I stayed at a €675-a-night hotel in the Dubai desert and I’m still not over it
Al Maha is simply the place I’ve ever stayed.
'Nice' is a word writers are discouraged from using but that’s really the only word for it.
Set on 225 square kilometres of protected dunes in the Dubai desert, Al Maha is less than an hour outside the city of Dubai but feels like another world.
In contrast with the city, the setting is stunningly peaceful and private. You might as well be on the moon.
The surrounding desert area is designated for the protection of local wildlife while the skies above are a no-fly zone, meaning you’ll see plenty of animals but few people and zero skyscrapers.
The resort is made up of personal chalets. One lovely perk that I got far too used to is that the staff refuse to let you walk anywhere and insist on driving you to said chalet in a golf buggy.
I stayed in a Bedouin suite, one of the four options available to guests. The chalet slept two (though it was massive) and was luxurious but not flashy with deep woods and rich fabrics.
The décor was a nod to the traditional people of the desert and created a definite sense of history.
My suite overlooked the desert and was completely private. It came with some interesting touches like an easel, pad and pencil if you fancy a doodle - handy given all the wildlife that dropped by.
The highlight was the private pool. Having arrived in the middle of the night, I hadn’t seen what was outside but woke to find I had my own deck and pool. I was beside myself.
The overall sense was created that if I wanted to, I could stay in the suite for a week, see no-one and do nothing but float in the pool while looking out at the desert.
Of course, you’d be mad to stay put and not have a go at everything Al Maha had to offer. It being a nature reserve, there’s a focus on the outdoors and a real insight into traditional life in the desert.
On the path between your suite and hotel reception you might encounter some very tame local residents like a caracal or gazelle but there’s so much more to it than that.
Guests can get up before dawn to take in the sunrise and have a go at falconry, an art that desert nomads relied on for food in times gone by.
You could also try archery, horse riding or camel trekking through the dunes, but we were taken on a desert safari in a 4x4.
Our guide Kevin explained that the desert was a living eco system (news to me) and helped us get up close to some of its inhabitants including the Arabian oryx, the national animal of the United Arab Emirates.
The experience brought home just how different Al Maha was to the rest of Dubai, which was mostly desert until a few decades ago.
We also took time to enjoy the spa, where I was made to feel like an absolute queen by everyone there.
I mean, my nose started to run during my hot oil massage and the masseuse instinctively wiped it with a tissue before calmly carrying on. If that’s not five-star treatment I don’t know what is.
Throughout the resort, each of the staff members seemed to know me by name and were attentive without being smothering, a balance that’s hard to strike. It’s that level of service, aside from its location, that really sets Al Maha apart.
The standout part of our all-too-brief stay there was having dinner in the middle of the desert.
Resort manager Arne brought us out to the dunes in the darkness as his personal guests and put on the kind of spread an Irish mammy could only dream of.
We sat cross-legged under the stars and wolfed down houmous, lamb, couscous and vegetables as Arne told us stories about some of Al Maha’s best-known previous guests (including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Naomi Campbell and Robert De Niro) that I probably shouldn’t repeat.
It was completely peaceful and honestly surreal.
The night just reinforced how Al Maha is like nowhere else – secluded and private with none of the flash but all of the luxury that Dubai is known for.
It’s as authentic an Arabian experience as you’ll get anywhere in the UAE without having to compromise on comfort.
I’d especially recommend it to honeymoon couples who are either thinking of Dubai as a destination or who’ll be stopping there on the way to somewhere further afield.
The quietness (young children aren’t allowed), the seclusion, the incredible staff and the luxury all make Al Maha the ultimate romantic destination.
Suites at Al Maha start at AED 2900 (around €675) a night. Find out more here.