The effervescent pace of life in Dubai slowly seeps away with every kilometre you travel down the solitary road linking the emirates of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). Unspoilt desert with sand that changes colour through the whole spectrum of sunset hues, from a soft yellow to a rich warm terracotta, gives way to the breathtaking rocky terrain of the majestic Hajar Mountains. It’s a far cry from the frenetic buzz that pervades RAK’s more extrovert sibling less than an hour away. The charm of RAK’s quaint town centre, coupled with the tranquillity of its beautiful surroundings made it an obvious location for Banyan Tree to open its first UAE property.
The renowned Asian hospitality group loved the emirate so much, it built two hotels twenty minutes apart – the coastal Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach resort that flanks the waters of the Arabian Gulf, and Banyan Tree Al Wadi, which is nestled amidst 100 hectares of a private nature reserve. Anders Dimblad, the area general manager of both resorts, spoke to InsideOut about how Banyan Tree’s trademark exoticism has been interpreted in this region, offering a very real sense of the local culture.
“Banyan Tree is about the romance of travel and giving people a sense of place,” he says. “Through the design and architecture of our resorts, we promote the uniqueness of the indigenous cultures. We use locally made materials as much as possible – the flooring, cladding and wall tiles were all made by RAK Ceramics, while the natural stone used in the bars and water features was extracted from local quarries and aims to reflect the landscape and architecture of the destination.
“But we have not forgotten our Asian roots. In fact, we have grown to embrace the world’s increased awareness and interest in Asia. For our two properties here, I believe that we have married the perfect design balance of Arabian architectural heritage with Asian touch points.”
Architrave Design and Planning, the design arm of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, was responsible for the design of these two hotels, and after an initial site visit identifying the main views and vistas, access points and topography of the land, the designs finally began to take shape.
“The intent was to emulate an Arabian ‘oasis of indulgence’; a resort built into natural desert surroundings and along the Arabian Gulf with all the modern conveniences available to our guests,” Anders says.
For the coastal property, the dramatic check-in includes sailing across a lagoon on a private boat from the main shoreline to the resort, which is situated on a private sandy peninsula. The desert property has an elegant fortress-like façade, influenced by traditional Arabic architecture, which blends harmoniously with rolling desert dunes. The surroundings of the two hotels may be different, but the deep sense of escapism and undeniable ‘Banyan’ touches are not.
“The tented pool villas are inspired by the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin people,” Anders explains. “They have arched tented roofs lined with bamboo and wooden support poles, contemporary neutral interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows. We created a modernised version of the tents by structuring them on a raised platform for better views and privacy, and added a personal infinity swimming pool built with deep blue mosaic tiles to represent an oasis. The block pool villas were inspired by the architectural style of traditional mud-brick houses that can still be seen in RAK today, which are square blocks with private courtyards.”
The interior design throughout the two hotels is mainly Arabic with Asian hints, such as soft Thai silk upholstery and cushion covers. All the furniture was custom-made by RAK Prime Builders and AMS Joinery to bespoke designs by Architrave. The artwork and accessories are antiques and items from contemporary Arabic collections and artists. The result is a beautiful fusion of the Middle and Far East.