Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Photo: marviikad from Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

You’re finally returning to the United Arab Emirates. You plan to hop between modern art galleries and history museums for the week. You want to spend time browsing antiques, jewelry, and brightly colored fabrics in souqs. You hope to walk along the waterfront, stopping to stroll through sculpture gardens, admire restored houses, and listen to the mosques’ call to prayer along the way. There’s one major difference in this trip, though. You aren’t going to Dubai.

For the first time, you’re going to Sharjah. The emirate is the only one to touch both the Persian Gulf (to the west) and the Gulf of Oman (to the east). The emirate’s capital, which shares the same name, is the third-largest city in the country. It’s considered the arts and culture center of the UAE. It has a preserved old town, called the Heart of Sharjah, where historic buildings continue to be restored. Plus it features canals and promenades that keep people outside and around the water.

Sharjah isn’t looking to be the next Dubai, though. The two cities lie only 30 minutes from each other. That effectively makes Sharjah a suburb of Dubai. But their personalities couldn’t be more different. Dubai is glitzy, luxurious, and, at times, over the top. It feels very modern and Western. Sharjah, on the other hand, is conservative, modest, and subtle. It honors traditional Emirati culture above all else. Complete opposites. Still, they complement each other well.

Photo: GHM

It’s with this in mind that you begin your hotel search for this trip. The process ends up being surprisingly fast. That’s because you find the Chedi Al Bait. “Al Bait” means “the Home” in Arabic, and the Chedi both looks and feels like one. Four historic mudbrick buildings, all from the 1920s, have been combined into a single structure. They’re connected by hidden courtyards, ornate archways, wooden pillars, and barasti (palm frond) ceilings. A cozy reception room, a library, and a museum focused on Sharjah history anchor the hotel. While, if you peek around the carved window panels, you’ll catch a glimpse of dhows bobbing on Sharjah Creek.

The hidden courtyards will quickly become your favorite parts of the hotel. The elegant spaces have deep, sand-colored couches topped with lots of pillows. They’re surrounded by palm trees, chirping birds, and, at night, flickering pillar candles. Some offer open-air seating for the restaurants and the ice cream parlor. Another is dominated by the pool near the spa. Most are just areas in which to relax. Don’t be surprised if a cardamon-spiced Arabic coffee or a goblet of dates silently appear at your side. The hotel, like Sharjah as a whole, is simple yet sublime. Enjoy the refreshing change of pace.

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