Rising from the dunes, Bab Al Shams sits in Endurance City, along a sandswept road, past thoroughbred stables and camel farms some 40 minutes’ drive from Dubai. Meaning ‘gateway to the sun’ in Arabic, Bab Al Shams offers guests an array of activities for exploring the surrounding desert, from falconry, to camel treks to dune drives.
The architecture of the resort is inspired by a traditional Arabian fortified village, with sheltered courtyards, rustic public spaces, cooling wind towers and beautiful infinity pools, designed to evoke an oasis in the desert. The lobby and lounges, with their desert lifestyle-inspired furnishings, are seriously inviting, while the 115 spacious rooms (67 have terraces) open out onto the desert escarpment, or offer pool views. Operated by Meydan Hotels (meydan means ‘meeting place’ in Arabic and is the name for the famous race course that hosts the Dubai World Cup), the equestrian heritage is evident throughout the property with traditional Bedouin artefacts and saddles adorning the lobby and lounge, while lamps in the style of riding boots decorate the guest rooms. What’s more, the 140km Endurance Cup starts a stone’s throw from the gates of the hotel.
The guest rooms are rustic and charming – think subtle comforts, dark woods, woven decorative camel saddles on the walls and a muted colour palette, rather than a Scheherazade style. Hand-etched depictions of village scenes decorate the walls above the bed. Our terrace room, with a small garden, overlooked the endless desert and featured a generous fruit basket and local dates. We particularly loved the huge, hammam-style bathroom, stocked with plenty of Dead Sea products.
The Al Sarab Rooftop lounge is an ideal spot for sundowners, with uninterrupted desert views. If you’re lucky, you might spot one of the 300-plus Arabian oryx that roam the grounds surrounding Bab Al Shams, heading to the watering holes dotted across the property.
With eight restaurants and lounges offering a variety of Arabic, Indian and European cuisine, we chose the signature Arabic restaurant, Al Hadheerah where belly dancers and oud players entertain as you dine. Our meal started on a winning note with a mezze of fattoush in a pomegranate vinaigrette, hummus and the creamiest labneh I have ever tasted, served alongside generous portions of warm, Arabic flatbread and appetisers from the outdoor cooking stations.
As my friend and I are both vegetarians, we were thoroughly spoilt by restaurant manager Hany and banquet manager Nagy, who brought us a bespoke selection of vegetarian specialities from sister restaurant Maslala for our mains, including a signature dal masala – a lentil, tomato and charcoal butter creation. As our visit was during the summer, we sat indoors, but the restaurant is opened out to create an alfresco dining space under the stars during the cooler months.
Who goes there?
Staycationing guests from the UAE and wider GCC as well as European winter sun seekers. We also noticed quite a few Chinese guests – apparently the resort recently featured on a Chinese reality TV show. The resort is popular with families – 20 of the 115 rooms and suites are interconnecting and there’s a kids’ club.
Out & about:
The resort is built around the three feature pools, including the 708-square-metre infinity pool, but your attention is likely to be pulled towards the nearby plateaus and dunes. Keen to explore the surrounding landscape, we booked a sunset desert drive. The enthusiasm of Abdullah, our guide, more than made up for his limited English as we spent 60 minutes coasting over undulating sand dunes, observing Arabian oryx and gazelles, and gazing upon lakes fed by underwater springs. As the sun began to disappear, Abdullah turned to give us the thumbs up and picked up the pace. As we accelerated over a dizzying landscape of endless dunes, each higher than the next, I concluded that he invested almost as much time turning to confirm our enjoyment, as on the dunes, making our desert four-wheel drive all the more invigorating.
Afterwards, we hit the Satori spa to begin an evening of relaxation and indulgence. Warm honey, lemon and ginger tea was followed by a soothing massage using Aromatherapy Associates Lavender and Peppermint essential oil.
The worst thing:
The Arabian Nights desert show was slightly overcooked, with belly-dancers, whirling tanoura dancers and an enthusiastic tale of 1,001 Nights featuring a horse show and caravanserai. The traditional Arabian village placed around the courtyard with waxworks enacting various village scenes was rather kitsch for my taste, although popular with families.
The best thing:
The magical setting – the low-slung resort makes it an ideal base for escaping the bright city lights and reconnecting with nature.