SIX SENSES ZIGHY BAY, MUSANDAM, OMAN
By Khulekhani Madlela
How many senses does a person have? This question popped into my mind as we drove up the steep Hajar mountain range, prompted by my imminent stay at the Six Senses Zighy Bay resort.
There are the five senses we all know of course – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste – but what about the mysterious sixth sense the hotel’s name refers to, that intuitive faculty some claim to have, which cannot be explained in terms of normal perception? I can’t have been thinking straight – maybe the effects of high altitude were beginning to kick in. But as my driver Nowfel from Wellcare expertly negotiated a series of hairpin bends alongside the rugged peaks and sparkling fjords of Musandam (aka the “Norway of the Middle East”), I just knew – ‘intuited’ if you will – that I was heading for an unforgettable staycation.
As we made our descent, the resort came into view. My breath caught. Beautiful stone buildings rose up against a backdrop of sandy beach, turquoise water stretching into the horizon. To my left the craggy mountains hugged the sea and as we got closer to the base I could hear the waves crashing against rocks, sending white spray into the air.
The thunderous welcome from nature was matched by the Omani warmth and hospitality. I was promptly handed a refreshing welcome juice made from Zighy dates, cucumber and honey, then my butler – yes each villa comes with a private butler – whisked me to my home for the next two nights on a buggy along a palm tree-lined path.
My pool villa, like all others in the resort, had its own private swimming pool, a cabana, terrace and an outdoor shower. The resort’s design is inspired by a traditional Omani village and the villas were built using local materials: stone walls, stone tile flooring, and a high roof made of timber and palm fronds to maximise airflow and keep rooms cool.
Six Senses Zighy Bay offers many distractions to cater to all tastes. Those in search of relaxation can hole up in their villa all day long or go to the spa. Adventure junkies have the jungle gym, tennis court, archery and beach volleyball on the property, while several excursions await off site including snorkelling, diving, kayaking, water skiing, fishing, mountain trekking and biking, and even tandem paragliding.
To get a taste of Musandam, I began with a gastronomic journey that took me and my host Ahmed Talaat, the resort’s assistant director of sales, to Sense on the Edge. Nestled between two peaks 293 metres above sea level, this fine-dining restaurant offers an amazing al fresco experience. I tucked into the succulent veal, followed by a banana and date dessert, under the starry skies while enjoying the stunning views of the resort below. As I polished off the sweet treat, a cool breeze gently caressed my face and made me feel heady. Oh what a way to end a night!
I woke up to the sounds of nature – the calls of seagulls and gently lapping waves – and went for a morning jog by the beach. I ran close to the water, enjoying the constant refreshing spray. Back in the villa a huge bath tub beckoned, so did the showers – I was spoilt for choice. The outdoor shower won, of course.
Instead of calling my butler to come pick me up in a buggy, I unchained one of the complimentary bicycles and pedaled to the Spice Market for breakfast. After a hearty, healthy breakfast I got back on the bike and explored the resort, stopping at the organic garden to smell the herbs. Feeling hot after the tour, I took a splash in the main pool. For lunch I enjoyed a three-course meal at the Summer House, a restaurant that serves international cuisine.
Then it was time to kick back and relax at the spa, an oasis of calm that boasts fantastic facilities and a host of treatments. I opted for Padabhyanga, an Indian leg and foot massage that uses ayurvedic aromatherapy oils. My therapist Lak scrubbed then massaged my legs and feet and I felt rejuvenated.
In the evening I made my way to the beach to watch a movie on the big screen. There was a certain magic to watching The Descendants, set in Hawaii, on a beach lounger in Oman.
On the last day of my visit I shut myself away and enjoyed all the creature comforts in my villa. I ordered room service and spent the rest of the day swimming and reading in the cabana.
At the end of my stay, as the 4x4 wound up the mountain pass, I took one more look at the resort and vowed to go back.
With breathtaking sights, the music of nature, the magic touch of a massage and the delicious smells and tastes of five-star food, I’d certainly stimulated all five senses. But I’d also found my sixth sense, something far above the realms of everyday perception: total relaxation.
Need to know
Villa prices start at $1,039 (Dh3,816) per night based on double occupancy and include breakfast. Prices are subject to 9 per cent government tax and 8.4 per cent resort service charge. To book visit www.sixsenses.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +968 2 673 5555. The best way to access the Musandam Peninsula from the UAE is by road – just a two-hour drive from Dubai. Wellcare Passenger Transport By Luxury Car (www.wellcarelimo.com; 04 388 4546) operates a shuttle service between Dubai and Six Senses Zighy Bay, Dh1,400 return. UAE residents do not require a visa; the resort applies for a gate pass.
DESERT ISLANDS RESORT & SPA ANANTARA
By Ma Felicidad De Los Santos
“When people arrive here they walk with hurried steps, but when they leave, their walk is more relaxed. That’s when we know they’ve had a good time,” our guide, Sara, told me and my companion.
We were at Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, a grand guesthouse-turned-hotel on the sprawling nature reserve that is Sir Bani Yas Island off the Jabel Dhanna coast.
Our adventure began with a boat ride from the Sir Bani Yas jetty, followed by a quick safari ride through the desert to the 64-room property overlooking a flamingo-inhabited lake on one side and the ocean on another. Antique furniture and artefacts decorated the interior, with Arabic lanterns in the lobby. Ascending the spiral staircase, I found my way to my room: a 52sqm private paradise with a vintage-inspired ceiling fan and a chaise longue.
Later, I learnt this place was His Highness Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s guesthouse. “He loved this island so much that he built this rest house for himself and his guests,” our guide said.
An early morning wildlife park drive showed us gazelles and Arabian oryx grazing idly, while a towering giraffe strode past our open-air safari vehicle. Other activities on the island include archery, mountain biking, wildlife walks, kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing.
Later, we headed back to the hotel to indulge in a seafood and steak dinner at Samak. Then we returned to the room where I claimed the palatial bed and my companion the bathroom for a bubble bath. Upon check-out, we left with relaxed steps. That’s when I knew we’d had a good time.
Need to know
Over Eid Al Aha the Desert Islands Dine & Discovery Escape package starts from Dh2,070 per night, including breakfast, two island activities and a three-course dinner for two. To book your stay at the hotel, call 02 801 5400 or email email@example.com
THE OBEROI DUBAI
By Karen Pasquali-Jones
Glitz and glamour are synonymous with the latest five-star hotel to open in Dubai, The Oberoi, which does luxury on a grand scale.
But the immaculately groomed staff – who look like they’re either Prada-clad extras from The Matrix trilogy or are dressed in traditional Indian peacock blue saris – all know it’s the little things that make their Business Bay property stand out from the rest.
So, yes, there are huge, modern, crystal chandeliers glinting from the ceilings in the impressive lobby, and giant water fountains outside the signature Nine7One restaurant (named after the international code for Dubai, and because there are nine cuisines from seven continents under one roof), along with the obligatory spa, gym and pool.
Yet who else could arrange for a shockingly realistic portrait to be made of me out of chocolate?
“It’s you!” my children shrieked when they spotted it sitting on the desk of our room. “We can eat your face!” Nestled alongside it was the most gorgeous bouquet of red rosebuds and a welcome message for all of us, made by the hotel’s very talented chocolatier.
It was the hospitality version of a grand entrance – something innovative I can never forget. The pressure was on then to wow us for the rest of our staycation, but that wasn’t going to be a problem for this hotel. From the room’s walk-in wardrobe and huge bathroom with breathtaking view of the Burj Khalifa, to the Evian facial mist and frozen grapes on offer down by the pool, this place is all about going the extra mile.
One of our first stops was to check out the facilities at the gym. It had all the latest equipment – of course – staff on hand to help explain it all, and was right next to the spa, so we could fall inside for a relaxing massage after working out.
My therapist soothed my tired muscles and soon had me drifting off on the therapy bed, and then it was time to shower and head for dinner.
Nine7One is perfect for families and brunches as it has a wide menu of delicious dishes from around the world, while Ananta, the hotel’s Indian restaurant, is elegant fine-dining with crisp, white table clothes and gold cutlery.
The next evening we tried out Umai, the Japanese restaurant, where we were dazzled by chefs who looked like magicians – with flames seemingly coming out of their fingers while they cooked fish and steak Teppanyaki style. “I want to try doing that,” my husband said, learning to dip his fingers in oil and ‘throw’ the flames across the meat. It was apparently the tastiest, and certainly the hottest, steak he’d ever made. Next, he was taught how to make sushi, and expertly rolled avocado and cucumber in rice to make me a delicious vegetarian starter.
The chef at this restaurant is licensed to cook fugu (the Japanese word for puffer fish), which is so poisonous it can be lethal if not cooked correctly, and so my husband made him promise to make it for him the next time we visit. I can’t wait for that to happen. The Oberoi has the wow factor and is perfect for a staycation to remember. Just be sure not to snack before you check into your room – after all, eating a chocolate portrait of yourself is a sweet moment to cherish.
Need to know
Rooms start from Dh1,450 per night including breakfast. For reservations call 04 444 1444, email the general manager Karim Bizid on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.oberoihotels.com for more information.
BIN MAJID RESORT, RAS AL KHAIMAH
By Kerry-Ann Henrico
Feeling frazzled from work and unable to recall the last time I’d had a holiday, a short break from the daily grind was just what I needed. So the Bin Majid Beach Resort – a mere 90-minute drive from Dubai – was just the ticket.
After a swift check-in, I was escorted by the friendly staff to my luxurious suite overlooking the Arabian Sea and the hotel’s beautifully manicured courtyard.
First on my agenda was a stroll to the resort’s private beach – and I could have sworn I’d stumbled upon a tropical island. Coconut palm trees dotted the silky white sand, which was lapped by a shimmering blue sea – was I really in Ras Al Khaimah? Delighting in my surroundings, I wasted no time taking full advantage of the serene setting, heading into the sea to wade into the warm water before taking in the gorgeous sunset while enjoying a refreshing drink at the newly opened Cabana beach bar.
That evening, the buffet dinner at the resort’s Oasis restaurant offered a scrumptious selection of international cuisine. Being the seafood lover that I am, I tucked into the grilled calamari, baked hammour and salmon. Every dish prepared to perfection, I had to have a second helping of each, leaving just enough room to sample the delectable crème brûlée for dessert. Sated, I enjoyed a lovely stroll, taking in the warm summer breeze before retiring to my suite for the evening.
The next day I woke early to make the most of my final day at the resort. It offers a host of activities, from watersports to tennis and beach volleyball, as well as a playground for the little ones. I chose to while away a few hours on the beach reading before indulging in a deep-tissue massage at the resort’s spa.
Feeling absolutely relaxed, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon lounging at the pool. With three to choose from, I was in the mood for a lively atmosphere after the down time so I settled on Waikiki pool bar with its upbeat music. Sipping mocktails in the pool, soaking up the last of the afternoon sun was the perfect way to spend my last day at the resort. That evening, I headed to Zulu bar with a few other guests to enjoy a night of socialising and live entertainment – a wonderful way to end a blissful stay.
Need to know
Prices during Eid: Cabana Dh1,000, Deluxe Dh1,200, Premium Dh1,300, Suite Dh1,450 visit www.binmajid.com for more information, email email@example.com or call 07 244 6644.
THE RITZ-CARLTON, DIFC
By Karen Pasquali-Jones
City slickers, beware: deep in the heart of Dubai’s Financial District is a seriously stylish hotel to rival any of the beach resorts. OK, so there’s no sea view, not a grain of sand in sight and the only hope of a tan is a fake one, but when it comes to five-star chic, the Ritz Carlton has it all covered.
From the sleek marble lobby to the silk and suede furnishings of the uber-glamorous rooms, the three fine-dining restaurants and the world-class spa, this is a sophisticated five-star hotel and then some.
We checked in to our deluxe suite, ready for a weekend of pampering. First up, we headed to the immaculate club lounge, where we could fill up with drinks and snacks constantly, before eschewing everything on offer for a trip to the fully equipped gym.
I thought of all the extra tasty nibbles I could try as I pounded the treadmill complete with personal TV and headphones, and asked the gym instructor to show me how each piece of state-of-the-art kit worked.
An hour – and half a day’s calories burned off – later, I headed to the spa for a rain shower followed by a DIFC Signature massage alongside my husband in a couple’s treatment room. Our therapists combined Eastern and Western techniques to pound our stress points. My therapist used every bit of her body – including forearm and elbow – to manipulate my tired muscles and remove the knots in my shoulders and back.
Suitably relaxed, we floated off to lunch at the Can Can Brasserie. A modern French café-style eaterie, I slurped on the best French onion soup I’ve eaten outside Paris, while my husband tucked into the mixed seafood grill – a platter of calamari, tiger prawns, lobster and fish of the day. Almost full from our starters we pushed ourselves to have mains of Tomato tarte tatin and rib-eye steak and then admitted defeat.
We waddled upstairs to our room for a nap (well it was a staycation!), before waking up in time for a bath before dinner. As well as a giant tub, there was a huge TV inside the mirror above the sink, so we didn’t have to miss a second of viewing time as we got ready for an evening out at the fabulous Centre Cut Steak House.
Not an obvious choice for a vegetarian, I ate a perfect burrata and heirloom tomato salad with arugula and balsamic dressing – totally delicious – followed by gnocchi with cheese sauce, while my husband tucked into the surf and turf of a tenderloin steak and grilled lobster. “Mmmm,” he managed to mumble between mouthfuls as I took in the dark wood, burgundy and butterscotch decor showcasing a beautifully simplistic, yet brilliant, sketch of a bull – what else? – in the centre of the restaurant.
At the end of a fantastic evening, we retired to our room, only to start all over again the next day. I’m sure we had gained two kilos each by the time we left – smiling and beyond relaxed and happy – the next afternoon. But we didn’t mind – we’d had an amazing time akin to staying in Canary Wharf London or even New York without having to leave the UAE. With such stylish surroundings, who needs a sun lounger?
Need to know
The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC Eid rates start from Dh1,300 per night. At the spa, the Ritz-Carlton, DIFC Signature Massage for 80 minutes costs Dh655. Call 04 372 2222, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ritzcarlton.com for more information or to book your stay.