AL MAHA DESERT RESORT AND SPA - DUBAI
Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa - Dubai - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Susannah Singh, Issue 41 – Summer 2010|
|(Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa – Dubai, United Arab Emirates) |
|FOR A DECADE NOW ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST LUXURIOUS RESORTS, AL MAHA DESERT RESORT AND SPA IN DUBAI, HAS MAINTAINED ITS CONSERVATION BASED PHILOSOPHY BY PROTECTING ITS FRAGILE DESERT ENVIRONMENT. SUSANNAH SINGH REVISITS THE ARABIAN DESERT RESORT TO EXAMINE THE RESULTS.|
|Before An Inconvenient Truth hit the big screens and green became a buzzword, the Emirates’ Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa was already winning awards for its conservation efforts and luxury service from notables including National Geographic and Conservation International. Nestled between Dubai’s caramel dunes and blue skies, Al Maha resides in a legendary oasis, which it has been striving to protect since it opened in 1999 so for this hotel the environment is not just another PR opportunity, it’s a genuine concern. Not only does the hotel retain a full-time team of dedicated conservationists and a staff member dedicated to recycling but they have also tailored all the hotel’s activities to ensure they have minimal impact on the desert’s fragile eco-system. Every need is catered for, whether those needs belong to guests or to the environment. |
Al Maha was designed to resemble a luxurious Bedouin encampment with 42 suites spread over the grounds. The hotel is furnished with over 2,000 Arabic artefacts, one of the largest private collections in the UAE. Antique chests sit at the foot of the bed, ornate wood Omani doors are framed in glass tables and water jars are found at most doorways. Each suite is filled with regional antiques and thoughtful additions such as an easel for when you feel inspired. The suites also have their own outdoor temperature-controlled swimming pools overlooking the desert.
Aside from the luxurious sleeping quarters, it’s the hotels conservation work that makes this a desirable place to stay. Even the location was chosen in part to protect one of the largest remaining underground reservoirs. Free from the abuse of industries, the water is sustainably used and constantly monitored to ensure there has been no reduction since 1999. Three bore wells on the reserve provide water from the reservoir for the entire resort. You can observe the success of the projects on a camel trek through the reserve. Because of Al Maha’s achievements, the hotel is now situated within the UAE’s first national park, which was created by the government of Dubai and Emirates airline to protect and rejuvenate endangered species. Al Maha’s guests are given special access to zones prohibited to the general public.
In a landscape of constantly shifting dunes, it is easy to lose your way, so rather than playing Marco Polo (and accidently straying into fragile areas) guests are encouraged to take a nature walk with a personal field guide. Each guide has their own favourite area of the reserve where they will point out different plants and teach you their traditional uses. The reserve has advanced the rehabilitation of over 6,000 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses, and if your interests lean towards fauna rather than flora, there are over 33 mammals and reptiles as well as over 100 resident and migratory birds. Guides will also teach you about the habits of local creatures and if your walk is at dusk, you may spot the nocturnal Rueppell’s Fox, a creature with ears larger than its head, or perhaps the playful Sand Cat.
A full-time team of researchers constantly monitors the reserve’s inhabitants and you can now appreciate their piece de resistance – the reintroduced Arabian Oryx. They were hunted to the brink of extinction and declared endangered by the 1970s. Thanks to the intervention of the late Sheikh Rashid and the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, there are now more than 300 Arabian Oryx wandering the reserve, the largest free-roaming herd in Arabia.
If you want to meet the Oryx in person, take an afternoon wildlife drive in one of the resort’s luxury four-wheel drives. The drivers follow tracks that are GPS marked so they can be found even after a sandstorm. The GPS markers also allow the drivers to reuse the same path and so minimise the impact on the fragile eco-system.
Once you’ve had your fill of wildlife watching, you can immerse yourself in Arabian culture with some archery. A guide will take you to the base of a high dune where you can perfect your Robin Hood act. When you tire of wielding weapons, take the time to watch a traditional falconry display. For 2,000 years Falconry played a vital role in the survival of the nomadic Bedouin people and the sport is a fundamental part of Emirati culture. All the falcons are kept ‘wild’ and remain with carers by choice based on the careful balance of a food-based relationship. They are able to fly off at any time and occasionally do – but they always remain excellent hunters. Most of the birds have been bred for their prowess and beauty but some are rescues that have been nursed back to health.
After spending a few hours exploring the desert or unwinding at the spa, end the day with an alfresco dinner among the soft dunes. A secluded spot deep within the reserve will be decorated with rugs and cushions and lit with the gentle flame of traditionally styled torches. You will be served a menu created to suit your tastes. After enjoying a private meal under the stars, you can ask to be collected by using the pre-programmed phone left for you.
But whether you choose to explore the rich landscape or stay inside and indulge in a Four-Hands Body Massage, knowing your stay will directly fund future conservation projects will definitely make the experience a little sweeter. There’s nothing better than doing a good deed while in the lap of luxury.