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The five-star luxury Anantara resort of Qasr Al Sarab sits in the Liwa desert, fittingly named the Empty Quarter. The desert contains some of the worlds most extensive dunes and is the largest sand desert in the world, covering an area the size of France.
This part of the Empty Quarter lies within the United Arab Emirates. The UAE consists of several states, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the location of Qasr Al Sarab lies in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, 200 km from its city. With nothing but sand around for miles, Qasr Al Sarab is a destination in its own right allowing guests to experience life in the desert with modern-day luxuries.
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Getting to Anantara Qasr Al Sarab
During a trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, I stayed at Qasr Al Sarab for two nights to experience ‘desert life’. I had already spent two nights in Abu Dhabi before arriving at Qasr Al Sarab, a 90-minute drive from the city.
Following my stay in the desert, I spent four nights in Dubai. The journey from Qasr Al Sarab to Dubai took three hours. The resort can arrange transfers.
Best Times to Visit the Liwa Desert
My family travelled at the beginning of May when the temperature was in the low 30’s and manageable. During the summer months, Qasr Al Sarab weather can reach highs of 50 degrees plus!
Plan your trip to Qasr Al Sarab in the cooler months – December through to May – and book your stay at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab during the week when it is less busy. Even though the resort is in the middle of the desert, this is a popular weekend destination for guests from Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The drive from the main highway turning to the resort is 12 km, along Qasr Al Sarab Road, and seems to go on forever. Passing through massive dunes on either side of the road, it feels as if you are entering another world.
And then, suddenly, a glimpse of the fortress-like resort appears, blending seamlessly into its desert surroundings, and you realise why the translation of Qasr Al Sarab means ‘Mirage Palace’; it is an utterly unique desert destination.
Arriving at the massive wooden gates of this Abu Dhabi desert hotel is like arriving at an Arabian palace; think Ali Baba or Alladin, and you are on the right track.
A warm Emirati greeting awaits you from the moment you step inside Qasr Al Sarab desert resort.
The spacious reception area leads to an exquisitely designed lounge spilling over with Arabic artefacts.
Bronze camels, teapots, chandeliers, old photographs and ancient-looking books jostle for space alongside a gently cascading water feature. Cold flannels, beverages and, of course, dates are ready to make you feel more refreshed after the desert drive.
The property winds itself through the dunes, forming a crescent moon shape and measuring 2 km from one end to another. Connecting paths and roadways lined with lush palm trees mean guests can avoid venturing onto the often scorching sands. At the height of summer, temperatures can soar over 50 degrees!
Room with a View
One hundred and fifty-four guest rooms and suites, each with spectacular views across the desert, are designed to give guests complete privacy. There are also 40 luxury pool villas for a truly exceptional stay, offering guests unparalleled luxury in the desert.
Entrances to the rooms and suites are beautifully maintained with hardly a grain of sand in sight. Gardeners and housekeepers can regularly be seen sweeping up unwanted sand to keep communal areas looking immaculate. It must be a challenging job, and I can’t begin to imagine what the place looks like after a sand storm!
Inside deluxe rooms, the tasteful Arabian design is in keeping with the rest of the resort. Walls are left plastered and painted in light ochre colours, lighting looks like something out of Arabian Nights, and the bed is sumptuous, like sleeping on a cloud.
If you are travelling with a loved one, romantic bathing for two is a must! The enormous circular bath is the statement piece in the room; you will feel like an Arabian princess when you sink into the bubbles. It is designed with luxury in mind, with hints of gold and cast iron fittings.
Deluxe Garden rooms have small terrace gardens with views out across the desert. It’s pretty amazing to see grass growing in the desert, and it’s real. All the garden areas in Qasr Al Sarab are maintained using recycled wastewater from the resort. Ingenious!
Relax and Rejuvenate
The pool area is a true oasis in the desert. Relax on plush loungers under the shade of a palm tree or cool off in the pool. There is also a separate shaded pool for children.
If you fancy cocktails or a light lunch from Naseem Pool Bar, no problem; the staff are happy to assist in making your stay unforgettable. Expect to be treated to goodies around the pool, from smoothies, fresh fruit, and ice-lollies to even having your sunglasses cleaned; after all, this is a five-star Anantara luxury resort!
For guests looking for a spot of pampering, the award-winning Anantara Spa offers a range of hands-on treatments and five treatment rooms to allow guests to relax in beautiful Arabian surroundings. The resort also has its own Meditation, Yoga and Wellness Centre.
Qasr Al Sarab Restaurants
Dining at Qasr Al Sarab can be pretty expensive, but that said, the food is outstanding and priced accordingly. There are several restaurants to choose from, catering for the tastes of all guests.
Breakfast at the resort is served at Al Waha. It is a buffet-style restaurant with a lovely selection of everything you could want for breakfast.
Lunch at the resort can be eaten by the pool at Ghadeer serving Meditteranean cuisine or at Al Liwan, the all-day lobby lounge.
Dinner at the resort is a special event with choices from a desert BBQ, Bedouin dining or an interactive chef encounter at Spice Spoons. Whichever you choose, you can be assured of a fantastic dining experience.
Suhail Rooftop Terrace was my favourite place to sip a cocktail, read my book and watch the desert sky change colour as the sun went down.
Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Adventure Activities
Activities are desert-based and range from camel trekking, falcon and Saluki dog encounters and sand-boarding. For thrill-seekers, 4 x 4 dune bashing over the world’s highest dunes will undoubtedly increase the heart rate.
You can take a camel trek through the desert in the morning or evening; however, the sunset trek is magical. Join the caravan of camels as they cross the dunes for around one hour. Finish this incredible experience off with drinks as you watch the sunset over the everchanging desert scenery.
4 x 4 Dune Bashing
To quote one of my adult son’s reactions after the dune bashing – “that’s the most terrifying thing ever – it was horrible” and to mention my younger son and husband – “that was amazing, shall we do it again”. So it shows you that this terrifying, or should it be an exhilarating experience, leaves everyone with a different memory!
Whatever your thoughts are on dune bashing, the trained staff at Qasr al Sarab have the utmost care for your safety and are experts at navigating the dunes.
Sandboarding in the desert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sliding down the world’s largest dunes is great fun but hard work. Trying to get back to the top of one of these dunes with the sand slipping away beneath you is very tiring on the legs. Even so, grab a wooden board and head out into the desert playground for a rush of adrenaline.
What to Wear at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab
Around the resort, smart casual wear with a hint of glamour is the norm. My packing list on what to wear in Dubai for ladies will help you understand Emirati etiquette regarding fashion.
For desert activities, take clothes suitable for walking, including enclosed footwear – the sand gets everywhere!