Welcome to a castle in the dunes.
By Raghav Sachdev
Living in Thailand, we’re blessed to be surrounded by breathtaking beaches, which we often take for granted due to the frequency of our visits to Phuket, Samui, Hua Hin and the like. So, when I recently visited Dubai, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to tick a one-of-a-kind experience off my bucket list. Admittedly, I’m a hotel snob and thoroughly research the hotels I visit before taking the plunge. In this case however, I didn’t wish to read too much or watch any hotel tour videos spoilers – I knew what was coming, and was eagerly waiting to soak in an experience of a lifetime. When travelling overseas, we’re often assured by the gold standards of international brands, and I was proud to be visiting one of the most luxurious and unique properties in the Middle East, managed by Thailand’s very own Anantara Hotels & Resorts. Yes, I was making my way to a secluded oasis amidst a sea of sand at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
Though the resort is closer to Abu Dhabi, I rented an SUV and made the three-hour journey from Dubai deep into the Liwa Desert, towards The Empty Quarter – the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass. After passing through the ultra-modern skyscrapers and architectural marvels of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it’s a further hour-long drive flanked by what appears to be an ocean of sand. The excitement heightens when you make your way through the gates, and it’s another anxious 15-minute drive before the resort rises from flame-coloured dunes like a mirage. Fittingly, Qasr Al Sarab translates as ‘Palace of the Mirages’ in Arabic. The word ‘qasr’ means ‘palace’ and aptly describes the palatial beauty of the retreat; while ‘sarab’ refers to the illusion of water seen from the mirrored reflection of light rays on the desert sands, which form a false image. Remote and romantic, Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara inhabits a castle-like structure brimming with rich Middle Eastern opulence. The exterior itself, awash in an earthy dusk colour, clearly reflects the region’s cultural traditions with Arabic lanterns, high arches, palm-lined courtyards, and mystic charm.
A whiff of warm oud as we disembark, and we’re ushered into an elegant lobby and welcomed with warm Arabian hospitality. The lobby sits in the centre of the expansive resort and offers ample lounging nooks and an uninterrupted view of the desert. The feeling of enchantment pervades every inch of the public spaces and guest rooms. A fortress of turrets, courtyards and fountains houses spacious rooms and suites, while pool villas stand apart, facing the sunset. The luxury resort sits on 19,000 acres and boasts 140 guest rooms, 14 suites and 42 pool villas. My deluxe balcony room was very inviting and featured earthen tones with floor-to-ceiling windows, luxurious amenities and an awe-inspiring panoramic desert view. Guestrooms start at a sizable 45 sqm, and feature an oversized tub, Bedouin artefacts, Persian carpets, and lanterns; and they exude an aesthetic that blends traditional Arab style with contemporary design.
We visited this majestic resort in mid- December, while the weather was very pleasant – far cooler than the city, particularly in the mornings and evenings where temperatures would hover between 12-15°C, and in the low 20s during the afternoon. Breakfast on the terrace at Al Waha was undoubtedly a highlight each morning. The buffet spread was elaborate and featured an array of local cuisine, including Saj breads, mezze platters, cold cuts, and international favourites including authentic Indian and Thai cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised to meet more than 10 Thai staff on property, whether it was behind the noodle station, reception, or activity desk. It’s always refreshing to meet Thai staff and guests while on international soil, or sand in this case.
The resort’s F&B choices are very enticing, so you won’t yearn to go out, because let’s face it, you’re unable to. We spent most of our time lounging around the resort’s oasis- style swimming pool, so the majority of our lunches were at Ghadeer, which offered light snacks, comfort food and refreshingbeverages, and most importantly, a stunning sunset. Al Falaj, which is open only during the high season from November to April, is one not to be missed, offering an authentic Arabian dining experience featuring a Bedouin set-up of plush cushions and carpets, by the light of torches and the enchanting stars above. Lastly, Suhail, the fine-dining rooftop steak-house offering breathtaking views is a great spot for a sunset drink and quiet evening meal.
As an ultra-luxury property, the resort is surprisingly kid friendly. A trip with the kids here is all about the infinity-edged freeform pool, their fully equipped kids’ club, and a host of thrilling activities, ranging from guided night walks, dune-bashing (ages 6+) with the hotel’s 4WD desert safaris, camel trekking, horse riding, fatbiking, falcon shows, stargazing, and much more.
During my stay, I couldn’t help but think that there are few places on earth as magical as this for a stunning Indian wedding or celebration. Each moment will be steeped in inimitable Middle Eastern luxury and infused with signature Anantara finesse. From arriving on a majestic camel or Arabian horse to clinking glasses around a roaring bonfire amidst Arabian magnificence, Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is able to curate the wedding of your dreams and leave a lasting impression on your guests. The events team is very capable of hosting celebrations of all sizes, and the resort boasts an in-house Indian wedding specialist too, so you can be assured of a magical desert palace wedding.
An experience here is larger than life, and almost feels like you’re living part of a scene in an Aladdin film. The resort has won several major accolades, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s finally ticked off of my bucket list, but it’s one I’m surely coming back to.
MR. JEAN-PAUL DANTIL
How important is the Indian Market to Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara?
At Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, we believe in crafting moments that transcend time, and celebrations that etch themselves into the heart. We are honoured to share how profoundly important the Indian market is to us, especially within the realm of weddings and special occasions.
India’s rich tapestry of cultures, traditions, and celebrations align seamlessly with our ethos of offering bespoke experiences amidst the breathtaking desert landscapes. Here’s why the Indian market holds a special place in our heart:
Cultural Resonance: We understand the reverence Indians hold for tradition and heritage. The allure of our resort lies not only in its opulence but also in its ability to harmonise with the cultural values of our Indian guests.
Captivating Backdrop: The mesmerising desert vistas provide an unmatched backdrop for weddings, engagements, and other joyous occasions. Every celebration is infused with the tranquillity and grandeur of our surroundings.
Exquisite Customisation: Just as each celebration is unique, we tailor our offerings to match the distinct preferences of our Indian clientele. From décor to cuisine, every detail is meticulously curated to ensure an authentic and enchanting experience.
Warm Hospitality: Our passionate team embraces the warmth and hospitality that Indians hold dear. We go above and beyond to ensure that our Indian guests feel cherished and at home during their stay.
Treasured Memories: We recognise that weddings are not just events; they are cherished memories in the making. Our resort provides an idyllic setting where couples can embark on their journey together amidst the serenity of the desert.
At Anantara Qasr Al Sarab, we are not just a venue; we are partners in crafting dreams. The Indian market is a key pillar of our commitment to celebrating love and life’s milestones.
Your property is expansive and ideal for luxury Indian weddings and celebrations. Tell us about some of the recent experiences you’ve had hosting such elaborate events.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara stands as a canvas for crafting extraordinary moments, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of luxury Indian weddings and celebrations. Each celebration is a tapestry woven with tradition, modernity, and the boundless spirit of joy. Our team, attuned to the nuances of Indian culture, takes pride in curating experiences that reflect the unique essence of each couple’s journey and can cater to all requirements including:
The Grand Sangeet Spectacle: A recent resort buyout saw our resort transformed into a celebration of music, dance, and revelry. The expansive open-air settings provided the perfect stage for a vibrant sangeet night under the starlit desert sky.
Elegant Mehendi Extravaganza: The desert’s tranquillity intertwined with the vibrant colours of henna as we hosted a mehendi ceremony amidst lush gardens. The juxtaposition of nature’s serenity and the festive spirit of the occasion created an enchanting atmosphere.
Whimsical Baraat Procession: The sprawling desert served as a breathtaking canvas for a royal baraat procession. The groom’s arrival on a majestic camel, surrounded by the dunes, evoked a sense of regality and grandeur.
Magical Wedding Soiree: Under the iconic arches of our resort, a wedding unfolded as a dreamlike spectacle. Every detail, from the opulent décor to exquisite cuisine, was meticulously curated to create an ambience of refined luxury.
Serenity-Filled Reception: Amidst the oasis-like gardens, a serene outdoor reception bathed in moonlight embraced the couple and their guests in an atmosphere of elegance and intimacy.
Are you able to offer the entire resort exclusively for a wedding or event? What’s the ideal size of a wedding group?
Yes, we do offer the option of reserving the entire resort exclusively for your wedding or event. The expansive landscape and stunning facilities of Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara create the perfect canvas for turning your vision into reality. With exclusivity, you and your guests can enjoy privacy, personalised services, and an unforgettable ambience that’s entirely yours. We have had Indian weddings that have taken over the entire resort, which includes 207 rooms, suites, and villas; and all the facilities and services that we offer.
The ideal size of a wedding group can vary based on the type of event and your preferences. Our resort is well-equipped to host both intimate gatherings and grand celebrations. Whether you envision a cosy celebration with close family and friends or a lavish affair with a larger guest list, our team is dedicated to ensuring a seamless and remarkable experience.
Being isolated in the desert must bring with it a host of challenges. What are some of these challenges, and how have you overcome these obstacles?
The remote and serene landscape of the desert does indeed present a unique set of challenges, and at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, we have embraced these challenges as opportunities to excel. Our commitment to delivering exceptional experiences remains unwavering, even in the face of these obstacles.
• Logistics and Supplies: The logistics of providing supplies, resources, and amenities to a remote desert location can be intricate. We have established robust supply chains and infrastructure to ensure that our guests enjoy seamless comfort without any compromise on quality.
• Energy and Sustainability: Meeting the energy demands of a luxury resort while adhering to sustainable practices is crucial. We’ve invested in cutting-edge technology to harness solar energy, reducing our carbon footprint and aligning with our commitment to environmental responsibility.
• Water Management: Water is a precious resource, particularly in the desert. We have implemented efficient water management systems, including recycling and conservation initiatives, to ensure that our oasis thrives sustainably.
• Connectivity: While the allure of isolation is part of the experience, we understand the importance of connectivity for our guests. We’ve invested in robust communication systems to offer reliable connectivity while preserving the immersive desert ambiance, and we even have our own helipads.
• Guest Experience: Creating a seamless and luxurious experience for our guests amidst the remote setting requires meticulous planning. Our dedicated team members undergo rigorous training to ensure that every need is met promptly, and every moment is crafted with care.
• Weather Variability: Desert weather can be unpredictable, from scorching days to chilly nights. We’ve designed our accommodations and facilities to offer comfort in all conditions, enabling guests to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the desert.
Our success in overcoming these challenges is a testament to the dedication of our team and our unwavering commitment to guest satisfaction. Each challenge has enabled us to innovate, adapt, and enhance our offerings, ultimately creating an experience that is unparalleled and unforgettable.
Tell us about some of the unique experiences you offer at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
At Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, we believe in crafting moments that transcend the ordinary. Here are some of the extraordinary experiences:
• Starry Desert Dining: Indulge in gourmet cuisine under the desert stars, a dining experience unlike any other.
• Anantara Spa Oasis: Discover ultimate relaxation with spa treatments inspired by ancient wellness traditions.
• Thrilling Desert Adventures: From dune bashing to camel treks, embark on exhilarating journeys through the desert’s heart.
• Cultural Immersions: Engage with local traditions, from falconry displays to henna painting, to enrich your stay.
• Celestial Nights: Explore the wonders of the night sky with our resident astronomer in the desert’s pristine darkness.
• Luxurious Retreats: Each accommodation, with a private view, offers a personal haven amidst breathtaking landscapes.
• Personalised Celebrations: Let us tailor unforgettable events against the backdrop of our expansive desert canvas.