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Great weekend break options in the UAE

With the Eid weekend looming, and the summer heat showing no signs of letting up, a short break should definitely be on the cards. Whatever you're looking for, there's a weekend escape in here for you

  • Bab Al Shams
    Take in the romance of the desert with a stay at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa.Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Bab Al Shams
    Tented villas at Banyan Tree Al Wadi take 'glamping' to another level.Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Bab Al Shams
    Relax at the pool between activities at the Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort.Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Bab Al Shams
    Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara is situated on Sir Bani Yas Island.Image Credit: Supplied picture
Aquarius

For a spa break

Go to… Banyan Tree Al Wadi

Why go… With practically every resort with a spare room, two candles and an iPod with tinkly music claiming to have its own ‘spa', it takes a little more to lure the spa-spoilt UAE resident in for a dedicated spa break. Fortunately, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi spa, sprawled across 3,960 square metres, seriously raises the bar when it comes to destination spas in this region. The first hydrothermal circuit of its kind in the UAE, The Rainforest is without doubt, the spa's pièce de résistance.

Designed to replicate a tropical rainforest, with a series of aromatic steam rooms, rain walk, saunas, different kinds of cold and wet showers, hammam, sole therapy, ice igloo and a vitality pool with massage jets - all of which are as much fun to skip around in, as they are therapeutic - a session here helps with holistic rejuvenation. The best approach is to book in for a Rainforest Indulgence package, which gives you an hour or so at The Rainforest, followed by a massage. The intuition, knowledge and expertise of the therapists, along with little touches like pre-treatment foot baths and the delicious lemongrass welcome drink, not only transport you to an Asian spa haven, but also remind you that you are in the hands of some of the best in the spa business. Pure bliss!

Between the spa and the über-luxe tented villas you will be staying in - think bathrooms the size of your average Dubai flat, private infinity pools, luxurious silk drapes, floor-to-ceiling glass panels, all done up in an elegant, sandy colour scheme - the only exertion you will probably want to put yourself through is to drag yourself to your meals. All-day dining restaurant Al Waha serves up a delicious buffet at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but for a more formal meal, head to Saffron for an authentic Thai experience.

Weather permitting, Destination Dining is another option - best suited for a romantic evening - where the staff will set up a private table for you, at certain designated spots within the desert reserve.

When the weather allows for it, there are plenty of other activities on offer as well, from nature walks and desert drives to falconry, if you feel like you need to earn your hours at the spa! We've discovered an easier way to spot wildlife - just hang around your pool overlooking the desert expanse long enough, and you'll find the occasional oryx nosing around within spitting distance!

Get there now: The resort is about an hour's drive from Dubai, and is well signposted along the Emirates Road highway. Their summer offers are priced from Dh1,705 (Dh2,225 for weekends) including breakfast and Rainforest Experience for two - pay for one night and get another night free. This offer is valid until August 30, visit www.banyantree.com for details and their Eid offers, or call 07-2067777.

- Sudeshna Ghosh

For a romantic break

Go to… Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa

Why go... Less than an hour's drive away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai, the luxurious desert resort of Bab Al Shams is the perfect place for you and your partner to escape from it all in true style. This popular resort has recently become part of Meydan Hotels group, and the super-friendly and knowledgeable staff are keeping Bab Al Shams' good name intact.

Built in the style of a traditional Arabic fort, the grounds are blissfully quiet, and there are lots of little nooks and cosy corners among the shaded walkways and courtyards to explore. The rooms at this intimate resort are refreshingly traditional and cosy, with dark wood and antique-style furnishings. Wooden chests, ticking carriage clocks and colourful wall hangings used as accents in the décor, are just some of the touches that make for an elegant, yet homely, ambience.

Bab Al Sham's centrepiece is undoubtedly its fantastic split-level swimming pool, which looks out across the expanse of desert surrounding the hotel. You can even hop out of the pool and hold one of the beautiful falcons that are kept in the grounds - not your average poolside experience in the city!

When you've had your fill of lounging by the pool, what better way to live out an Arabian Nights-style fantasy than with a camel ride through the desert? On the camel safari, you can also spot local wildlife roaming the hotel's grounds. The hotel can also arrange for you to go on a desert safari, while other activities such as horse riding, archery, mini-golf are offered for couples with a slightly adventurous bent of mind.

The traditional feel of the resort continues through to the signature Al Hadheerah restaurant, an outdoor desert location featuring live music and belly dancing, and a popular spot for iftars during Ramadan. If you want to mix it up a bit, the Masala Indian restaurant comes highly recommended, and there's also a quiet little pizzeria, which brings a bit of Italian romance to the desert. Post-dinner, the The Al Sarab rooftop lounge is perfect for enjoying some shisha in the open-air; the staff are quick to bring fans to your table to ensure you're kept cool.

Get there now: The resort is less than an hour's drive from Dubai. Special rates available for GCC residents until August 31, with rooms starting from Dh765 per night, including breakfast. Call 04-3813231 or visit www.meydanhotels.com.

- Morven Philp

For a beach break

Go to... Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort

Why go... Set at the far end of the Al Aqah hotel strip, this hotel has an enviable 200-metre stretch of coastline and is perfect for beach fun and water sports. It is for this reason that two well-reputed companies, water sports provider Water World and diving experts Divers Down, have set up shop within the grounds of the Miramar, servicing hotel guests and non-guests alike.

On arrival at the hotel, we went down to the beach to book ourselves some adventures for the following morning. The banana boats and doughnut rides seemed to be popular, but we declined the adrenaline rush and opted for calmer snorkelling (Dh90 for 45 minutes) and parasailing (Dh190 for 20 minutes) instead.

Killing time that afternoon was easy lounging on the sloping beach-effect side of the pool, next to Mammone Restaurant and Bar, which serves light snacks and Italian food. As soon as the sun went down, the pool emptied and everyone re-emerged an hour later milling around, deciding whether to go for the buffet at Al Majlis, back to Mammone for al fresco Italian, or to sample the Thai food served at Sensasia - one man I met said Sensasia serves the best Thai food in the UAE.

The following morning, we woke early for our water sports extravaganza. A glass-bottomed boat deposited us at Snoopy Island for snorkelling. We saw, amongst other things, an enormous shoal of barracuda hanging out in an underwater river formation, which was amazing. We didn't see any reef sharks, much to our disappointment, and the 45 minutes passed rapidly.

After exploring the underwater world, we went avian with parasailing. Being reeled off the back of a moving speedboat was slightly unnerving, but once I was coasting 100 feet above the water, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Below me, the resort was laid out like a scale model, with the huge kidney-shaped pool bubbling with families, the Arabian-style buildings surrounding the pool area and the rugged Hajjar mountains behind. On the beach, holiday-makers packed themselves into boats for diving excursions, wakeboarding, kayaking and waterskiing, while others set up the beach volleyball court for the afternoon. After 20 minutes of high flying, I was slowly reeled back in to the boat, which left just enough time for a dip in the pool before the two-hour drive back into the real world.

Get there now: Fujairah is around two hours away from Dubai. Until the end of August, enjoy mid-week rates of Dh450 for a superior and Dh550 for a deluxe room, and weekend rates of Dh650 for superior and Dh750 for a deluxe, with breakfast. Visit www.miramar-al-aqah-resort-fujairah.com or call 09-2449994.

- Louisa Wilkins

For a family break

Go to... Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara

Why go there... If you're seriously looking to get away from it all and enjoy some quality time with your family, then the Desert Islands Resort packs a serious punch in the activities department. Situated on the Sir Bani Yas Island, this low-impact resort is surrounded by an abundance of wildlife, which can be explored by foot, bike, kayak or jeep.

Start your day early with a sunrise excursion to discover the reserve's wealth of plant life and free-roaming animals. Little ones, teenagers and grown-ups alike will love the early-morning safari, which gets you up close and personal with giraffes, cheetahs and hyenas. For something more tranquil, you can take yourselves off to meander the lagoons and mangroves in a kayak - ideal for a spot of bird watching.

Once you're done with the morning, it's time for a swim in the resort's infinity pool to cool off. As the temperatures soar early afternoon, the children can be entertained at the Teens & Kids Club, while the adults can ease away their stresses at the Anantara Spa, which specialises in aromatic Thai and Ayurvedic treatments. After your family time-out, it's time for one more activity - choose from a sunset bike ride through the reserve or archery, which offers targets (no live ones!) dotted around the island's wadis.

The resort's family-friendly attitude runs through to its restaurants. Breakfast can be enjoyed buffet-style in all-day dining restaurant, The Palm (you can book a traditional cooking lesson), lunch is super easy to grab at the poolside Al Shams bar, and the beach-side Samak restaurant, which offers superb seafood, is perfect for a breezy dinner.

Rooms are mainly housed in the hotel's main building, a five-storey structure decked out in Arabic style with splashes of safari. The rooms on the ground floor offer direct pool access, so are ideal for families. The second to fifth floors all have terraces overlooking the beachfront and sea. If you want to splash out, you can book one of the private villas in the resort grounds, which come with their own large private garden and pool.

Get there now: From Dubai, it takes approximately four hours to drive to the Sir Bani Yas jetty, near Jabel Dhanna. It's another hour for the boat ride to the island and then a short transfer to the hotel. Otherwise, you can take advantage of the current summer offer, where you can book a chartered flight from Abu Dhabi airport from Dh99. Current summer deals at the hotel include a stay for three nights and pay for two deal (until December 31), or the on-going Dine & Discovery Escape package, which includes two activities per day, one dinner for two at The Palm, breakfasts and boat transfers. This deal is based on staying at the resort for two nights, from Dh1,585 per night. The resort is also offering a ‘credit back' scheme, offering customers Dh300, Dh400 or Dh500 back (depending on your room category) to spend on food, spa treatments or activities. These deals are valid until August 29. Log on to www.desertislands.anantara.com or call 02-8015400 for more information.

- Charlene Stubbs

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