to help you wind down for the weekend. In the morning we popped to Olive Tree for breakfast. One freshly made-to-order omelette and copious amounts of coffee later and we were fuelled up and ready to hit Al Ain’s white-water rapids. No, seriously.
Al Ain has its fair share of activities to try. As well as the famous Al Ain Zoo, stunning Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum and Mubazzara Park, there’s Wadi Adventure. We eased into the active chunk of our weekend with a cheeky bout of zip-lining – an exhilarating experience with amazing views.
The white-water rapids were next. After an important safety chat from our instructor, we hit the easy (read: baby) rapids. After nailing that (with minimal yelping) we headed to the hard rapids. Faster, wetter with more reasons to scream, it’s the most fun way raise your heart-rate while staying relatively cool.
There’s also a man-made wave pool for budding surfers, and an Air Park to monkey around on if getting soaked isn’t your bag. Fun for all.
INFO: Aloft Hotel from approx. Dhs285 per room/per night, Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium Development, Al Towwaya, Al Ain, 03 713 8888, starwoodhotels.com; Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, 03 781 8422, wadiadventure.ae