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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Hotel Insider: The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert

The former Banyan Tree property has been redesigned since the hotel was taken over last year by Ritz-Carlton

A tented pool villa. Ritz-Carlton
A tented pool villa. Ritz-Carlton

The welcome

The lobby lounge. Ritz-Carlton
The lobby lounge. Ritz-Carlton

A winding road leads me through a few kilometres of protected desert dunes before I’m greeted by a friendly host who accompanies me along the covered walkway to the spacious lobby lounge. The former Banyan Tree property has been redesigned since the hotel was taken over last year by Ritz-Carlton. The space allows plenty of natural light and has a huge seating area centred around a 300-year-old olive tree. It is a fusion of sleek marble finishings and Arabian influences. In keeping with Ritz-Carlton properties, guests can enjoy afternoon tea in the lobby lounge.

The neighbourhood

The Farmhouse Restaurant. Ritz-Carlton
The Farmhouse Restaurant. Ritz-Carlton

Set in the midst of 500 acres of desert in the northern part of Ras Al Khaimah, the resort has 101 villas, spread across the protected Al Wadi Nature reserve. Part of the beautiful Wadi Khadeja valley, the property’s sand dunes, free-­roaming wildlife and its polished interiors, which inspired by local materials, make it a great choice for those seeking an Arabian-styled retreat.

The room

The bedroom of a tented pool villa. Ritz-Carlton
The bedroom of a tented pool villa. Ritz-Carlton

There are two types of villas across the resort, all of which have been redesigned and refreshed. I’m staying in a one-bedroom tented Al Khaimah villa, which is a giant crescent shape spread across a generous 253 metres. Divided into two sections, one is home to the master bedroom, study and lounge area, while the other has the biggest bathroom I’ve seen, complete with a changing area, dressing room, walk-in shower and free-standing tub with views out to the pool and desert dunes. Design consultants Kristina Zanic were inspired by palatial Bedouin settings during the rebrand, so expect an abundance of desert-toned furnishings, thick drapes, intricately carved furnishings and sumptuous fabrics. The sprawling sun deck is the real focal point with a canopied sun-bed, twin sunloungers, a dining area and a generously sized, temperature-controlled infinity pool.

The service

Staff are super-friendly and happy to offer advice or take time out to take pictures of people enjoying the surroundings, and the activity instructors are a fountain of knowledge about their subject areas. The recently introduced Ritz-Carlton experience concierge service lets guests enjoy a resort itinerary created specifically for them based on preferences and interests. Despite all of this, there are a few teething problems with buggies that fail to turn up on time, in-villa dining taking a lot longer to arrive than specified, and a bill mix-up at checkout. That said, there’s nothing that seriously overshadows the stay.

The scene

Despite the resort being busy in terms of bookings, it doesn’t feel overly crowded, which is great for those seeking to escape the trials of the big city. Guests tend to make good use of the bicycles to explore the resort. As I pedal, I do pass the occasional fellow biker, but ultimately feel like I have the place to myself. The sunset falcon show draws small daily crowds, while the kids’ club – housed in a huge wooden villa and offering an entire spectrum of activities to keep little ones busy – gets lot of tiny visitors, but generally a sense of calmness prevails. Most guests, myself included, are happy to lounge on the colossal outdoor decks, dipping in and out of the infinity pool and watching the occasional gazelle wander by. For those after something more energetic, horse-riding is on offer at the on-site stables, as are archery lessons, camel rides and nature walks. The spa ­offers a selection of treatments; the signature Balinese massage (Dh577 for 60 minutes) is excellent. Be sure to book ahead of time to try The Rainforest Thermal Experience, though, as this fills up quite quickly.

The food

All the former restaurants have been given makeovers, while the Farmhouse was launched to offer farm-to-table dining. Unfortunately, this was closed for a private function during my stay, but in-villa dining came highly recommended. The staff set up a dining space on my deck, from where I have the pool and the dunes for company. I have the rock shrimp (Dh90), which is better than average, and grilled salmon with mash, veggies and garlic butter (Dh140), which is somewhat underwhelming despite the under-star setting. Breakfast at all-day restaurant Kaheela fares much better with a huge spread of Levantine, European and international options, plus plenty of kid-friendly choices.

Loved

Deck of a tented pool villa. Ritz-Carlton
Deck of a tented pool villa. Ritz-Carlton

The setting – from watching oryx meander past your pool, to the falcon demonstration, and the unobtrusive architecture, this place makes the most of its desert setting. The hotel has also absorbed the neighbouring stables, which offer access to tours and hacks on Arabian horses.

Hated

The service. It could have been more seamless, and in-villa dining is disappointing despite the set-up.

The verdict

Only an hour from Dubai, this place does feel like it’s farther out, so you get the sense of being on a mini-break while being able to appreciate our desert surrounds. The tented villas are well designed and spacious, making this a good pick for families, or couples celebrating special occasions. Guests can also access a free shuttle service and beach access to the Ritz-Carlton, Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach.

The bottom line

Rooms cost from Dh5,100, including taxes for a full-board stay for two in a tented villa; www.ritzcarlton.com

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