Anjana Gosai escapes the hustle and bustle of central Dubai to experience two more secretive Middle-Eastern getaways…
Dubai as a holiday destination has never really appealed to me. I’ve often stopped off at this ever-expanding Middle-Eastern hub on trips to South Asia and must confess that at times, I have been relieved to leave. Despite the luxury on offer, the abundance cultural experiences and the guaranteed sunshine - the traffic-clogged streets and excessively air-conditioned shopping malls have always made me feel like I’m in a synthetic city. However, beyond the Dubai megalopolis there is another world to be discovered – starting with the Southern regions. Beyond that there are other unique and secluded retreats, which offer a sense of tranquillity and calm for the body and mind are within easy reach of the city. The opportunity to visit them was too good to miss.
SIX SENSES ZIGHY BAY, OMAN
My first destination was in Dubai’s lesser-celebrated neighbour – Oman. After a 90-minute drive from Dubai International Airport and a windy ride up though the majestic Hajar Mountains we arrived at Six Senses Zighy Bay. This isolated gem lies on the Musandam Peninsula, which stretches up into the Straits of Hormuz opposite Iran, with the Gulf of Oman on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other. Providing views of the breathtaking rugged mountains and swathes of sandy beach and ocean – the setting of this private resort is nothing short of spectacular.
Zighy Bay features 82 hedonistic villas that beautifully blend the traditional rustic Omani architecture with modern décor. The villas come in different shapes and formats to suit all party sizes. The villas themselves are spacious, offering separate bedrooms with oversized tubs, outdoor showers and living rooms. The resort has a central pool with poolside service, but since all the rooms come with a private infinity pool, day beds and terrace, as well as your own butler, who is only a phone call away - we saw very little reason to leave the sanctuary of our villa blissfully wiling away the day in the pool.
The Six Senses group always focus on making their spas a centrepiece of their resorts and the Spa at Zighy Bay is no exception. Headed by renowned holistic healer and life coach, Steve Harvey, quality and service is key. The staff are committed to delivering an integrated wellness experience along with tranquillity, health and fitness. They do this by combining innovative and ancient holistic treatments.
There are nine airy treatment rooms with a variety of therapies to choose from. For full on healing, book a three, five or seven day wellness program, which are designed to detox, de-stress or boost fitness levels. Alternatively go for a locally inspired treatment. I recommend the Wonders of Oman, which includes a sea salt bath with fresh mint, a body scrub made from local coffee and a draining massage using frankincense essential oil.
I was lucky to have a personal consultation with Steve, who has treated the likes of Demi Moore and Jennifer Lopez. He gave me some useful advice and tips on managing stress, such as the importance of awareness and contemplation when faced with information that may seem negative. He also spoke about how to maintain the right attitude in order to keep your life, health and relationships on track. Those who have any issues that are causing imbalance in your life - be it your health, your happiness, your wealth or your confidence, it is definitely worth seeing Steve.
While it is easy to just zone out in the spa or hole up in your private villa, there is much more on offer at Zighy Bay. The onsite activities include pilates classes, long beach walks, hiking, meditation and my favourite – sunrise yoga. Activities off site include non-motorised water sports, snorkelling, diving, kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding and hand line fishing. Mountain trekking and biking, guided off road excursions, tandem paragliding and flying a Micro light aircraft, which can present you with a fantastic perspective of the local landscape, can also be arranged by the resort staff.
When it comes to dining, Zighy Bay offers a varied selection of cuisines including European, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese all of which is
exceptional. The signature restaurant is The Sense of the Edge, which is located at the top of the Zighy mountains, where the moonlit views of the bay are magnificent. Here you can select from five or seven course menus and an array of fine wines. For a classic Bedouin dining experience, check out the Shua Shack (pictured), which serves local Arabian flavours. Be sure to try the succulent lamb, which is prepared in a traditional underground shua oven.
For a more relaxed experience, book the Spice Market restaurant, which offers Arabian dishes such as hot and cold mezzes and shawarmas.
Those after an extra special and intimate setting, book the space at the top of the Wine Tower, where you can dine under the stars with the mountains as a backdrop – it truly is an unforgettable dining experience. The ‘Chill’ bar is open late and offers a chance to kick back.
When it comes to breakfast the choice is vast. Don’t leave without trying the manakish, a delicious cheese and honey pancake.
Prices for a pool villa start from £597, per night, for more information, visit www.sixsenses.com/zighybay
BAB AL SHAMS DESERT RESORT AND SPA, DUBAI
Hidden deep amid the rolling sand dunes of the desert, this opulent resort, which is designed in the style of a traditional Arabian fort, is located just 45 minutes south of Dubai. If you are after some rest and relaxation, Bab Al Shams is a true haven of calm. Popular amongst couples, families and the odd celebrity - we spotted F1 driver Jenson Button enjoying some downtime here – the resort is fairly large, so it never feels crowded and there is plenty to keep you occupied – from lounging by the huge infinity pool to gorging on the tasty Arabic cuisine.
From the furniture in the bedrooms to the décor in the bathroom, each of the 113 rooms and suites are decorated in a traditional Arabic style – with Moroccan lanterns, paintings of desert landscapes, Persian rugs and patterned Bedouin-style patterned pillows. They also feature all the modern amenities you require - from satellite TV to high-speed Wi-Fi.
The Satori Spa at Bab Al Shams is small, but offers an array of treatments. Whether you are an energy-sapped sun worshipper or a tired traveller in need of relaxation, the spa’s therapists are well equipped to cater to your needs. Treatments often draw on the best local traditions and ingredients such as natural rosewater or finely ground olive pits utilised in the spa’s heavenly body scrubs. For a real treat, book the three hour, Blissful Desert Rose experience, which includes a body scrub, massage and wrap using rose infused body oils.
A host of traditional activities can be enjoyed such as camel and horse rides, desert safaris and archery. The falcon show, which takes place each day at sunset, gave us an enthralling display of this great Middle Eastern custom favoured by nobility for centuries. The lawn outside the Al Forsan restaurant plays host to daily morning yoga sessions, which offer guests the chance to start the day in a positive manner. If you want to head out for a spot of shopping or sightseeing, the hotel can book a taxi (which costs around £20) to take you to downtown Dubai, where you can explore the malls and souks.
Bab Al Shams is a gastronome’s delight with four different restaurants serving Arabic, Indian, International and Italian cuisines. Our favourite was Al Hadheerah – to call this place simply a restaurant is to do it a disservice. This open-air desert delight is the jewel in the Bab Al Shams crown and plays host to some incredible evenings of food and entertainment evoking the banquets of old Arabia. Housed in a fort-like complex, Al Hadheerah serves up a grand buffet from live cooking stations, wood-fired ovens and spit roasts for guests who can relax in the sunken seats and enjoy the lively entertainment, which includes belly dancers, fireworks displays, live bands and theatrical extravaganzas. Al Forsan, Masala and Pizzeria Le Dune cover off the other cuisines with aplomb. Do check out the Al Sarab – a rooftop lounge where you can enjoy sunset views over Arabian coffees, cocktails or shisha.
For room rates and more information, see www.meydanhotels.com/babalshams