“We can’t go for dinner. It’s flooded,” might just be the most atypical sentence uttered in a desert. I heard someone say so as I walked up to the restaurant where we were meeting to head out to an Italian in Muscat. It had rained overnight, and we were surrounded by water. I had no idea that this could happen in a desert. I was in Oman to experience all of the wonder that is Dunes by Al Nahda; a luxury tented desert resort of unimaginable old-world romance of the Hollywood kind. The dramatic drive up, surrounding scenery and the enchanting built-for-two private tents makes this resort my top pick for 2020.
Accommodation is 30 double luxury tents set together just a short walk away from the main reception and restaurant. Along with intense privacy each offers a Queen-sized bed, en-suite bathroom, complete with sunken bath, and the oh-so-vital air conditioning and Wi-Fi. The Royal Suites (reserved for Omani Royalty) accommodate a family of four with a separate children’s tent connected to the parents’ suite. Hot water, soft towels, crisp sheets and daily fresh fruit come as standard. The hardest part of being inside the tent was forcing myself to leave it occasionally.
And occasionally leave the tent you must. Dunes offers guests a whole variety of reasons to do so. Dune bashing, camel rides, visiting a camel farm are all on the menu for the adventurous. My favourite reason, however, was the URU Spa; low white walls with no roof leaving you exposed to the sky, the moon and the stars. With treatments named Star Dust, Moon Beam and Arabian Night it all soon begins to make sense.
URU’s signature is the Sand Spa treatment which I’d been looking forward to. It’s an award-winning, wholly natural treatment using sand from surrounding dunes. I lowered myself into a purpose-built pit and the therapist covered me in fine sand up to my neck which gently warms from rays of the sun over 60 minutes of the experience. Due to the high heat in the desert this is only available at specified times of the day and as such must start promptly. Arriving even five minutes later may cause a cancellation.
I’d fallen deeply asleep in the sand pit and opened my eyes to spot the silver crescent moon which incidentally comes up late afternoon in the desert. Awake and relaxed, the therapist led me to a shower to wash off any sand. Once clean my body was smoothed in natural yoghurt which was allowed to dry before washing off again. The whole mystical experience was more than I’d bargained for. As well as soft-as-silk skin I felt deeply connected to my surroundings. I imagine that to be the paramount purpose of the treatment.
Food and drink at the resort is in the rather capable hands of Keralan Head Chef Mathivanan Lakshmanan, who expertly fuses Omani traditions with Indian flair. Fleur Restaurant is, much like the spa, open sided with spectacular views of the Al Hajar mountain range as a backdrop. From Arabic lentil soup and Caesar salad to an authentic Keralan biryani, I was spoilt for choice. The highlight of the dining experience was however, Shuwa; an Omani tradition of marinating and wrapping meat in palm leaves to cook all day in a fire-pit.
On my last day at the resort, we were served Shuwa under the stars. Rugs laid on the sand with brightly coloured cushions neatly laid around low tables set the scene. A magnificent meal of rice and 12-hour cooked tender meat was served with tomato sauce to the glimmer of candlelight. Aromas of warm spices in the meat drifted over conversation as we all tucked in with delight. The resort’s resident stargazer (yes, it’s a job) was around to help with identifying constellations in the sky. Even without any of it the ambience in the desert at night was intoxicating. It has a magnetism that is hard to describe. With all of this it became an unparalleled travel experience.
Dunes by Al Nahda is particularly family friendly. With an infinity pool, giant chess on the sand and wonderfully amiable staff the resort offers outstanding service for guests. A friendly camel, Abdul, lives on the hotel’s grounds. He is cared for by a dedicated keeper and will provide children a fascinating interaction. Muscat is less than an hour away and I was happy to be able to visit the city during my stay at Dunes. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Old Muscat along the marina and The Jungle Restaurant for a spot of lunch are all unmissable. These places of interest can be covered in a day trip by car, arranged with the resort. Crossing the desert after flooding however, is negotiable. On a side note – the water goes down fast and the desert reclaims its dazzling beauty pretty quickly.
Dunes by Al Nahda, Wadi Al Abiyard, Barka, Oman.
Tel: +91-968 9723 5700
Located in Wadi Al Abyad in the South Batinah region of Oman, Dunes is the closest desert resort to downtown Muscat, which about a 90-minute drive. Muscat International Airport is a 45-minute drive away.
Type of Hotel: Luxury Tented Desert Resort
Number of rooms: 30 double luxury tents. A luxury tent starts from OMR 109+17% tax/service inclusive of breakfast. The Suite Tent starts from OMR 179+17% tax/service inclusive of breakfast. Dinner under the stars costs OMR 25 nett per person. The visit to Muscat is charged at OMR 120 nett for a half-day trip in a 4-wheel drive (3-4 persons per car).
Price Band: High
Insider Tip: Wake up before sunrise to get the best pictures of the desert.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Demi Perera was born and raised for part of her life in Sri Lanka. She loves the open road, prefers the mountains over beaches and loves reading. Demi writes about two of her passions – food and wine.
Photographs courtesy of Dunes by Al Nahda