Surreal water features mark this sprawling resort in Jordan.
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay Aqaba, Jordan
Arrival and check-in were smooth, efficient and cordial despite a raft of security checks that included scanning the car with handheld devices and the luggage with airport-style metal detectors. If only airports could implement security measures with such grace and unobtrusiveness. The hotel's reception is light and airy with comfortable sofas and a vista of swimming pools, beaches and beyond to the sea. It took only minutes before the check-in was complete and we settled into our room.
Wedged between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the shores of the Red Sea, Aqaba is Jordan's only access to open sea. As a result, it has grown into a busy port with huge tankers plying the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. Yet Tala Bay, located 14 kilometres from the city centre, manages to retain the kind of idyllic atmosphere for which Red Sea resorts have become renowned. The hotel sits amid a handful of other luxury hotels in a small and elite settlement that is beautifully landscaped but becomes a tad desolate around the fringes as the desert starts to encroach.
Family rooms - ones with a separate bedroom for adults and another room with two single beds for children, which double as sofas during the day - are a new concept in Jordan. They are an excellent idea and well executed here. With a large balcony at one end, this layout provides plenty of space for children to run around without tripping over you. The decor is simple and modern with light wood and lots of striped fabric and rugs in earth tones. Besides the ample space, the feeling of luxury comes from the soft cushions, downy pillows and duvets strewn around, as well as a spacious bathroom stacked with towels and grooming products from the Dead Sea.
The service is attentive without being stifling or overbearing. The hotel employs staff from more than 17 different countries and this diversity gives the place a pleasantly multicultural atmosphere without feeling contrived or staged like a Benetton advert. During the nightly turn-down service, staff also restocked the fridge with complimentary soft drinks and replenished tissues without any fuss. The hotel doctor came promptly to check the bandage on my daughter's foot, which she had seriously injured earlier in the holiday. Other staff were genuinely concerned about her well-being. Their kindness and helpfulness did much to set us at ease during an anxious time.
Casalingo is an Italian restaurant, which serves a range of Mediterranean dishes such as black ink risotto (16.5 Jordanian dinars; Dh86) and tuna carpaccio (13 dinars; Dh67) as well as delicious pizza (from 9.5 dinars; Dh49) cooked in a wood-fired oven. The atmosphere is refined and the setting - huge leather-bound menus, elaborate table placements and subtle jazz
music - is elegant. For something a bit more relaxed, Najel is the hotel's largest restaurant, which offers a buffet service for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well à la carte throughout the day. Breakfast, which is included in the room rate, is a sumptuous and eclectic spread ranging from delicious pastries to vast tables of fruit to eggs cooked to order. Sejan, the poolside restaurant, provides salads and snacks by day and turns into a candle-lit venue at night.
Teeming with moneyed Europeans - particularly from Switzerland, France and Germany - and affluent Jordanians from the capital over the weekends and during the summer. While relaxing is clearly the main occupation, there's enough to do not to become bored too quickly. The Sinai Dive Centre provides snorkelling trips (45 dinars; Dh233 for a full day) and diving (30 dinars; Dh156 for one dive excluding equipment) in the Red Sea, while the Zara Spa offers a wide range of treatments (120 dinars; Dh622 for a 90-minute Thai massage).
Swimming pools and water features cover more than 3,000 sq m of the resort. Yet it is not the scale but the bravura of the design and implementation of these attractions that is most impressive. You can swim almost from your room to the beach, ducking under bridges, traversing cascades and slithering down slides. Surreal, almost Daliesque sculptures of huge shells and fish bedeck the poolside, while a spiral slide towers over the water.
The distinctive colour of the hotel's buildings is bound to divide opinion. This shade - perhaps mauve-n-pick was the reason behind this choice - locks the hotel into a particular era. Even though it only opened in November 2009, the colour makes the place feel a lot older. However, this feeling fades pretty quickly as your eye gets used to it.
The Mövenpick Tala Bay Aqaba blends the impeccable standards expected from a five-star resort with a laid-back and informal atmosphere. Consequently, a stay is relaxing without eliminating feelings of opulence and grandeur. The scale and the design of the swimming pools and spa facilities help set the resort apart from similar places.
The bottom line
The hotel has a winter promotion in which standard rooms are available from 117 dinars (Dh606) and family rooms from 177 dinars (Dh917), including breakfast and taxes. Mövenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay Aqaba, South Beach Road, Aqaba, Jordan (www.moevenpick-aqaba-talabay.com ; 00 962 3 209 0300).