An Arabian Adventure

The year before last we went to Oman and loved the climate, the culture, the people and the hotels!  We had the taste for this part of the world and this year visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai, not just for the dates, which are in plentiful supply!….

Certainly no global shortage of dates!

Certainly no global shortage of dates!

Neither my husband nor I would consider choosing a city break holiday in isolation, with our free time spent on a pristine man made beach minutes from the hum drum of the city.  We are happy to ‘do the city’ for a day or so, but that isn’t what makes our trips tick.

In the past few years we’ve made a good play at becoming air mile royalty in a way that maybe even Prince Andrew might aspire to!  We surprise ourselves in how quickly they accumulate.  Needs must then, another holiday was needed!…

Birthday boy

Birthday boy

Our flight to Dubai was with British Airways in first class – I can’t think of a better way to travel, but I love that it is a rare treat that starts the holiday off in such an exciting way.

All holidays should start with fizz, first class lounge regardless

All holidays should start with fizz, first class lounge regardless

I’ve already reviewed the flight here for www.theluxtraveller.com and concluded (un-surprisingly) that there isn’t a lot wrong!

This holiday was special as it coincided with my husband’s 40th birthday – so pulling out all the stops for him was key!  In the Concorde Lounge I arranged for Ben Stiller to stop by and have his photo taken with him… Not quite, it was fate – but I saw this man walk into the lounge with very funky styled hair and remembered his face from Zoolander and Dodge Ball, Mr P then got up the courage to go and say hi!

It really was him - sooo exciting!

It really was him – sooo exciting!

Once on the plane the treats continued – it is all about who you know and the captain had been convinced by one of his former colleagues to give Mr P a tour of the flight deck!!

He didn't touch anything!

He didn’t touch anything!

By this point we felt like we’d been on holiday for days and were fully relaxed – the air bridge hadn’t even been removed!!

On landing at Dubai we headed south for a fair few hours!  Driving over here is easy, the signs are good and the roads are safe, and straight.  We did drive through a sandstorm, but we came out the other side….

Not the best view at this stage... Plenty of sand

Not the best view at this stage… Plenty of sand

We headed into the desert about as far as you can go before hitting the Saudi border and stayed at a sublime Anantara resort called Qasr al Sarab (palace of the mirage).  I’ve written more about it for theluxtraveller.com already, but in summary – I am so glad that we looked beyond the relative hassle of reaching the middle of nowhere and went there!  Quite something – the location is remarkable and the whole place will grow on you during your stay (suffice to say I was already looking at other Anantara resorts online before we’d left – this place usurped the Chedi Muscat in my books and I’m staggered that anywhere could!!). although my husband has just said Chedi still just gets it for him!

Epic

Epic

Room view at sunset!  Not sure it could be any better!

Room view at sunset! Not sure it could be any better!

While we were in the desert we didn’t do a great deal!  We’d had busy Januarys and so being somewhere like this was what a doctor would have ordered!!  We did enjoy complimentary spa treatments, camel riding and falconry to support our review of the property, all of which were wonderful and I would happily have paid for!

Camel riding and falconry

Camel riding and falconry

One day we left the hotel for a few hours in our hire car (as expected, many surprised faces) and headed over to Liwa.  This is a massive area of natural oasis and there are a number of forts that were built many years ago as look-out places to protect the valuable water supply in the area.  It was fascinating to visit one – which was essentially a giant sandcastle!!

Giant sandcastles

Giant sandcastles

Another highlight was a sunset ‘walk’ up the largest sand dune by the hotel to get the best sunset view!

Deserted!

Deserted!

I’m glad I wore my gym kit because it was certainly a work out!!  As expected – sand everywhere!  My socks have been washed a few time since, and yet there are still grains left!  We were the first of the hotel guests to make a play for the dunes and as a result got to walk on them untouched – there were some footprints from the day before but they were mostly covered by wind blown grains!  Up on the top of the dunes really puts into perspective just how remote a location we were in (bar a few roads and small settlements) – the sand went on for as far as the eye could see, and further!!

I challenge you not to take one of these home!

I challenge you not to take one of these home!

After spending the main part of our holiday here, the obligatory city visits were upon us!  We were very sad to leave Qasr al Sarab but thankfully had some very different places to stay for the rest of the trip!

We spent 2 nights at the Shangri La in Abu Dhabi city and I couldn’t get enough of the stunning view of the mosque from the hotel pool!  I didn’t get bored with that view – incredible architecture and the whiteness looked stunning against the blue sky!

Beautiful

Beautiful

We did visit the mosque one morning, but it is such a tourist trap that it wasn’t a relaxing place!  When we had visited the Muscat mosque previously (which opens very early in the morning to tourists) it was virtually deserted and that allowed us to see its true beauty.  But this mosque does not open to visitors until 9am.

At the grand mosque

At the grand mosque

What surprised me most at the mosque was the tourists arriving to visit – not having thought about the religion or the culture that they were staying within.  This frustrates me so much.  A couple from our hotel left on the same mini-bus as us – he was in shorts and looked like an urchin as a result and his wife had not thought to bring a headscarf.  The mosque is prepared for this ignorance and has hooded gowns that can be borrowed, but I do wonder why people visit a country if they aren’t prepared to acknowledge and respect its culture….

We also popped into the city and spent a little while mooching around – we went and turned our noses up at the gaudiness of the Emirates Palace gold-plating (and checked out the Gold Bar vending machine) and were staggered with just how quick buildings are going up and the number of cranes!

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We also visited the fish market (a little off the tourist trail as our taxi driver got lost…) and had a lovely stroll along the beach on Saadiyaat Island.  Beyond that, I’m not sure how much there is to see?  I am probably doing the city a complete disservice by saying that, but if I’m honest we saw as much as we needed.  We enjoyed our hotel, and I enjoyed people watching fellow guests after such a quiet time in the desert!!

A dhow leaving the fish market.  Spot the clamped car behind, heading to the pound!!

A dhow leaving the fish market. Spot the clamped car behind, heading to the pound!!

Final stop on our Arabian adventure was Dubai.  But Dubai has for a long time been on my “avoid like the plague” list… I’m not a fan of wealth in an ugly form and didn’t really associate visiting here with a holiday!  But we lucked out – I stumbled across a boutique guesthouse/hotel in the old quarter of the city, worlds away from everything that I didn’t want to stay at in the city – the XVA Art Hotel.

Minute lemonade and a menu that is a piece of art in itself

Minute lemonade and a menu that is a piece of art in itself

The XVA Art Hotel was a hidden gem (and does great mint lemonade – if you are going to stay somewhere teetotal then the drinks need to be good).  It would have been nice to be at a hotel with a swimming pool but we were in the city for little more than 24 hours and so we got the best value for money we could have without paying through the nose for a pool, and got to see a little piece of somewhere that very few people will.

We absolutely made the most of our time in the city.  We arrived in the evening and headed straight out to Al Karama for a spot of handbag shopping.  However, we also learnt that I am a bag snob and I wasn’t impressed enough with the quality so I will continue to buy at full price!!  The hotel was fab for recommending where to go and they directed us to an amazing Rajasthani restaurant – no one spoke English, but we dined incredibly well regardless (and dining out is cheap when a) they don’t serve alcohol and b) you stray beyond the bounds of a hotel!!

The next day we had one day in the city and see it we must.

We took ourselves off to the Palm to ogle at the scale of the reclamation.  Whilst not necessarily somewhere I would ever want to spend more time, the physical impossibility of what they have done is worth seeing and Atlantis is an incredible building.  From there we went to the beach front – the souk at the Jumeirah has plenty of choice of shops and restaurants and is relatively peaceful compared to the rest of the city.  A lovely stroll along a public beach right next to Burj al Arab was a nice way to enjoy the sunshine of our last day and take in the quirky view.

Train ride back from the Palm, the Burj Khalif and the Burj al Arab

Train ride back from the Palm, the Burj Khalif and the Burj al Arab

Final stop of the visit was the Burj Khalifa.  We had pre-booked our tickets for 4.30pm when the light was starting to fade.  The building is ridiculously big, there isn’t any other way I can describe it.  Our wide angle lens struggled to capture it all, it was that tall.  The scale of it is even more apparent from the top – everything looks small and you get a real sense for how elongated the city is.  At 6pm the fountain show (worlds biggest – obvs) starts at the base of the tower and is quite something.  Set to music it is almost like watching ballet!  Very spectacular.  The BK is then incredibly well lit as night falls.

Lit up like a Christmas tree

Lit up like a Christmas tree

I was staggered by how many hotels are in this downtown area.  I would liken it to going on holiday to Canary Wharf… No matter how good the hotels are, what a strange place to holiday….

Final supper on this trip was a 3* hotel up the road from the XVA.  Last night of holiday and we really wanted one last ‘week night’ drink with our dinner and the Arabian Courtyard hotel had a great Thai restaurant with that rare thing in this part of the city – a bottle licence!  Happy days and a happy end to our trip, much nicer than expected.

Our flight home was the following morning and we were burning up some Virgin air miles that would have expired.  I have only ever flown with our flag carrier or a OneWorld partner so this was a brave new world… Even the camel looked nervous!

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Great holiday – already looking at where else we can visit in the UAE… Incredible memories of this trip:

Stunning

Stunning

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80 Comments

  1. March 5, 2014 / 12:33 pm

    It really looks amazing, and in all honesty not a destination that would normally be top of my list. I have to admit to being a bit jealous, but of course thrilled for you also, that you met Ben Stiller – how cool. So many great experiences, and lovely photos. The falconry looks wonderful.

    • March 5, 2014 / 6:03 pm

      we normally have to be beside the seaside to relax, and the desert was just the same – always changing, stunning view!

  2. March 5, 2014 / 1:28 pm

    This sounds a wonderful mix of quiet relaxation and city exploration. I have to admit Dubai fascinates me, even though it goes against the grain in so many ways. I’ve heard about a great food tour there that I would love to go on: Frying Pan Adventures. I’m sure this would give a fascinating insight into the city and local culture.

    • March 5, 2014 / 6:03 pm

      I read about that somewhere, but we weren’t there for long enough! I agree – most people probably only eat hotel food! We went off the beaten track to a curry restaurant recommended by the XVA – staying somewhere like ensures your recommendations aren’t inside the Jumeirah complex!

  3. March 5, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    Wow, looks like a beautiful trip! AND you saw Ben Stiller! Super jealous on that one!! Beautiful photos – I can’t wait to go camel riding 🙂 Happy travels to you both

    • April 13, 2014 / 5:35 pm

      I never really thought that famous people went through the normal lounges for us mortals – was so exciting!

  4. March 5, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    Wow, looks like a beautiful trip! AND you saw Ben Stiller! Super jealous on that one!! Beautiful photos – I can’t wait to go camel riding 🙂 Happy travels to you both

    • April 13, 2014 / 5:35 pm

      I never really thought that famous people went through the normal lounges for us mortals – was so exciting!

  5. March 5, 2014 / 3:05 pm

    This looks like it was an amazing trip! AND you met Ben Stiller – super jealous about that!! Can’t wait to go camel riding as well – beautiful photos! Happy Travels to you guys 😀

  6. March 5, 2014 / 3:05 pm

    This looks like it was an amazing trip! AND you met Ben Stiller – super jealous about that!! Can’t wait to go camel riding as well – beautiful photos! Happy Travels to you guys 😀

  7. travelwithmarilyn
    March 5, 2014 / 4:15 pm

    How cool is this!?!! What an adventure!!

  8. travelwithmarilyn
    March 5, 2014 / 4:15 pm

    How cool is this!?!! What an adventure!!

  9. March 5, 2014 / 5:10 pm

    How did you like the falconry? I’ve thought of doing it here but am a little intimidated. Birds sort of weird me out ;P

    • March 5, 2014 / 6:01 pm

      There was a later photo where the bird flapped its wings while I was holding it… I survived, but that was scary, although not so much to put me off doing it again!! It is incredibly regal and I think by only being in a group of 4 we saw it at its best?

  10. March 5, 2014 / 7:21 pm

    Wow… it looks like they pulled out all the stops for you. How come you hadn’t posted about this sooner, Anna?!! 🙂 You even met a Focker!

    Qasr al Sarab sounds fabulous…

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:29 pm

      it was funny watching little fockers on tv last friday knowing we’d met the man himself! was waiting for the lux reviews to go live so that it was all linked! that and got a bit busy at work… something has to pay for these shindigs 😉
      what’s funny is that i was so pleased i’d arranged the trip to the flight deck through a captain friend, then along come ben stiller and trumps my planned surprise!

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:30 pm

      qasr al sarab – needs a visit if you are passing, compared to the other desert options it just must be leagues ahead given its unique location

  11. March 5, 2014 / 7:21 pm

    Wow… it looks like they pulled out all the stops for you. How come you hadn’t posted about this sooner, Anna?!! 🙂 You even met a Focker!

    Qasr al Sarab sounds fabulous…

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:29 pm

      it was funny watching little fockers on tv last friday knowing we’d met the man himself! was waiting for the lux reviews to go live so that it was all linked! that and got a bit busy at work… something has to pay for these shindigs 😉
      what’s funny is that i was so pleased i’d arranged the trip to the flight deck through a captain friend, then along come ben stiller and trumps my planned surprise!

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:30 pm

      qasr al sarab – needs a visit if you are passing, compared to the other desert options it just must be leagues ahead given its unique location

  12. March 5, 2014 / 9:09 pm

    OMG Ben Stiller!! 🙂 I would never have the nerve to go up to him. What a fun bonus to an already great trip. I’ve been to Abu Dhabi just once and could only spent a day there and it looks I’ve should have stayed longer.

    • March 5, 2014 / 9:12 pm

      Stay longer in the desert, not the city!!! My husband was fuelled by champagne and the ‘it’s my birthday’ confidence!! So glad he got the photo, so cool!!

  13. March 6, 2014 / 2:37 am

    I really enjoyed reading this!
    I have always wanted to go on an Arabian holiday but sadly the flights alone are quiet expensive!
    I would be terrified having a falcon so close to my face – would be worried my eye looks nice and tasty!
    While we always do out research before we go on a trip, I guess a lot of people don’t, I don’t like that people go to cultural places wear shorts and thongs (flip flops) but I didn’t realise you needed a head scarf – will keep that in mind thanks 

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:28 pm

      The falcon’s were well fed by the time we held them… hadn’t really thought about it like that now you say it!

  14. March 6, 2014 / 2:37 am

    I really enjoyed reading this!
    I have always wanted to go on an Arabian holiday but sadly the flights alone are quiet expensive!
    I would be terrified having a falcon so close to my face – would be worried my eye looks nice and tasty!
    While we always do out research before we go on a trip, I guess a lot of people don’t, I don’t like that people go to cultural places wear shorts and thongs (flip flops) but I didn’t realise you needed a head scarf – will keep that in mind thanks 

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:28 pm

      The falcon’s were well fed by the time we held them… hadn’t really thought about it like that now you say it!

  15. March 7, 2014 / 2:40 pm

    This part of the world is not high on my list of places to visit. However, I think it would be quite interesting to explore the forts in the Liwa oasis. And maybe the fish market in Abu Dhabi. Thanks for the great descriptions and information.

    • March 7, 2014 / 5:37 pm

      It’s a fascinating area, away from the city as you say!! Glad we took a chance on it!!

    • January 3, 2015 / 1:09 am

      Kick the tires and light the fires, problem ofilafcliy solved!

  16. March 7, 2014 / 2:40 pm

    This part of the world is not high on my list of places to visit. However, I think it would be quite interesting to explore the forts in the Liwa oasis. And maybe the fish market in Abu Dhabi. Thanks for the great descriptions and information.

    • March 7, 2014 / 5:37 pm

      It’s a fascinating area, away from the city as you say!! Glad we took a chance on it!!

    • January 3, 2015 / 1:09 am

      Kick the tires and light the fires, problem ofilafcliy solved!

  17. March 7, 2014 / 6:22 pm

    What an awesome trip this looks!! Plus they even arranged for you to have a visit with the one and only Ben Stiller – perfect timing right?

    I really would love to experience Dubai, in particular the golf courses there look spectacular. Every year I watch the Chase to Dubai on the European Tour on TV and tell myself that I will make a special trip there for the finale but as of yet I have never ventured to that part of the globe – hopefully sometime soon that will change!

    • March 7, 2014 / 6:27 pm

      BA are great like that, you say you’re coming through and hey presto they get a mega star!! Dubai is like Singapore or New York – needs to be visited and has something for everyone, glad we got out of the cities and into proper desert though! Hope you both get over there soon!

  18. March 7, 2014 / 6:22 pm

    What an awesome trip this looks!! Plus they even arranged for you to have a visit with the one and only Ben Stiller – perfect timing right?

    I really would love to experience Dubai, in particular the golf courses there look spectacular. Every year I watch the Chase to Dubai on the European Tour on TV and tell myself that I will make a special trip there for the finale but as of yet I have never ventured to that part of the globe – hopefully sometime soon that will change!

  19. aroundtheworldin80pairsofshoes
    April 22, 2014 / 7:18 pm

    Loved this! I have never thought about travelling to Abu Dhabi but I think you may have just swayed me into looking into booking a flight! Fantastic post and just found your blog; its fabulous. You made me laugh as I read your about profile page as I’m also an accountant (bless our little cotton socks!) xx

    • April 22, 2014 / 7:20 pm

      Accountants need the best holidays… Definitely get out of the city of you do, a day was plenty!!

  20. aroundtheworldin80pairsofshoes
    April 22, 2014 / 7:18 pm

    Loved this! I have never thought about travelling to Abu Dhabi but I think you may have just swayed me into looking into booking a flight! Fantastic post and just found your blog; its fabulous. You made me laugh as I read your about profile page as I’m also an accountant (bless our little cotton socks!) xx

    • April 22, 2014 / 7:20 pm

      Accountants need the best holidays… Definitely get out of the city of you do, a day was plenty!!

      • aroundtheworldin80pairsofshoes
        April 22, 2014 / 7:25 pm

        I love the desert so I definitely think a desert adventure would be best for us! x

    • April 26, 2014 / 12:28 pm

      The flight was very much part of the holiday – such a treat!!

    • April 26, 2014 / 12:28 pm

      The flight was very much part of the holiday – such a treat!!

  21. April 26, 2014 / 12:25 pm

    I have never been in Dubai, it doesn’t seems interesting for me, but I loved Oman, it was an amazing country and on of my favourite trips!

    • April 26, 2014 / 12:27 pm

      A day in Dubai is enough 😉 but glad we had the chance to take it in! Loved Oman too – it is a few years behind in its journey and so not over run or over developed!

  22. April 26, 2014 / 12:25 pm

    I have never been in Dubai, it doesn’t seems interesting for me, but I loved Oman, it was an amazing country and on of my favourite trips!

    • April 26, 2014 / 12:27 pm

      A day in Dubai is enough 😉 but glad we had the chance to take it in! Loved Oman too – it is a few years behind in its journey and so not over run or over developed!

  23. October 20, 2014 / 10:01 pm

    That looks absolutely spectacular. From the desert sands, to Zoolander in person, to the gold dispensing machine. My 40th was a little different than Mr. Parkers.

    • October 20, 2014 / 10:03 pm

      🙂 Mr P was very spoilt, what can i say – such luck to have the ben stiller meet up

  24. May 6, 2015 / 9:13 am

    Awesome pictures and itinerary. We just come back from Dubai and are already planning for our next trip there. Shangri La Abu Dhabi looks stunning. Atlantis by train looks incredible. And OMG you bumped into Ben Stiller? That’s SO cool!

    Popped by via Lou Messugo link up

    • May 6, 2015 / 11:38 am

      Ben Stiller was pure genius luck! The SL view was the best – but there are also newer places springing up on the islands that are worth investigating too I think?

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