Hidden away in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter is one of the UAE’s best kept secrets – the beautiful Qasr al Sarab resort, surrounded by nothing but burnt orange sand dunes and Arabian secrets. One of the grandest hotels in the Middle East, oozing in understated luxury yet not as widely known as some of its 5-star contemporaries in downtown Abu Dhabi or Dubai, Qasr al Sarab is almost like a whisper lost in the desert’s dust storms. If you are heading to Abu Dhabi, here’s everything you need to know about Qasr al Sarab, and how to work it in to your Emirates itinerary.
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Qasr al Sarab: What You Need to Know Before Booking
|Hotel Star Rating||*****|
|Address||Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates|
|Location & Nearby Attractions||Situated in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali), Qasr al Sarab is surrounded by nothing but desert and expansive sand dunes|
|Closest Underground Station/Metro/Subway||Not applicable|
|Other Transport Links||Car: the easiest and most popular method of reaching Qasr al Sarab. Limousine transfers can also be organised by the hotel concierge. |
Helicopter: Qasr al Sarab operates a helipad and parking for 14 helicopters. A private helicopter journey can also be organised by the hotel concierge for seeking ultimate luxury
|Distance from Airport||The drive takes just over 2 hours from Abu Dhabi International Airport and over 3 hours from Dubai International Airport|
|Suitable for Families?||Yes! Qasr al Sarab is the perfect location for family breaks, whether travelling as a couple or with a large family|
|Hotel Parking?||Yes, free parking is available for guests|
|Smoking Rooms?||Qasr al Sarab does permit smoking in some areas and is therefore not 100% smoke-free. The property offers guests both smoking and non-smoking rooms, which can be requested at the time of booking, subject to availability|
|Contact Information||Tel: +998 71 207 12 34|
Email: [email protected]
How to Get to Qasr al Sarab
The best way to reach Qasr al Sarab is to fly into Abu Dhabi International Airport, rent a car and drive over to the resort. The drive will take anywhere between two to two and a half hours, and if landing in Dubai, it will take over three hours. Whichever applies to you, you might want to spend a night in Abu Dhabi or Dubai after landing, particularly if you land at night.
Once you’ve left the city, you’ll find yourself driving down a very long road to Hameen (around 154km) with not much going on other than desert on either side and the occasional warehouse or lone building. Once you reach Hameen, you’ll see a petrol station on your left. Take the second U-turn after the station as soon as you see the Qasr al Sarab sign and enter the resort. You’ll be greeted by a guard at the gate who confirms your reservation.
When you’re through, you begin the 12km drive through some stunning burnt orange sand dunes. Have the cameras ready because it is by far one of the most extravagant entrances to a hotel and the drive only serves to build up the excitement as you finally arrive at Qasr Al Sarab’s imposing entrance.
By Limousine Transfer
If you are swamped with a million other things going on and do not have time to organise a rental car, fret not. All you need to do is send an email the hotel’s concierge and they will organise comfortable and luxury transfers wherever you land in the UAE.
Last but not least, if you are heading to Qasr al Sarab for a special occasion, say for a big birthday or to pop the question, you may want to go all out and arrive by chopper. Fly high above Rub al Khali’s spectacular dunes with a private helicopter journey that takes a mere 50 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport and 75 minutes from Dubai. This may not come cheap, but it will definitely provide the experience of a lifetime.
Whichever way you arrive at Qasr al Sarab, you’ll find yourself mesmerised by this hidden oasis and greeted warmly by a handful of the 400+ members of staff, who take pride in ensuring that you have the time of your life during your stay – starting with some welcome local dates and tea.
Qasr al Sarab opened its doors in 2009 and has continued to provide Arabian luxury since then, in the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert – Rub al Khali. This fortress of turrets, courtyards and fountains houses boasts just over 200 rooms and suites, spread over two floors. Qasr al Sarab literally translates to ‘Mirage Palace’ and it truly does feel like one, where somehow they have managed to build this sprawling oasis in the middle of the desert.
Since the resort is so big, you get around using little golf buggies that are provided on call free of charge – similar to what you’ll find at the Park Hyatt Mallorca (updated in 2021: Pak Hyatt Mallorca is now Cap Vermell Grand Hotel)! Depending on when you visit, the heat can become a little unbearable so the buggies really are necessary to get around.
Qasr al Sarab caters to every kind of tourist, whether travelling as a family with children, or as a couple wanting privacy and ultimate luxury. Whichever applies to you, there are many options when it comes to rooms.
The most basic accomodation, although they are hardly basic, are the Garden and Balcony Rooms, which come with a garden terrace and balcony respectively. Each are 45sq mtrs and both have an uninterrupted desert view. Garden Rooms are on the ground floor, and Balcony Rooms on the first, yet both offer spectacular vistas of the desert and come complete with Apple TC and Chromecast following the recent renovation in 2019.
The next step up is a Terrace Room, a 50 sq mtr corner room on the first floor that comes with a 45 sqr mtr terrace. Double doors open up onto your own private terrace, where you can dine in privacy under the desert stars or just sunbathe on one of the sun loungers.
The villas are where things get really interesting – and come highly recommended. Guests can choose between 1, 2 or 3 bedroom villas for their stay, depending on whether travelling as a couple, a large family or as a group of friends. Villas start at 130sq mtrs for a one bedroom and go up to 210sqr mts for a three bedroom.
Each of these villas has a bedroom and huge bathroom (with amazing bath!), lounge area and large terrace. The highlight of each of the villas is the well-sized private pool in the middle of the terrace, complete with outdoor shower and sun lounges. Some of my favourite moments of the holiday were spent chilling on the terrace by the pool under the stars, having rose shisha and mint tea. Just up the road from our villa was the Royal Villa, a suite reserved solely for the use of members of the Emirati royal family, who normally arrive at the resort via the conveniently located helipad.
All images were taken in Villa 21.
The third and final option is to upgrade from the pool villa to the Royal Pavilion – a collection of ten villas about 1km away from the main resort. These villas are similar to the regular ones, just a little bit more luxurious and no kids are allowed. The Royal Pavilion has its own pool, gym and reception area, ensuring absolute privacy and luxury. And if the exclusive palatial setting wasn’t enough, guests of the Royal Pavilion are treated to their very own personal villa host who will take care of every wish.
Although Qasr al Sarab is located in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of activities that you can do whilst at the hotel. Of course, there is always the option to relax by the large exquisite outdoor pool, yet for those that are looking for a little adventure – that box gets ticked too.
In the Desert
If this is your first time in the Middle East, or if you have yet to experience a a desert safari, this is your chance. You can choose from a wide range of desert activities such as dune bashing (driving up and over the huge sand dunes in the desert in a 4×4), desert walks, camel or horse riding, fat biking or even desert archery. We opted just to go camel riding at sunset and it was a true sight to behold. We were a small group of about five people and, along with the camel handlers, we rode through the sand dunes and watched the sun setting over the desert.
Fitness & Wellness
But – desert safaris are not for everyone. If your plan is to escape to Qasr al Sarab for some rest, relaxation and a bucket-load of pampering then you’ve come to the right place. The resort is home to an Anantara Spa that offers a unique blend of Middle Eastern remedies combined with the expertise of the Thai masseurs that provide guests with indulgent experiences for both the mind and senses.
The spa offers a range of massages, facials and signature treatments. A couples’ massage was the perfect birthday treat during our stay – it began with a rose milk bath followed by an Arabian spa. This would have been magic enough, but it’s taken to a whole new level when one of the walls of the suite is made of glass. Whether sitting in a rose petal bath or enjoying a massage, the view in front of the spa suite is of those magical sand dunes and the Royal Pavilion in the background. As you would expect of any 5-star resort spa, it also offers a sauna, ice-room, two steam rooms and a Moroccan hammam.
To top off all this opulence, the resort has a huge free-form pool with a bar in the middle, where guests can sip on their drink whilst in the water, before heading back to the sunbed to soak up some Middle Eastern sunshine. For those that would prefer more of a work out, a fitness centre, tennis court and sunrise and sunset yoga sessions. How I wish I was into yoga back then like I am now!
If you’re anything like me, food is a major part of your holiday and Qasr al Sarab will not disappoint. We had breakfast each morning at Suhail, a rooftop lounge terrace overlooking the beautiful sand dunes. We also had dinner there one evening and the food was delicious. There are of course, other restaurants but you can also request a private BBQ in your suite or attend one of their cooking classes.
As it was my birthday, we did something extra special. We opted for the resort’s ‘Dining by Design’, where you are collected from your room in one of the little buggies and taken to a secluded area lit up by fire. We opted for the vegetarian menu and had plenty of food to choose from! A table is laid out in the sand with food of your choice, and there is no one else around. It’s just you, your waiter and the desert skies. I truly recommend this if you are looking for something extra special as you really are given personalised service in utmost privacy.
Last but not least, apart from the novelty of staying in a resort in the middle of the desert, it is the staff that really makes the hotel special. I got the impression that everyone was truly happy to be there and was determined to give each guest the best service possible. Everyone we spoke to was just so genuinely friendly. As the hotel is so far from any major city, the staff all live in a compound a few minutes away from the resort. The good thing is that those families who work at the hotel can remain together.
We also chatted to another staff member who works at the resort all year round, but over the summer travels back home to his native country to see family for 40 days each year. He was about to head home the day we were leaving Abu Dhabi and so must have returned by now. I found it so admirable that he was away from his family all year, yet had such dedication to his job and carried out his duties in such a positive manner. The staff also wrote me a lovely Happy Birthday card, which is now sitting on my bookshelf in London. I really can’t praise them enough and think that it is their dedication and positivity that makes Qasr al Sarab all the more special.
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If you’d like to read more on Abu Dhabi such as when to visit or what to pack for your trip to the UAE, you might want to check out this article we wrote, published by Lindsay Silberman.
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