This place is a poke in the eye for all the people who think that Dubai only does eco-unfriendly excess. A 30-minute drive from the centre of Dubai (it really would be better to book a transfer through the hotel for the trip – it’s very easy to miss the turning if you are in a taxi or selfdrive, and the driveway could only very loosely be termed a road), it is remarkably low-key, rising out of the desert like an upscale Bedouin camp.
The all-villa resort really is one for couples – children under age 12 are not even allowed.
Each villa has its own secluded private pool (heated or cooled as the season demands), so the only prying eyes you might see will belong to the odd endangered Arabian oryx. Al Maha actually has a whole 225 square kilometres (86.9 square miles) of designated desert nature reserve to itself and never feels crowded, as no outside guests are allowed to use the facilities.
There is only one restaurant, and to be honest, the breakfast and lunch buffets aren’t particularly inspiring. It does up its game in the evening, though, with a five-course menu packed with foie gras and Wagyu. You can also take dinner on your own private deck, or be driven into the desert, where you will be served your meal and left to lounge on cushions under the stars, with a phone to call for a jeep when you’re done.
The specials the hotel runs over the summer season are often a significant reduction on rack rate, and the desert is surprisingly bearable in the heat, given you have your own pool, a shaded courtyard and spacious air-conditioned room to duck into. A large spa with treatment rooms overlooks the dunes, and loungers surround a large communal pool. An impressive collection of architecture and antiques from the Gulf features in the rooms and public areas, and also, for those of an artistic bent, a chaise lounge, an easel and a set of pastels are provided in each suite. The bathrooms, all of which have double sinks, large corner spa baths and a walk-in shower, are huge, as are the specially-built jumbo king-size beds.
This is the very top end of all-inclusive, with all meals (although not alcohol) and two complimentary activities per day thrown in – there is a full programme, from nature walks to four-wheel-drive desert safaris and falconry displays. Many of these take place early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday sun.
Equine fans will be especially keen on riding the Arabian horses from the stables of Sheikh Mohammed, but be warned: no fibbing, for if you are not a very competent rider, you will be summarily dispatched back to the hotel. Even the sunset camel rides here are superior – it might just be us, but the camels here seem slightly better looking than the spitting dromedaries on which you are usually expected to sit.
Address: Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, PO Box 7632;
Cost AED 3,200, inclusive of meals and activities
Location Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
Number of rooms 42 suites
Room sq m 75-530
Conference facilities Yes
Beach access No
Exercise facilities Yes
Licensed bar Yes
On-site dining Fine dining
Extra amenities Tea/coffee facilities, hairdryer
Business amenities Business centre
Shuttle buses None
Wheelchair facilities Yes