Whether you’re looking for beach bliss, or a back-to-nature experience, accompanied by gastronomic delights, you can enjoy the best of all worlds without burning into your vacation time, right here in the UAE at Sir Bani Yas island!
Want to combine the picture-perfect beaches of the Maldives with the adventures of an African safari, and the spa pampering of Thailand? An island getaway filled with all of these unique attractions is just a short 45-minute flight (or a four-hour road trip) away! Sir Bani Yas island, a small island off the coast of Abu Dhabi near Jebel Dhanna, is steeped in history, with evidence of inhabitation dating back thousands of years – the island is home to pre-Islamic archeological ruins, and geological salt hills that are millions of years old. But, while that makes for an interesting back-story, you don’t visit the island for its history – you go for a relaxed getaway in tranquil, natural surroundings in the midst of a 4,200 hectare private wildlife reserve.
Originally created by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, late ruler of the UAE, the island follows a conservational approach to the environment, with a respectful attitude to animals many of which roam free on the island – vehicles are only allowed to drive at a maximum speed of 50kmph and it is perfectly normal to have a gazelle or deer amble across the road en route – and an eco-friendly ethos in the building and operations of the resorts.
Dotted around the huge island are two luxury villa resorts as well as one larger hotel, all managed by the Anantara group, where you can enjoy creature comforts, while being surrounded by the wild creatures that populate Sir Bani Yas. Choose one that meets your holiday needs, or mix it up to make it a multi-destination break in one long weekend!
The Anantara Al Yamm villas are a cluster of just 30 luxe villas – each with their own private doors and thatched fencing – located right on the beachfront of the 87-square kilometre island. With the turquoise blue sea and powder white sand beckoning on the one hand, and the lush mangrove lagoons on the other, the spacious accommodation is designed in a rustic style inspired by traditional fishing villages. Flooded with natural light, the interiors incorporate modern luxuries, with muted colours and natural materials, accented by subtle marine touches. Sit out on your private deck, or soak in your oversized bath – an infectious sense of peace pervades the whole place.
For those craving a bit more adventure, the newly opened Al Sahel villa complex recreates a little slice of Africa in the UAE, with its luxurious, safari-inspired décor (think earth tones, carved wood and leather furniture, beaded artefacts and tribal prints), surrounded by the savannah grassland of the wildlife park it is set in the heart of. Free-roaming gazelles (and the occasional peacock) often wander into the villa patio, only going to enhance the whole back-to-nature feel. Lounge areas in the main reception building, with bar service and an inviting library – complete with books and board games – tempt you to kick back and exhale, whatever you are in the midst of. Villas in both properties range from one- to two-bedroom sizes, making them suitable for romantic escapes and family getaways alike.
At Al Yamm, the poolside Olio restaurant serves up Italian specialties for dinner accompanied by a beach view, as well as breakfast and light lunches. With the menu focusing on fresh, sustainable produce, including locally sourced non-endangered seafood, expect dishes ranging from the usual suspects such as bresaola and carpaccio and pastas, to delicious grilled seafood, ossobuco, and homemade pizzas (on the lunch menu).
Savannah Grill in Al Sahel continues on the African theme with gourmet offerings inspired by different regions of Africa created by Zimbabwean chef Gerald Kapesa, such as ravioli with biltong (South African cured meat); vegetable curry potje (stew); Moroccan-style salads; fine steaks; game dishes, including guinea fowl ballotine and venison carpaccio; and malva pudding (a baked apricot-flavoured dessert originating from Cape Town). Finish off a delicious meal at Savannah with a nightcap by the traditional African bonfire (Boma) to complete the safari-style experience. Breakfast and lunch, with lighter menu options, can be enjoyed alfresco on the restaurant terrace, overlooking the grassland.
And if alfresco dining is on the agenda, then why not opt for a personalised meal, as part of the Dine By Design experience? The chefs’ team will put together a bespoke menu, which you can enjoy in a private spot of your choice, whether it’s at the beach – in a special cabana with billowing white drapes and the sea just steps away – in the middle of the desert, or simply in the comfort of your own villa.
Other restaurant options available on the island include seafood at Samak, international dishes at The Palm, and relaxed tapas-style offerings at Amwaj, all of which are located in the main Desert Islands Resort & Spa building.
Sir Bani Yas has a lot of unexpected attractions to offer. With an unbelievable variety of wildlife calling the island home, game drives are a must-do – proper safari-style open jeeps drive through the park to enable sightings of not just herds of gazelle, oryx and deer, but also cheetahs and giraffe (which were brought to the island when the wildlife park was first created) to culminate in a sunset viewing on a hill, with Arabian coffee and dates, and majlis-style seating.
Other high-octane activities include kayaking in the mangroves, horseback riding, and mountain biking, while the surrounding gulf provides the perfect opportunities for watersports such as snorkeling, sailing, scuba diving, and even traditional fishing and pearl diving, in a nod to the region’s heritage, if one should fancy it. And if heritage interests you, then the island’s 6th century Christian monastery site, a rare archeological spot of historical significance, also makes for an interesting tour.
But, if all the exertion you want to bother with on holiday, is a few lazy laps in the pool, and a cup of tea on your villa’s deck with a curious gazelle for company, then that will not be frowned upon, but rather encouraged. For the ultimate relaxation, however, a short chauffeured trip to the Anantara spa, located in the Desert Islands Resort & Spa – the main hotel – is certainly called for. Probably known for their expertise in spa as much as hotels, the Anantara team know how to ease away urban cares with the help of skilful therapists, natural products, and a fragrant, tranquil environment. Whether it’s after a stimulating day of nature walks and wildlife spotting, or a tranquil pool-and-beach afternoon, treat yourself to a soothing massage – it’s worth it!
Rotana Jet offers convenient direct flights three times a week from Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports. Ticket prices start from Dhs450, visit www.rotanajet.com.
Room rates start from Dhs2,200 at Al Yamm Villlas, and Dhs1,600 at Al Sahel Villas (plus taxes and fees). www.anantara.com.