Modern oasis strikes chord with nature

Modern oasis strikes chord with nature

Although our guide said we were almost there, the eco-resort was nowhere in sight as the jeep plunged and rose over the banks of sand.

Then suddenly, it appeared in the distance - a group of pale tents, blending into the desert surrounds, shimmering under the midday sun.

Open since April this year, Al Maha is the first ecotourism project in the United Arab Emirates. It's just an hour's journey from Dubai airport, but the contrast with the bustling capital couldn't be more stark.

With the Hajar Mountain range as a backdrop, the resort is an oasis in the desert wilderness. Conceived by the UAE's defence minister and crown prince of Dubai, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and owned by Emirates, Al Maha is essentially a conservation park and nature reserve.

Inside the site, indigenous species such as the Arabian Oryx and gazelles have been reintroduced and wander freely.

The resort sits on the largest natural water reserves of Dubai and almost all of the water used is recycled at the plant on site. Solar energy is also harnessed for heating water.

As soon as you enter the cool main reception of the resort through a heavy wooden door, the strong Arabic accent and reliance on traditional furnishings is apparent. Hand-woven fabrics hang from walls; the sandstone floors and hand-plastered walls are typical of buildings found across the Gulf.

Accommodation is in 30 tented suites which are dotted around the main building. Based on a Bedouin-style design, the suites offer luxury on a scale obviously unknown to the nomadic tribesmen. Each has a plunge pool - the ideal place to cool off and survey the stunning setting.

Exclusivity is the key word, and though inspired by Bedouin camps, Al Maha is about as far removed from camping as you can get. There are plenty of activities on offer. Take a guided desert safari to learn about the flora and fauna or try the traditional Arabic sports of archery and falconry. There's also the option of exploring the camp by horse or camel.

Dune driving is hair-raising enough in the passenger's seat, but those who want to create their own private rollercoaster might jump at the chance of lessons.

After sunset, the desert takes on another, magical face. The clear skies sparkle with a million stars and the cool air is refreshing after the heat of the day. Picnics among the dunes can be arranged.

To ensure the tranquillity, children under 12 are not allowed into the camp. Daytrippers are also barred, but since the beauty of the desert at night is one of the highlights, who'd want to stay for just a day?

You can't help feeling a little like Lawrence of Arabia on the journey to the Al Maha Resort in the heart of Dubai's desert.

Though four-wheel drive jeeps have long since replaced camels as the most common form of transport, the sense of adventure and isolation remains.

Treacle-coloured, crescent-shaped sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions, sparking comparisons of the vastness of the desert with that of the ocean.

Although our guide said we were almost there, the eco-resort was nowhere in sight as the jeep plunged and rose over the banks of sand.

Then suddenly, it appeared in the distance - a group of pale tents, blending into the desert surrounds, shimmering under the midday sun.

Open since April this year, Al Maha is the first ecotourism project in the United Arab Emirates. It's just an hour's journey from Dubai airport, but the contrast with the bustling capital couldn't be more stark.

With the Hajar Mountain range as a backdrop, the resort is an oasis in the desert wilderness. Conceived by the UAE's defence minister and crown prince of Dubai, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and owned by Emirates, Al Maha is essentially a conservation park and nature reserve.

Inside the site, indigenous species such as the Arabian Oryx and gazelles have been reintroduced and wander freely.

The resort sits on the largest natural water reserves of Dubai and almost all of the water used is recycled at the plant on site. Solar energy is also harnessed for heating water.

As soon as you enter the cool main reception of the resort through a heavy wooden door, the strong Arabic accent and reliance on traditional furnishings is apparent. Hand-woven fabrics hang from walls; the sandstone floors and hand-plastered walls are typical of buildings found across the Gulf.

Accommodation is in 30 tented suites which are dotted around the main building. Based on a Bedouin-style design, the suites offer luxury on a scale obviously unknown to the nomadic tribesmen. Each has a plunge pool - the ideal place to cool off and survey the stunning setting.

Exclusivity is the key word, and though inspired by Bedouin camps, Al Maha is about as far removed from camping as you can get. There are plenty of activities on offer. Take a guided desert safari to learn about the flora and fauna or try the traditional Arabic sports of archery and falconry. There's also the option of exploring the camp by horse or camel.

Dune driving is hair-raising enough in the passenger's seat, but those who want to create their own private rollercoaster might jump at the chance of lessons.

After sunset, the desert takes on another, magical face. The clear skies sparkle with a million stars and the cool air is refreshing after the heat of the day. Picnics among the dunes can be arranged.

To ensure the tranquillity, children under 12 are not allowed into the camp. Daytrippers are also barred, but since the beauty of the desert at night is one of the highlights, who'd want to stay for just a day?

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