Rosemary Behan tries out the new Al Sahel Villas by Anantara on Sir Bani Yas Island.
Hotel Insider: Anantara Al Sahel Villas, Sir Bani Yas Island
Transfers, either from Al Yamm, Anantara’s other new property on Sir Bani Yas Island, or from the airport, are by private Land Cruiser. I’m there in about 15 minutes and there’s a sense of exclusivity as mine is the only vehicle that seems to be travelling across the island to the west. The resort’s entrance seems slightly more ostentatious than Al Yamm’s and its textured, brown facade looks like it could be part of the set of Star Wars or The Flintstones. Once inside, however, the decor is more sophisticated, with a well-edited selection of genuine African artefacts and rugs thrown into the scheme.
The resort is a small collection of villas in a section of the 4,200-hectare Arabian Wildlife Park, which is home to thousands of free-roaming animals including Arabian oryx, sand gazelle, Arabian (mountain) gazelle, as well as predators and scavengers such as cheetah and hyena (the resort is fenced from dangerous animals). Most of the resort faces a specially cultivated and scenic section of “savannah”, fed with copious compost and water.
Unfortunately, my room didn’t face the “savannah” but a sparser area of bare ground and ghaf trees, but it still felt quiet and remote. The villas resemble an African village and are decorated with natural-looking materials. Inside, earthy tones and wood blend with modern luxuries such as powerful air conditioning and fast-filling baths. The bed was especially comfortable but I’m awoken by a parade of peacocks outside my window at 4.30am. Gazelles and birds also roam freely. The pool at the back of my villa was more of a bath-sized plunge pool, not suitable for swimming but perhaps for cooling off.
Gracious and genuine, with a sense of urgency.
Watch the sunset from the pool or the deck overlooking the savannah and you could very nearly be in Africa. While I’m staying there, the resort is filled with a mix of Emiratis and European holidaymakers, but the public spaces in the hotel did not feel crowded.
Thankfully, there’s no all-day buffet here. The only restaurant is the Savannah Grill & Lounge, which is better than its “African concept” description suggests: its soaring vaulted ceiling lends a sense of quiet drama and the food is good. The menu specialises in steak, though pastas, seafood and a fresh vegetable curry are also available. For dinner, I have the pan-seared scallops (Dh96) as a starter, which are moist but nicely seared, and the fillet of Australian Wagyu, which is plump and juicy with a nice crust, served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. It’s not cheap at Dh450, but other steaks are available from Dh250. The Jordanian restaurant manager seems to have a good grip on things. Breakfast is a small buffet, and you can order à la carte.
Seeing the stars on the walk back to my villa, breakfast on the terrace and dinner at the Savannah Grill.
The water in the resort is heated by solar panels, and in my room the bath and shower had to run for a long time before getting hot – and, once hot, the shower was difficult to moderate. The only downside to eating outside was the presence of some flies.
This is a luxurious and fun place to stay.
The bottom line
From now until the end of this year, a two-night package for two people costs from Dh2,262 per night, including taxes, breakfast, Wi-Fi and a 20 per cent dining discount (excluding alcohol). Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (www.al-sahel.anantara.com; 02 656 1399).
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