Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa


Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
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Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
Bab Al Shams Desert Resort
and Spa

Attention all frequent or first-time visitors to Dubai: why not trade the bustle of the city for some serenity and self-indulgence in the desert, by way of the splendid Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa?

Text Mandy Allen
Photography Courtesy of Jumeirah
Published 21st August 2007
I didn’t really set out to like Dubai. Coming from Cape Town, a city where the sea and mountain are always within sight, I prefer my landscapes lush and engaging, not flat and sandy. That, and my virtuous, green tourist persona (like most travellers I have multiple personalities including the hedonistic tourist, the intellectual tourist, the materialistic, shopaholic tourist, the cultural tourist…) was quite disturbed by the level of development witnessed on our drive from the airport, through the centre of town and on into the desert.

From the second we landed, my brain, which was switched to eco-conscious gear, couldn’t help but guesstimate just how much pollution and environmental damage was resulting from the unrelenting urban expansion of one of the Middle East’s most important hubs. But the people seemed lovely and the scenery (man made and natural) fascinating, plus the fact that I was only here for two days on a press trip for a mobile phone launch meant that I was determined to take in as much of the food, sights, culture and environment as possible without overanalysing things.

And then, about fifty minutes outside the centre of the city, after an air-conditioned drive through the desert, I felt an instant adjustment in attitude. The hedonistic persona had taken over and swiftly booted out the greenie, and I couldn’t wait to explore every last inch of the magnificent oasis that lay before me. If I sound toe-curlingly melodramatic, it’s because an arrival at the Bab al Shams Desert Resort and Spa is a spectacular affair. After almost an hour of nothingness, there it was – a low-slung, adobe-style structure nestled into the dunes, presenting itself as an Arabian citadel or Moroccan palace, replete with tropical gardens, sparkling swimming pools, trickling canals and water features, and a series of majlis (traditional meeting places).

Islamic architecture has always appealed to me, and the Bab Al Shams reflects the best of that vernacular in a subtle but striking composition that is cool, serene and utterly compelling. Everything has been done in the spirit of generosity, from the warm welcome with a cold fruit drink and on-tap supply of traditional aromatic coffee in the reception area, to the luxurious decoration of the rooms (there are 115 including 10 suites) and invitingly appointed indoor and outdoor public spaces with their built-in alcoves, Persian carpets, Moroccan lanterns and fire pits. And then there’s the view, nothing but palm groves and golden dunes from almost every angle, evoking happy childhood memories of hours spent mesmerised by the stories and illustrations in my very beautiful, hand-me-down copy of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights that belonged to my grandmother.

Later that first evening just as the sun is setting, my feet escaping the last heat of the day in the infinity pool, with thoughts of Scheherazade and Aladdin and Ali Baba, the gorgeous breakfast I ate too much of and the theme of Lawrence of Arabia all whirling through my contented mind, three camels with their trainers appear on top of a dune as if on cue, ferrying guests back to the resort. To add to the idyllic scene, in the distance two falconers walk closely together chatting casually, with their birds sitting quietly on their gloved hands. And then the first of a billion stars make their appearance in the garnet-coloured sky, and I am the most blissed out that I’ve been in what seems like years. Slowly I head back to my room to get ready for dinner.

A path of worn oriental carpets leads the way to the Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant, just a short walk from the resort through the desert. The venue is massive and, though intended to cater to busloads of tourists, has absolutely nothing of the cheesy, desperately ‘indigenous’ air of other ethnically themed restaurants that a discerning traveller would usually steer clear of. Dinner is enjoyed alfresco and, with the stars shining like jewels and a crisp breeze coming off the tops of the dunes, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Musicians, folk dancers and a belly dancer with an uncanny resemblance to Shakira (the über-flexible pop star) do a great job of providing the entertainment, but it’s the setting and food that are the main attractions. Everything is superb, beginning with a variety of fresh chopped salads, a tabbouleh so delicious it is literally unforgettable, warm Arabic breads and accompaniments like hummus, smoked, mashed aubergine, garlicky tomatoes and fat, shiny olives. Forget your usual drinks repertoire for tonight because there’s nothing nicer than glass after glass of just-squeezed watermelon juice on ice. The main courses, though mind-boggling in choice, remain true to their middle-eastern roots and are served buffet-style from an impressive line-up of food stations.

The spit roast meats and lemon and herb infused poussins are delectable, the cumin-fragranced rice pilaf tasty and comforting. For meat eaters, the piece de resistance is the traditionally cooked lamb that has been left to roast gently over the coals in an underground pit for most of the day. Be sure to save room for dessert, from palate cleansing fruits and exotically scented compotes to an Arabic version of crème caramel made with goats milk (delicious), milk and pistachio pudding (rich and luxurious) and local pastries that are as sweet as they are decadent.

Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
With some coercing from a colleague (okay, not that much) the next morning was spent doing what most people who come to Dubai do – a spot of shopping – followed by a jaw-dropping tour of the vast and opulent Madinat Jumeirah operated by the UAE-based Jumeirah group who also own the Bab Al Shams. A welcome culinary digression is lunch at the Madinat Jumeirah’s Pierchic restaurant, and we were treated to an exquisite six-course menu that included an Atlantic Lobster ‘Club’ with Avocado, Fried Quail Egg and Baby Pommes Frites; Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Braised Calamari, Black Mussels, Fennel Bouillon and Violet Potatoes; and a Trio of Valrhona Chocolate Brownie and Mousse, Warm Chocolate Fondant and White Chocolate Sorbet.

All this riotous self-indulgence called for just one thing… more riotous self-indulgence, and my group arrived back at Bab Al Shams just in time for my appointment at the on-site Satori Spa for two hours of the divine Desert Spa Indulgence. After that, despite the urge to settle into a sun lounger to watch the sun set with my iPod and a glass of watermelon juice in hand, the mobile phone launch beckoned. Of course it turned out to be a captivating and exciting event affording me the opportunity to sneak a peek at the latest technology and interview some of the leading luminaries of design. At midnight, after packing my bags for a six am drive back to the airport, I settled myself on a sun lounger and ordered my last watermelon juice. But I did leave the iPod behind, instead choosing to savour the silence of the desert and this very special place that, despite myself, not only did I really like, but had just fallen in love with.

Style A serene and sophisticated Arabian palace.

Setting The desert sand dunes of the Dubai.

Why you'll love it The exquisitely isolated location; the sound of water everywhere thanks to discreet water features; the series of swimming pools including an infinity pool with aspects of the sand dunes; the Moroccan-inspired decor; the extraordinary breakfast buffet; the on-site Santori Spa.

Good to know Short hops to the city centre can be arranged by the concierge, as can camel or horseback rides through the desert.

Address PO Box 8168, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
How to get there As the resort is in the desert and self-drive is not recommended unless you are familiar with the terrain, the hotel will arrange transport from the airport. The Dubai-based Emirates airline operates from over 90 countries worldwide with regular flights into Dubai International Airport.

For more travel information about flights see

Quick enquiry

Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa
Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa Dubai, Bab Al Shams desert resort and spa