Head out for the weekend while you can still enjoy the outdoors. Whatever you want from your mini-break, these three fabulous getaways are all a short drive away!
If you want a: Family break
Go to: Hilton Ras al Khaimah Resort & Spa
Here’s why: It may be only over an hour away by road, but it feels like a world apart. The resort – not to be confused with two other Hilton city properties nearby – is set on a stretch of private sandy beach, with the rugged Hajjar mountains towering over it, and evokes an instant holiday feeling as you drive in. The sprawling Arabian palace-like structure looms over the sea it overlooks, with its traditional architecture and sandstone finish, and beautifully landscaped gardens, offering a luxurious yet relaxed and unpretentious environment.
Check into one of the beach villas, which come with a separate bedroom and living room, outdoor patio or terraces, and roomy bathrooms with twin marble vanities, to enjoy a home away from home experience for the whole family. The interiors are done up in a neutral colour scheme with splashes of turquoise to brighten it up, while latticed woodwork and traditional artefacts framed on the walls, add a hint of Arabia.
With over six pools to choose from –including a free form salt-water pool and two kids’ pools – as well as of course, the gorgeous, unspoilt two kilometre-long beach and plenty of water sports and beach activities including volleyball, you will have enough of water action. For those who want to simply kick back with a book, the inviting beach loungers and occasional hammock, beckon. Or, simply take a walk around the expansive gardens – the grounds are the size of a small village almost, complete with rustic signposts and buggy service for internal transport. If you can tear the children away from all the fun, you can head to the kids’ club where they will stay entertained in the indoor playground, and enjoy activities like singing, dancing and cinema nights, while you escape into the luxe spa for some me-time.
Even though it ticks all the boxes for a family resort, with facilities and dining options to suit everyone (there are over 14 bars and restaurants), being as spread out as it is, it never feels crowded, and everyone seems to find their own little corner of peace here. That, and the friendly service, which is consistently warm and welcoming, giving you the feeling of visiting a luxurious country home, rather than a five star resort, is what makes a stay here truly memorable.
And don’t miss a meal at: There are plenty of options when it comes to food here, from fine dining restaurants to casual beach bars and lively clubs, with a variety of cuisines to match – from Italian and Brazilian to Asian. For a unique dining experience, head to the signature restaurant Pura Vida. Expect an authentic Brazilian experience, from the Caipirinha cocktails and cheese bread to start with, to the full-scale, centuries-old Churrasco experience – seasoned meats cooked on an open grill, which are carved from skewers at the table for guests. This isn’t a three-course meal, but rather like a bottomless glass offer at fast food outlets, whereby you eat as much as you can, from the variety of cuts of chicken, beef, lamb and pork. There is a small wooden cylinder placed in front of each person, painted green on one side and red on the other; this is meant to be used to signal to the wait staff when you’re ready for your next serving. Don’t forget to use it, as otherwise, the food just keeps on coming! Just when you think you couldn’t possibly eat anymore, yet another succulent, cooked-to-perfection cut appears, and the friendly waiter practically begs you to try it, “because it’s very good”!
Accompanied by traditional sides such as rice, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, as well as chimichurri sauce, you won’t regret the over-eating, even if it means having one less of the churros – delicate, melt-in-the-mouth fried pastry with caramel and berry sauce – for dessert, which is a must-have.
Need to know: Room rates start from Dhs760 per night, visit www.hilton.com for special offers, or call 07-2288844.
- Sudeshna Ghosh
If you want a: Wellness break
Go to: Six Senses Zighy Bay, Musandam, Oman
Here’s why: Nestled between the Hajar mountains and the Indian Ocean, The Six Senses Zighy Bay resort is located on the northern Musandam Peninsula, and is the ultimate relaxation retreat located just two hours from Dubai, by road – you don’t even need a visa! Make your way to the hotel by 4x4 through the rocky mountains; by paragliding into the resort; or by a speedboat that you can hop on from the Dibba port. My entrance to the resort was by a boat from the port, which offered scenic views of the inlets. I was welcomed at the resort with a refreshing date smoothie – made with dates from the on-site 2,500 square metre organic garden – and was taken to my rustic-style pool villa which was stunning, to say the least. With an outdoor infinity pool, lounge area, outdoor shower and day beds, I was spoilt for choice when it came to where best to soak in the relaxed ambiance.
With a focus on wellness, the resort offers a variety of three-, five- and seven-day spa packages, in which you get a personalised consultation to choose a programme best suited to your needs, which combine therapies with healthy cuisine. Packages include Sense of detox; Functional fitness (which includes exercise and Jungle gym activities); De-stress (a holistic programme aimed at stimulating energy flow and calm nerves); and Slow life (which focuses on treatments made from local products to revive the body and soul). Without the time to give my body a full-blown overhaul, I opted for a walk on the private beach followed by a shiatsu massage, which was very effective in its use of a combination of special techniques to target my muscle fatigue and stress.
There are plenty of other activities aimed at wellbeing on offer, from cooking classes, to herbal mixology sessions, where you can learn to make nutritious fruit and vegetable concoctions. I recommend the Arabic cooking class at Spice Market which teaches you how healthy the regional cuisine can be, with authentic dishes such as fattoush, falafel, and fish with salsa – they were surprisingly easy to make!
And don’t miss a meal at: There are several unique dining experiences to tantalise your tastebuds, but my favourite by far, was a healthy lunch at the Summer House, where I tried a three-course menu which looked as beautiful in its presentation, as it tasted delicious. Think innovative flavours like salad made with goat’s cheese, beetroot, sundried tomatoes, baby carrots and asparagus; vanilla poached chicken with fresh vegetables; and chocolate and avocado mousse – a guilt-free dessert that is surprisingly delicious! – in a relaxed outdoor setting.
Other dining options include dinner at Sense on the Edge, the resort’s award-winning restaurant, sited on a mountain 293 metres above sea level, which features mystical views of the mountains and the ocean, with appetising food and refreshing cocktails to match. If you’re looking for a romantic dinner, head to the Wine Tower for a Destination Dining experience and take in the panoramic views of the resort and sea. For an authentic Arabian meal, check out the beachfront Shua Shack – a communal dining restaurant which offers Bedouin-style dishes such as lamb slow-cooked under the ground, accompanied by the sounds of waves lapping against the shore.
Need to know: Prices start from Dhs3,300 per night for a Pool villa, visit www.sixsenses.com for more.
- Nicola Monteath
If you want a: Culture break
Go to: St Regis Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Here’s why: Abu Dhabi is fast emerging as a culture hub, with not just regular events highlighting the local and international arts, but plenty to interest culture vultures all year round. Saadiyat Island is set to become a global cultural haven when all the planned museums open, but until then, it is still an ideal place to be based in, to check out the rest the city has to offer, from visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, to attending one of the many classical concerts.
At the über-luxe St Regis hotel, the legacy of the iconic New York brand has been successfully transplanted, injected with a touch of Arabian hospitality. Opulent grandeur and tasteful sophistication aren’t necessarily words that go together, but in this case, they make a perfect marriage. From the Mediterranean-inspired architecture of the main hotel and outlying buildings, to the imposing marble-finished lobby with striking chandeliers, the hotel exudes understated elegance.
Whether you spend your down-time relaxing by the gorgeous pool, at the picture-perfect beach, or at the luxe spa, you will be ensconced by luxury all the way. The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with old-school ceiling fans adding a colonial charm, and all boast views of the impossibly blue sea – even from the oversized bathrooms which feature free-standing bathtubs strategically positioned in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. A stay here comes with butler service, which not only means little touches like complimentary sweets and ice delivered to the room in the evening, but personalised help in planning your cultural itinerary.
And don’t miss a meal at: Asian restaurant Sontaya, which is set on floating pavilions overlooking the ocean, and serves authentic food from around southeast Asia. Sit outdoors on the terrace to enjoy the balmy sea breeze, or take in the cheery interiors, flooded with natural light from the glass walls – either way it will provide a magical setting for the food. Whether it’s an exploding-with-flavour Vietnamese spring rolls, a tender sticky chicken, or simple seafood stir-fry, you know there are experts at work – in fact, you can watch them in action from the show kitchen window!
A dining destination in its own right, the hotel offers several other gourmet options, including the BBC Good Food ME award-winning 55th & 5th grill and lounge, the signature restaurant, and the more relaxed Turquoiz where you can enjoy sundowners and seafood in a rustic, relaxed ambience. For me, the best measure of a hotel’s culinary standards is the breakfast buffet, and the St Regis breakfast, served at the poolside Mediterranean-esque Olea restaurant, didn’t fail to impress – freshness, variety, and taste, it was all there.
Need to know: Room rates start from Dhs1,075, visit www.stregis.com for special April packages, or call 02-4988889.
- Sudeshna Ghosh