Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort

After a wet and cold camping trip through Denmark many moons ago, I discovered something about myself that I have stayed true to ever since…

I’m a love NOT camping kind of traveller…but after living in the Middle East for many years the desert allures me! Images of people sitting around a campfire under a starlit sky amidst the golden sand dunes, enjoying a nice meal and some chilled liquid in a goblet – very picturesque. But when my brain starts switching to other images such as creepy crawlies, burnt meat and the lack of toilet facilities – not so much!

Luckily for me, someone decided to build a 5-star resort hotel in the back of beyond, or rather in the legendary Liwa Desert – part of The Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter. This is the largest sand desert in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including most of Saudi Arabia and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square km.

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara embraces the epic adventures of this evocative landscape by providing a luxury oasis for discerning travellers, such as myself! Another great thing is that this “Palace Mirage” is only 300 km from Dubai and reachable by car.

Having visited Qasr Al Sarab once before I knew we wanted a terrace and a balcony room adjacent to one another – located near the pool for easy access. The resort has a total of 206 rooms, villas and suites spread over a large area, some of which are quite far away from the reception, restaurants and pool area, making transportation by hotel buggy a necessity – especially during the hot season.

Upon check-in we discovered that the “overlooking the pool” part of our reservation never made it through the desert. I was not a happy camper, but after a two hour wait my “fuming” had calmed, and I’m happy to say it completely evaporated after entering our beautiful arabesque balcony room overlooking the sun soaked dunes… Oh what bliss!

Could the dining experience possibly be as spectacular as the desert view?

Al Waha is an all-day dining restaurant. This is where we had breakfast, and it was also the venue for our first dinner. The main live cooking station seemed disorganized and chaotic. To be fair, I’m not a great fan of buffet-style dining, but that did not stain my impression. This was just another ordinary buffet-restaurant.

Ghadeer is a casual poolside restaurant, serving light meals and Mediterranean cuisine. Again, great views from the adjoining terrace, but what’s with the food? Anyone for hamburgers soaked in oil, or perhaps a bland and ordinary Philly steak sandwich? Hopefully the restaurant does more than just transform itself into a romantic retreat at night!

Suhail used to be a fine dining restaurant, serving mouth-watering French cuisine.  Remembering this from our visit to Qasr Al Sarab in 2010 our expectations were high!  When booking our table we were told that the restaurant had recently changed its concept to a more casual restaurant, focusing on grilled meat and fish. Sorry to say, this was not for the better! The menu was a great disappointment, especially when the only fillet steak on offer was Wagyu! In my opinion; a highly overrated and overpriced piece of beef. The food was nice but lacking that little extra. However, we did have a lovely evening on the roof-top terrace celebrating a 14th birthday with a complimentary chocolate cake for dessert.

Am I being too critical? Perhaps, but this is a 5-star resort hotel and you pay accordingly! The good news for the hotel management is that these issues can easily be corrected and Voila! Qasr Al Sarab becomes the ultimate desert retreat.

Room-Service was a pleasant surprise! On our last day we decided to have lunch on the  beautiful room terrace. I normally don’t expect too much from room-service food, but this was good. Credit where credit’s due!

Dining by Design is, according to the Qasr Al Sarab website, the ultimate customization of your individual dining experience. A must do next time!

Activities – The resort offers many different activities such as the obvious desert walks, desert safari, desert drives (soft or hard dune bashing), camel trekking and falconry.

Naturally there is a workout room in addition to tennis, yoga, mountain biking and archery. The latter being a big hit with our guys.

Liwa Tour – Time permitting, I would have liked to visit the Liwa Oasis. A historic place that emerges like a mirage within the Empty Quarter, symbolizing the energy of life in a captivating romantic surrounding. Another must do next time!

After a day of desert exploration the outdoor pool surrounded with sun loungers and palm trees offers refreshment and a cool dip in the pool… or if your body is aching after all the activities – Anantara Spa can soothe your senses and cleanse your soul.

Oops! Almost forgot to mention that hanging around the swim-up bar also qualifies as an activity!

And if you cannot leave home without ‘it’ – the resort offers excellent Wi-Fi connection.

Visited 11. – 13. October 2012.

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In February 2016 I moved back to my native Norway after 13 years in Dubai, preceeded by two years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Before becoming a full time expat in 2001, I had a carrer as a travel consultant in Norway. My expat portfolio also includes six of my teenage years in Bahrain many moons ago and two years in Southport, Connecticut, USA.

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