Feature

Dream of the week: A detour from Dubai into the Arabia of old

Just 90 minutes from Dubai is a land of camels, date farms, and “dunes that roll as far as the eye can see.”

Ras al-Khaimah lies just miles from Dubai, but it feels “a world away,” said Karen Leigh in The New York Times. In this northernmost of the United Arab Emirates, the biggest attraction isn’t a record-breaking skyscraper or an indoor ski slope built with oil money but “a dusty hilltop fort”—already 5,000 years old and “reachable not by Maserati but by foot.” One weekend last September, a friend who works in Dubai joined me on a short road trip to the neighboring emirate and its capital city. Just 90 minutes from her office we discovered a land of camels, date farms, and “dunes that roll as far as the eye can see”—“Arabia as it was centuries ago.”

Not that Ras al-Khaimah has been untouched by modern luxuries. Fifteen minutes outside the central city, we stopped at the Banyan Tree Al Wadi, a new five-star resort that serves the region’s new push to become a relaxing high-end escape. We lunched at the hotel’s airy restaurant while an Arabian oryx—a long-horned antelope—played outside the window. As we strolled among the surrounding dunes afterward, we made a game of chasing another oryx until it disappeared across the sands. That night, in downtown Ras al-Khaimah, we walked the full length of the city’s grass-lined corniche, enjoying a gorgeous view of the city’s illuminated mosque. And we were hardly alone: Most of the city’s residents seemed to be out enjoying picnics or dates.

The next morning, we visited the 16th-century Dhayah Fort and admired its “dazzling views of the valley and jagged surroundings.” When the sun grew hotter, we took refuge inside the National Museum, a former 18th-century palace, where “room after room” revealed the layered history of this 2,200-year-old port city. Later, at another Banyan Tree property—this one located on a beachfront accessible only by ferry—we sipped drinks at a bar amid a crowd of bikini-clad guests. “Standing in the water, thoroughly relaxed,” we took in the sunset and, of course, “a horizon dotted with construction cranes.”

At Banyan Tree Al Wadi (banyantree.com), doubles start at $520.

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