Al Wathba, United Arab Emirates

Photo: Jumeirah International LLC

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is in the midst of a hotel boom. The largest of the seven United Arab Emirates has become a major destination for international travelers. It’s caused hotel occupancy rates to soar. A new hotel classification system is in the works. While more properties are now being planned outside of the capital city that shares the same name.

This gives you a lot of options. You no longer have to sleep in a stuffy business hotel. You don’t even have to stay among the city’s towering skyscrapers. These new hotels give you a chance to explore more of the oil-wealthy emirate. Tall buildings quickly give way to the vast Arabian Desert, camel race tracks, and date groves once you leave Abu Dhabi.

You’ll soon be able to trade the city for a closer look at traditional Emirati culture in Al Wathba. Though less than an hour outside of Abu Dhabi, Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa feels like a desert camp. Sand-colored buildings surround winding courtyards, hidden gardens, and soothing reflecting pools. They all eventually lead to the 1,000-square-foot main pool. Little inlets and coves help the massive space feel more intimate. Well-spaced palm trees and sun loungers do, too. Panache, a submerged bar with green-tiled stools, is at one end. The vast desert is at the other.

When the temperature rises to an oppressive level—something that always happens sooner than you expect—it’s time to head inside. Rooms, suites, and villas perfectly marry Arabian decor with modern design. Muted colors, soft fabrics, and light-filled window seats make the rooms feel cozy. There are hand-woven rugs below the king-size beds. Plus carved wall panels separate the bathrooms from the bedrooms.

Beyond that, there’s the huge Talise Spa, featuring crystal salt and cryotherapy rooms in addition to the usual hammams, saunas, and plunge pools. Arabic coffee is served in Hayaakom, the lobby lounge that looks like a grand home. Terra Secca, an upscale trattoria, makes perfect pizzas in its wood-fired oven. While classic Lebanese dishes are prepared on a charcoal grill and in a traditional saj oven at Baith Al Hanine.

But for dinner, you’ll want to wait until it starts to cool down again. One of the resort’s restaurants is actually outside in the desert. Large rugs, wide pillows, small wooden tables, and flickering candles are set in the middle of the sand at Al Mabeet. The magical setting, combined with the shared spread and the starry sky, truly captures the nomadic spirit of local Bedouin tribes. The resort is set to open on January 1, 2019. Will the Arabian Desert be your first trip of the New Year?

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