The new trend of heritage-minded luxury hotels in the GCC is one that is becoming increasingly popular - The Merchant House in Bahrain, Dubai's Al Seef Hotel by Jumeirah and Al Bait Hotel in Sharjah, to name a few. My husband and I set out to explore this concept by visiting the newly opened Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa, nestled in the heart of the Arabian Desert in Abu Dhabi.
The drive to the resort, forty five minutes from downtown Abu Dhabi, offers picture-postcard views of the desert neighbouring lush greenery and as we get closer, the tranquillity of the desert completely owns the surroundings. The resort, which sprawls 22,000 sqm, draws us deep into the distant past upon arrival with its traditional exterior amid the towering palm trees recalling a bygone era.
Designed by Dubai-based award-winning architecture firm Godwin Austen Johnson, the Bedouin style designs are inspired by Arab nomadic groups that once inhabited the desert hundreds of years ago. “This is the ideal hideaway for couples and families seeking a tranquil escape,” says Axel Jarosch, General Manager of Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa. “Embedded deep into the breath-taking backdrop of panoramic desert views, the resort offers a welcoming and alluring experience, resulting in a relaxing and invigorating escape.”
The resort's Arabian Deluxe Room. Courtesy of Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa
The several water features scattered around the resort are reminiscent of falaj, an ancient irrigation system from 500 AD. The traditional sand-coloured architecture amid the desert landscape creates the ideal atmosphere, as Jarosch states, “to draw people together yet provide the freedom to be lost.”
The arabesque décor, rustic wood-coloured interiors and the golden dim lighting of the bedroom imbue a classic vibe, creating the ideal blend of luxury and tradition. “Although notionally modelled on an old Arabian Village, the resort is a mix between traditional and contemporary elements, with a pared down architectural aesthetic complemented by a similarly pared down interior approach,” says Keith Gavin, Partner at Godwin Austen Johnson.
Lead Creative Designer at Godwin Austen Johnson, Jacinda Raniolo adds, “Using the architectural simplicity as a backdrop and with neutral homogenous floor and wall finishes elements of rich patterns and textures such as traditional Persian inspired carpets as well as handcrafted metalwork of lighting and accessories were added.
The interior design approach aims to create the warmth and welcoming ambience of a family home rather than a luxury hotel with intricate curated loose furniture pieces adding to this residential feel. The traditional ambiance is further bought back to life by the barasti and chandral timber ceilings and the craftsmanship of Tadelakt plastering.”
A view of the one and two bedroom villa terrace. Courtesy of Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa
The following day, we are at once immersed in a world of relaxation at the hotel’s Talise Spa. Here, all vestiges of stress are melted away as we are taken on a rejuvenation journey with a Serenity Aromatherapy massage, through a blend of pure aromatic essential oils including citrus tangerina. With a snow room, crystal salt therapy room, hot and cold plunge pools and an intricately designed jacuzzi, Talise Spa is dedicated to providing a deeply enriching wellness experience.
By night we are mesmerised by a falcon show and early morning we embark on a horse-riding session amid the breath-taking backdrop of the sunrise, followed by a dip in the serene infinity pool overlooking the Arabian sands.
The resort boasts a total of 103 rooms, suites and villas, an all-day dining restaurant Bait Al Hanine, Italian cuisine at Terra Secca, Arabic flavours at restaurant and pool bar Panache, rooftop bar Al Mesayan and more.
An inside view of the one and two bedroom suite bathroom. Courtesy of Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa
“From Bedouin stories and traditions to world class culinary delights, we want guest to take away memories that can be cherished,” says Jarosch. “The resort instilled with the rich Emirati culture is a tranquil retreat for its guest and offers a home away from home.”
With designs and facilities inspired by traditional Bedouin culture and heritage, Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa orchestrates a compelling sensorial escape - one that offers an experience that exceeds a conventional hotel stay and one that has convinced me to get lost in the desert again.
Below: watch as Bazaar captures Arab actress Yasmine Sabri’s timeless beauty against a desert backdrop on the set of the November 2018 cover shoot