Arabian Peninsula

For Katie

July 2017.

Of Sea, Sand and Mountains

Dear Katie,

Arabia!  A land that brings to mind so many stories, mythic images, historical references, faces, this is a region where history collapses.   It feels far away and long ago but, in fact, it is not so distant in space, and it is so very present in our current lives.  The countries are all different in landscapes and cultures, with distinctly different visions for their futures.  It is a fascinating journey – and a very doable one – to travel between Qatar, UAE and Oman, between the sea and the mountains and, of course, the great sands.

Day 1 & Day 2:  Dubai

It is impossible to describe Dubai accurately as it is in a constant state of change.  The joke is that the crane is the most ubiquitous bird in the region…and indeed you see them everywhere, breaking ground on infrastructure of one sort or the other.

The hotel inventory in Dubai is extremely fine.  Some of the properties are over the top, some of them are extremely stylish.  All are cutting edge, none are boutique.  Everything in Dubai seems either to be the tallest or the biggest. To be WOW and head-turning is to be Dubai, and it takes a good deal of reading and poking around to get a sense of the “before”.  To be visited are Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, the Ski Dubai venue (particularly if you have kids).  Visit the Atlantis Hotel and its attractions:  Aquaventure Waterpark, the Lost Chambers, Dolphin Bay.  And a dhow trip to see Dubai from the sea is interesting as is a helicopter flight to give you a comprehensive overview of the city.

Day 3:  Dubai’s Desert Fringe

Depart early this morning on Desert Safari 45 minutes outside of the city.  Just the drive itself will impress upon you how the city has literally been wrested from the sand.  Lots of activities here…drive out or ride a camel into the desert expanses to see the wildlife, masked and regal oryx, sand gazelle and foxes. Go dune bashing if that is your thing, enjoy a falconry demonstration and, if you are really gung-ho, go sandboarding.  If you wish, we can set up a picnic or BBQ for lunch. Otherwise, I suggest you take one of the old-school land rovers and drive to Al Maha 20 minutes away for lunch in their delicious restaurant.  If you wish, a night here can be added in, a lovely experience, silent and evocative as you sit on your terrace looking out over rolling orange sand dunes.

Day 4:  Dubai – Ras al Khaimah

About an hour and a half drive along the coast northeast of Dubai will bring you to Ras al Khaimah and the palatial Waldorf Astoria located on the beach.  Banyan Tree also has a boutique property on the beach and accessible in a matter of minutes by their private boat.  Overnight but, If you are in a rush, you can spend the afternoon at the second Banyan property, The Desert Resort al Wadi which also has private villas with pool.  Here, they do a very nice falcon show and a desert horseback ride.  Their spa is highly regarded as well.  If you do all in one day, it will be a long day.

Day 5, 6 & 7:  Ras al Khaimah-Zighy Bay, Oman

The drive from Ras al Khaimah to Zighy is only about 2 hours depending on the length of time you spend at the border post.  Once you climb the rocky, bleak hills that rise precipitously behind Zighy Bay, you will stop at the top.  If the weather and the winds are favorable, paraglide down into the resort!  If this is not your cup of tea, drive on down to the lovely horseshoe bay that is the site of this unusual and probably the most exclusive resort in the region, Six Senses Zighy Bay.  Planned and built as a village with thatched-rooved villas lining narrow sandy alleyways, this eco-lodge offers delicious food, water and hiking activities and a superb spa for which it is internationally known.  Rest here for a few days in a single pool villa or, if a family, in either of the 3-bedroom pool villas located on the water at either end of the property.

Day 8, 9 & 10 – Zighy Bay-Muscat

You will notice a great difference between Oman and the UAE.  Commonly, Oman is referred to as the country with a real sense of its own identity, its own culture.  This is certainly true compared to the rest of the Peninsula that you will be visiting.  Start your visit with the oldest part of town – the Muttrah Souk – located in the harbor.  Visit the Grand Mosque, Nakhal Fort, the Sultan’s Palace and, finally, the private collection housed in the Bait al Zubair Museum.  Stay either down the coast at Al Bustan Palace or at the more zen-like Chedi – be aware that this is the windy coast – or stay at the Anantara al Jabal al Akhdar Resort perched high above on Oman’s Green Mountain.  Each will afford you a different array of activities and options.

Oman is worth a trip in itself with its own desert offerings, its own archaeology, its own wonderful snorkeling and diving, its own mountain activities.  But it can also become a part of an itinerary with a broader geographic scope as the driving distances are so short.

Day 11 – Muscat-Al Ain-Abu Dhabi

Your drive today will be approximately 6 hours to Abu Dhabi via the oasis of Al Ain.  Abu Dhabi’s highlight is, undoubtedly, the Grand Mosque, an extraordinarily beautiful structure that appears to float on its marble base.  Drive along the Corniche (fascinating to see the quantity and quality of the mansions) to the Heritage Village to give you a little sense of the past.  If interested, you might wish to visit Masdar City including the MIST labs..all quite fascinating.

Day 12:  Abu Dhabi-Qasr al Sarab

Depending on your passion for the desert, get as close to the Empty Quarter as you can on this trip by visiting Qasr al Sarab.  The drive is 4 hours.  The desert here is spectacular – large crested dune, salt flats, an infinity of sand.  Look off into the distance and there you have Saudi Arabia.  Look off into the distance and think of Wilfred Thesiger.  Lose yourself in an extraordinary landscape.

Day 13 & Day 14:  Qasr al Sarab-Dubai-Doha

A 2-hour drive will take you back to Dubai to connect with your flight to Doha.  Doha is my favorite city here on the Arabian Peninsula.  I have watched it grow and develop, and I find in this rather manageably sized metropolis much of beauty and interest.  To start with, the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by IM Pei, will take your breath away.  Take time out of your day to give it slow and considered attention. If you have time, visit the contemporary art adjunct on the property.  Be sure to visit Souk Waqif and, there, walk through the Royal Stables and drop In to the falcon hospital, two of my all-time favorite visits anywhere.  If horses are a passion, speak to us and we will try to set up a private visit the Royal Stables outside of town which are magnificent.

Many, good hotels here, interesting architecture, water activities, architectural projects like Msheireb Downtown Project and, of course, Katara Cultural Village.

Day 15:  Departure