The newly opened Arabian Village combines a remote location with small-scale luxurious accommodation and plenty of activities. But there's no TV or Wi-Fi.
On a truck road running parallel to the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain highway, 40 kilometres west of Al Ain, the frightening-looking Bin Hamal cement factory emerges from the desert as we drive to the pinprick in the sand that is Arabian Nights Village.
I hope we won’t be able to see or smell the factory from our destination, but there’s no need for alarm. After it, all development falls away and either side of the highway is rolling sand dunes and date palms.
Close to Razeen in Al Khatim is a roundabout connecting with the E30 on the right. We turn left instead, and both traffic and tarmac disappear after a few hundred metres, leaving a 14km stretch on a wide, unsealed road – rutted and sandy by turns – that is exhilarating in a 4x4 and ever-so-slightly scary in an Audi, which I’m driving.
After 45 minutes, we come to a smaller road leading to Arabian Nights Village, a tourism venture that combines a remote location with small-scale luxurious accommodation. There is a free pick-up from Abu Dhabi, but a sense of adventure makes me want to get there by myself. It’s a slightly lonely drive, especially as all radio channels have disappeared and I’m left only with a CD of Indian Vedic chanting. There is, however, good mobile phone reception in case of emergencies, so we settle down to enjoy the serenity of the views across miles of emptiness. It’s reminiscent of Liwa but closer and easier to reach from both Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.
The property , which resembles a scaled-down version of Qasr Al Sarab, opened last year but was officially launched this month. It has 30 double rooms, five one-bedroom suites and one three-bedroom suite. There’s a pool and a restaurant, but everything is delightfully low-key. Our room is in a small cluster built to resemble a fishing village. Inside, it’s cosy, with arish-style walls and Arabian lamps.
Hot from the journey, I have a swim before meeting other guests at 5pm and a fleet of Land Cruisers takes us dune bashing. I’m in a car with a Californian family and we bring up the rear, our driver giving himself the space he needs to go at full throttle in all the right places. It’s a scenic and effortless ride up to the top of a hill, from where we try sand surfing and watch the sunset.
Back at camp, it’s time for a buffet Arabian dinner accompanied by an oud player, shisha and belly dancing; I’m pleased that it’s neither crowded nor overly touristy. There’s not much more to do than go to bed: there’s no Wi-Fi or TV, and, unfortunately, there’s too much dust to stargaze the night I’m there, but the beds and pillows are heavenly and the room well air-conditioned with a fully equipped bathroom. It’s great not to have to drive back to Abu Dhabi in the dark, or camp.
After breakfast, we go quad-biking: I’ve done it once before and the chunky Polaris Trailblazers are easy to use, but I make the beginner’s mistake of charging up the convex side of a soft dune and dropping unceremoniously down an unseen cliff-face – I’m bruised but manage to stay on and luckily wearing a helmet. Chastened, we explore the glorious dune field in front of the property and a nearby camel farm.
I’d like to return to see the stars, the ones in the sky, not those from another quad biking incident. And as I set off to return to Abu Dhabi in my Audi, with 4x4s rocketing past me in a cloud of dust, I vow that next time I’ll be in a bigger vehicle.
• Double rooms at Arabian Nights Village cost from Dh950 per night including taxes, pick-up and drop- off, food, dune bashing, sand sledding and camel riding. Visit www.arabiannightsvillage.com or call 02 676 9990 for more details