Weekend Getaways in the UAE, Part 1
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Weekend Getaways in the UAE, Part 1

One of the many great things about living in the UAE is its location; geographically situated in what could arguably be described as ‘pole position’ for exploring the many modern and ancient wonders of the region, and with excellent links to just about everywhere else east and west of it, there certainly is no shortage of choices if you’re looking to get away for the weekend. Here’s our pick of some of the best places to visit in 2013 in five hours and under.

From Abu Dhabi:

Yas Island (20 mins drive to Abu Dhabi)

Conceived as a man-made vacation island like no other, it’s easy to see why many UAE families opt to take a ‘staycation’ here rather than wasting precious leisure time in the air. With some truly first class attractions and hotels including the landmark Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, this is a place where pleasure and indulgence is taken very seriously. Hosting both an F1 track; the Yas Marina Circuit (which also operates tours and a variety of experience days for older children and adults alike) and the Ferrari World Theme park (with the world’s fastest roller-coaster no less), it’s fair to say that Petrol Heads will be pretty happy, whilst golf enthusiasts can improve their swing at the Yas Links golf academy before enjoying a round on what has been dubbed “the best golf course in the Middle East”. Kids will go crazy for the 15-acre Waterworld theme park, which opens at the end of January and there are playgrounds aplenty at Yas Gateway Park. If pampering is your thing, there are also several top notch spas located within the various hotels and, of course, world-class restaurants such as Cipriani, and a marina in which to moor the private yacht, as one does. Heck, there’s even an Ikea. Why on earth would you even think of leaving for foreign shores? http://www.yasisland.ae

Saadiyat Island (500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi)

Hot on the heels of Yas Island’s success, and a hop, skip and a jump from Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat’s creators have even bigger dreams for their man-made piece of paradise, which includes a branch of the Guggenheim and the Louvre (yes really). There will also be a National museum and exclusive shopping village situated at the marina and entertainment complex. Naturally all these plans feature some pretty spectacular architecture, but alas aren’t slated to open until 2016-2017. Culture vultures shouldn’t fret, however, because the island already plays host to the legendary ultra-exclusive Monte Carlo Beach Club and several upscale hotels. Good news for 2013; the Club is now offering reduced membership fees aimed at attracting couples and families from across the region. Day passes are also available from AED250pp. Make it an entire weekend with a stay at the palatial St Regis Resort which flanks 72 par championship-standard golf course; Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara (2 hours drive from Abu Dhabi)

Desert escapes are popular with tourists and busy city dwellers looking for a more traditional Emirates experience and range from ultra exclusive to family style resorts. For a luxurious inland retreat to please the whole family, look no further than this spectacular resort situated in the ‘Empty Quarter’ in the Liwa desert, roughly two hours drive out of Abu Dhabi. Built to resemble an Arabian Palace, the location is the stuff of dreams and frazzled parents will particularly love the Kid’s club and raft of activities aimed at little ones, and the adult oriented ones too. Choose from Camel trekking, desert walks, falconry and dune driving, or opt for a more blissful experience in the spa. There’s a delightful free-form outdoor swimming pool where you can watch wildlife grazing in the shade below. With a great array of dining options, including a romantic al fresco meal option under the stars, this is the ideal location for the whole family to enjoy a first class experience in a sublime setting. http://qasralsarab.anantara.com

From Dubai:

Bab al Shams Desert Resort and Spa (40 mins drive from Dubai)

Another great child friendly, but less exclusive, desert resort and popular amongst Dubai residents who love that it’s a mere 40 minutes drive from the city and yet a world away. Set within an Arabic fort, surrounding an oasis no less, Bab al Shams promises a “one of its kind traditional desert experience”. Not to be missed is the spectacular al fresco Al Hadeerah restaurant that combines the feel of a chic Moroccan souk-cum beach club. Forget any notions you may have of interchangeable Filipino house bands, the nightly entertainment here consists of traditional dancing, Arabic singing, falconry displays, camel caravans and horse shows, all under twinkling stars to the sounds of a live band. A truly unique experience and, of course, the food is fantastic too. There’s a stunning pool complex and a whole raft of activities to keep all the family occupied including all the usual desert experiences with archery, mini golf and even croquet for the more sedate amongst you. The kids club is great. http://meydanhotels.com/babalshams/index.htm

Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club (Situated in Dubai)

It’s hard to believe this Dubai landmark, situated overlooking the Creek and Marina, is 20 years old this year. Still winning awards and still considered to be one of the very best courses in the region, the 71-par championship course has become something of a pilgrimage for golf enthusiasts wishing to combine outstanding play with all the luxury and leisure facilities you could dream of, right on your doorstep, in those rare moments when you aren’t on the green. Stay at the adjacent ultra-luxe Park Hyatt Dubai and take advantage of special packages that include breakfast and a daily round of golf. The classy Amara Spa, set in a stunning Moorish-inspired complex makes for a truly special indulgent treat. Opt for a post-sunset package and be charmed by the magical candlelight setting. It would be silly not to take advantage of the gorgeous waterside setting and you can Charter a boat (or even bring your own) at the Marina. Experienced fisherman might like to try a deep water fishing trip in the hope of catching tuna, kingfish and barracuda. If you’d prefer not to leave the Marina, head for Boardwalk, for the ‘latest culinary delight’; the BBQ Doughnut; a delicious BBQ lunch taken aboard a large ‘floating table’ on the Creek. Great fun and the views are fabulous. http://www.dubaigolf.com/dubai-golf.aspx

Hatta Fort Hotel (1 hours drive from Dubai)

If you want to escape the summer heat but don’t want to travel far, head for the cooling humidity-free breezes of the stunning Hajah mountains; just an hour’s drive from Dubai. The Hatta Fort Hotel is a firm favorite with the region’s ‘Staycationers’ and offers a spectacular location in 80 acres of lush, green manicured gardens, it’s a verdant little piece of paradise that the whole family will love and, best of all, it’s incredibly affordable compared to many other luxury hotels in the region. The range of activities on offer is impressive with plenty of off-road and desert driving experiences, archery, mini golf and a driving range. Kids are well catered for with activities such as face painting, crayon drawing, sand painting, limbo, bouncy castle, DVDs and air hockey. There are great opportunities for cultural excursions around Hatta too. Visit the Bird Sanctuary at Kalba, the Fujairah Museum & Fort, the 1400-year-old Al Badiah Mosque or enjoy a stroll around the Friday Market in Masafi. Hatta Fort Hotel

Jumeirah (situated in Dubai)

No compilation about Dubai Staycations would be complete without a mention of Jumeira Beach and its iconic hotels such as the Burj Al Arab; “the world’s most luxurious hotel” with its iconic sail-like design, and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its huge sweeping roof. The height of luxury they may be, but there are always offers to be had, particularly in summer, and with so much to do for the whole family, a weekend break here could prove to be the ideal tonic for busy lives without having to go far. Don’t miss Wild Wadi Water Park, situated just in front of the Burj Al Arab and considered to be one of the best waterparks in the Middle East.

Fujairah (1 hour 45 min drive from Dubai)

The only Emirate situated on the Persian Gulf, just less than two hours drive from Dubai over on the Eastern coast and with a much more agreeably cooler climate than it’s western neighbors (bear in mind this is all relative). The attractive town has several interesting places to visit including the Fujairah Museum which houses a 2000-year-old Ostrich egg. The Ain Al Madhab Gardens are well worth a visit and contain the ruins of the oldest fort in the UAE; Fujairah Fort – now restored to its former glory. Visit the Heritage Village with real-life displays of traditional houses, fishing boats, costumes, pottery and cookware, and you can even bathe in sulphuric pools fed by mineral springs (one pool for men, another for women). Fujairah is also home to the UAE’s oldest Ottoman Mosque, situated on the site of the ancient town of Al Bidyah, from which it takes its name. Archeological excavations have revealed evidence of habitation dating back some 4,000 years with artifacts on display. But for many the allure of Fujairah is the beach and Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort is the pick of the bunch with a stunning beachfront location. The diving and snorkeling here is particularly good with coral reefs hosting an abundance of marine life, and there’s even a shipwreck just off the hotel’s private beach. Keen sport fisherman can take a deep sea fishing trip on the hotel’s own charter boat. The kids won’t be bored either with plenty of activities on offer at the ‘Penguin’ Kids Club which has a cinema room, gaming arcade and indoor and outdoor play areas. All in all, Fujairah has a little bit of something for everyone and it’s no wonder it consistently ranks as one of the region’s favorite getaways.

Further afield – within the Middle East

Jordan (Dubai to Amman flight– 3h 40 mins/ Abu Dhabi flight 3h 26 mins)

A fascinating country with a wealth of history and stunning landscapes, it’s crammed with monumental sites and some truly breathtaking natural attractions but it’s the welcoming Jordanian people themselves who really make this family-friendly country a special place to visit. For an action-packed weekend break visit the spectacular Dana Biosphere Reserve; Jordan’s largest nature reserve, along the face of the Great Rift Valley, and stay in style in Wadi Feynan at the Feynan Ecolodge, voted one of the world’s top 50 ecolodges by National Geographic magazine. If you have time, why not treat yourself to a splash of luxury at one of the lowest points on earth; the Movenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea at Sweimeh near Madaba.

Oman (Dubai to Muscat flight 1 hour)

A land of great, empty swathes of inhospitable desert, sand dunes and mountains, and still largely undeveloped as a major tourism hub and a good reason to see it now. But there are also areas of great biodiversity; inland caves, lagoons and canyons, and also pristine beaches with turtle nesting grounds, while the south offers lush, verdant mountains with charming hilltop villages where Frankincense is cultivated. A land of contrasts indeed, but for many time-pressed weekenders it’s all about Muscat and its luxury family-friendly beach resorts. Go all out for uber stylish The Chedi with it’s spectacular backdrop of the Al Hajar Mountains fronting a pristine ocean, or Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa; voted ‘Best Beach Resort in the World’ by readers of Ultratravel magazine and, in fact, more like a mini city, with three hotels cresting a large bay on the Gulf of Oman. If you really want to experience the magic of the desert, however, why not go ‘glamping’ in style at the ultimate Bedouin inspired resort; Desert Nights Camp, two hours drive south of Muscat. Excursions available include sand boarding, dune bashing, quad biking, dune trekking and a trip to Fort Mantrib, or Wadi Bani Khalid; a valley with a spectacular oasis. Or simply gaze at the stars as you sample a traditional Omani lamb BBQ around the campfire.

Beirut (Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Beirut flight 3h 40mins)

This once war-torn city has pulled itself up by its bootstraps, put on its glad rags and is showing the rest of the world how to eat, party, and shop, in style. Enjoy a hedonistic weekend in this fascinating melting pot of Arabic, Armenian and European culture, where evidence of its French colonial past still lingers in the architecture and cafes, and French is still very much the second language. But this is modern Lebanon at its most happening, and whilst evidence of its colonial past, and the war, is still visible, there’s an invigorating and increasingly sophisticated energy fuelling the modern development. The party crowd likes to start things off early with a day at a local beach club followed by cocktails at a hip rooftop bar and then onto one of the myriad clubs that attract big-name international DJs. This is the kind of place where you’re more likely to get in trouble for not dancing on the bar and the expressive locals who love to see, and be seen. Eating is a serious business here too and foodies will delight in the sheer volume of restaurants and eateries on offer, with every kind of cuisine to boot. Style mavens will want to head for Beirut’s chicest design hotel; Le Gray, ideally situated in the heart of all the action and makes for a great base for exploring the city on foot. For something a little less achingly hip but no less full of boutique charm, try Hotel Albergo situated in a characterful old house in the Ashrafieh district, and decorated in a fantastic mélange of Arabic and European style furnishings. There’s a lovely little courtyard garden and even a rooftop pool. Budget-conscious stylistas will appreciate the unpretentious, ultra pared down vintage vibe of Hayete Guesthouse, also in Ashrafieh. With just four rooms, you’ll need to book well in advance, but it represents great value for money and there’s free Wi- Fi.

See Weekend Getaways in the UAE, Part 2 for more! 


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