x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hilton Ras al Khaimah Resort & Spa

This is a large, slightly impersonal resort that feels cut off from the outside world, but its beachfront position, lovely gardens and swimming pools make it a great weekend retreat.

The resort has 151 villas along the shoreline, above, and 324 rooms with sea views in the main hotel.
The resort has 151 villas along the shoreline, above, and 324 rooms with sea views in the main hotel.

In the time I took to clamber out of my 4x4, our bags had been whisked off by a smiling bellboy. Pushing a trolley loaded with our belongings, he accompanied my husband and I to the check-in desk and then took us down to our room. Check-in was smooth and efficient. The marble-floored reception area is enormous, with a lofty, domed ceiling in keeping with an Arabian-style resort.

There are a number of signs pointing to other hotels that have taken advantage of the emirate's largely undeveloped coastline but few to the Hilton's new resort. We were eventually directed down several unmade roads towards the sea, past building sites and disused ground before we were obviously on the right track. The development is quite a landmark: it has 324 rooms with sea views in the main building and 151 villas in a row along the shoreline. If you arrive after dark, it's easy to spot thanks to the disco-pink, neon lights picking out the rooftop domes. There is little in the city centre itself worth venturing out to see apart from the emirate's historic attractions such as its museum (www.raktourism.com).

That's pushing it. There didn't seem to be many guests around after nightfall, apart from those still eating dinner out on a terrace. There were a few couples enjoying the walk along the seafront past the villas and down to the lighthouse that marks the end of the furthest bay. The Al Fanar Lighthouse rooftop bar is a little slice of Ibiza with white leather seating, blue fluorescent lighting and stars picked out on the ceiling. The music was not quite pumping but, then, there were only six people whooping it up, all old enough to know better. Over breakfast, we found a mix of people of all ages and different nationalities, including families with young children.

Styled in tones of cream, beige and dark wood, our comfortable, spacious room lacked surprises except for the extraordinary "window" into the bathroom. It might have been pleasant to look at a more cosy or gorgeously decorated bathroom, but it felt too bare to deserve such attention. Looking out from the tub, I felt like a python in a tank at London Zoo. The blinds were quickly drawn. Our queen-sized twin beds were extremely comfortable, with a just-right, softening mattress topper and plump feather pillows. Ask for a room on one of the upper floors - ours on the ground floor had an open terrace next to a footpath rather than a private balcony.

Helpful and friendly without being obsequious. Sheltering from the rain, when we ordered hot chocolate from room service it arrived in 15 minutes. Likewise at 10pm when we realised that it might be the television remote rather than our own incompetence causing problems, a cheery "engineer" came to check on the problem and replaced the handset within 20 minutes. Impressive for that time of night.

The resort has five restaurants serving Italian, South American and Asian food as well as freshly grilled fish; beach and lounge bars. The buffet restaurant, Maarid, offers a mix of Arabic and western-style food, including freshly cooked lobster, but the rather limited choice of hot dishes at dinner time was disappointing for US$45 (Dh165) per person. But judging from the creamy truffle risotto and knife-through-butter steaks that I tried from two of the à la carte restaurants, Piacere del Gusto and Pura Vida, it's well worth straying from the buffet fare.

Walking along the beachfront, listening to the waves, inhaling the dewy smell of the plants, and admiring the swimming pools inspired by traditional Moorish reflecting pools that decorate the resort. When it comes to water the resort is well catered for: there are two children's pools (in addition to a fenced kids' play area); a saltwater and freshwater pool; separate pools for the villas; and the two sandy bays - raked in the evening - long enough to accommodate hundreds of loungers without feeling cramped.

Looking out at ageing men clad in Speedos bending over to adjust their towels as I was eating breakfast. The pools and sun loungers are very close to the main restaurant's outdoor terrace so if you're up late you feel surrounded by sunbathers. It's best to look at your plate or read a book. My spa experience was less than impressive. The building itself is pretty, with an authentic marble hammam and intricate stone wall carvings. However, the brightly lit communal changing rooms felt functional rather than cosseting, and the area was too cold - unforgivable. When I visited, the toilets and changing rooms were not cleaned often enough to cope with thoughtless clients.

I had the pregnancy massage ($75; Dh275 for 45 minutes) that seemed to consist of skin stroking rather than actual massage. My therapist began by kneading scented oils into my shoulders as I perched on the edge of the massage table but when I lay down the tickling began. I was also wrapped in a towel rather than draped in several so every time I went to turn over, it was a bit of a performance to uncover whatever part of me she wanted to find. The treatment table, an impressive-looking wooden platform, turned out to be as awkward as it was lovely. Designed for shirodhara, an Ayurvedic treatment during which you lay on your back and have oil poured onto your forehead, it's less well-suited for a pregnant woman attempting to revolve. Overall, I've felt more special, which is how such indulgences should be judged.  

Don't expect to be bowled over. This is a large, slightly impersonal resort that feels cut off from the outside world, but its beachfront position, lovely gardens and swimming pools make it a great weekend retreat in hot weather. Even in a downpour, it was a relaxing spot.

A standard double room costs from $231 (Dh850) per night, including taxes. A villa costs from $340 (Dh1,250) per night, including taxes. Hilton Ras al Khaimah Resort & Spa, Ras al Khaimah (www.hiltonworldresorts.com; 07 228 8844)