The romance of sleeping under the desert stars has caught the imagination of more five-star hotel developers recently. But Emirates Group's Al Maha resort between Dubai and Al Ain still stands out from the crowd.
For global travelers who have done it all, or weary executives in Dubai who need a night away, the Al Maha desert resort has been an oasis of five-star peace and tranquility since it opened in 1999.
An inevitable expansion project has not diminished its charms. Indeed, the addition of a spa and gym complex and the raising of the total number of rooms to 40, plus two special suites, is probably a welcome enhancement of the already luxurious facilities.
For Al Maha's award-winning architecture blends a medley of individual Bedouin tent-style rooms into a stunning desert hillside landscape. Each room has its own swimming pool and terrace, ideal for a romantic dinner served by your own butler for the evening.
Inside, the room resembles the interior of a grand Bedouin tent with an extra-wide bed and twin reclining couches, replete with carpets and Arabic touches. The bathroom is ultra-luxury from gold taps to monster bath.
Al Maha is also a genuine wildlife conservation park, and in the evening extremely rare arabian oryx wonder freely around the hotel and come right up to the room terraces. The hotel offers a variety of activities from horse-riding to camel treks and dune rides that allow visitors to enjoy the wildlife.
Desert rangers – mainly recruited from the safari parks of South Africa – are on hand to guide you through the surrounding sand dunes, though the animals are completely safe and nothing like as deadly as those found in the African bush.
However, Al Maha is not alone, and other desert resorts are beginning to spring up in the UAE. Last week Jumeirah International's Bab Al Shams resort opened with 115 rooms in clusters of 16 double-storey buildings that merge into a desert landscape.
Perhaps it is inevitable that the success of Al Maha has inspired competitors. But it has to be said that the Al Maha resort is pitched right at the top of the hotel spectrum – to the extent that many guests complement their stay with a few nights at the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's iconic seven-star hotel. So there is room for a more modestly priced hotel or two in this category.
Not to be outdone, the Al Maha Resort is exporting its concept to Australia where owners, The Emirates Group, are building a very similar resort for visitors who want to sample the Outback while living in five-star comfort.
But for visitors to the UAE who want to sample the desert without getting too much sand in their shoes, Al Maha remains a place apart.