Postcard from the Emirates or: Midnight at the Oasis

As fabulous, warm, bright and sunny Baku summers are, the winters, usually lasting from October to April or even May, are long and chilly. For sure, mostly even then, the skies are blue, but that wind blasting in from the Caspian is something else! With so many new high-rises creating ill thought out wind tunnels, there have been times when I have had to hold on to a lamp post to stop myself from blowing away. It might rarely get much colder than around five degrees C mark, and, unlike, say London, mostly it’s not damp, but it goes on and on and on and right through you. So it’s winter coats and boots for six months of the year. Not my favourite dress code!

Seen on the beach
Seen on the beach

By the end of April, my incessant moaning, groaning and shivering became all too much for the lovely husband and so a weekend away somewhere close by and hot, was what the doctor ordered. Dubai seemed the most obvious destination but we wanted somewhere completely laid back to just lie by a pool and soak up the rays for three days. Luckily, the LH is an absolute expert at ferreting out special deals, so just like that, without much ado, he booked us into the Banyan Tree Beach Resort www.banyantree.com in Ras Al Khaimah, the northern most emirate of UAE. We hopped on to a three hour AZAL flight to Dubai, mindful of the umpalatable food served on that airline, with a picnic in our hand luggage, and from there, took a comfortable taxi along an uneventful straight road to neighbouring Ras Al Khaimah. 45 minutes and several delightful roadside camels later, we stepped into our own little tented beach ‘hut’, complete with private plunge pool, canopied sun deck and with a stunning view to the beach. Perfection! The sun was beating down and within a blink of an eye we were out there on the beach in our cossies. It was sheer bliss feeling the warmth on our skin, melting the winter blues away.

Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach
Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach

IMG_5726 Ras Al Khaimah is one of the seven emirates on the Arabian Gulf and has a population of 300.000. With just under 1700 square kms in size and, a long coastline, once known as ‘The Pirate Coast’ it has been ruled by the Qasimi family since the early 18th century. It has an impressive archaeological heritage dating as far back as 5000 BC. This desert state also has mountains, green valleys and fertile agricultural areas as well as sulphur springs but no oil. It’s main source of income is from Real Estate, Tourism, Manufacturing and Cement.

Summer haze over the Arabian Gulf
Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach
IMG_5751
Poached eggs with asparagus, roast cherry tomatoes and a hash brownie

Now I don’t know about you but I just love the serenity of the desert, the dry heat, the Bedouins and camels, that sense of being immersed in the ancient stories of 1001 Arabian Nights. I find it all quite mesmerising and magical. Sadly, our time in Ras Al Khaimah was too brief to attend the Friday morning camel racing, the spectacular wadi bashing or a trip to a Bedouin village. It was also too short to explore the capital, by the same name, Ras Al Khaimah, the souks, museums and historical monuments, although I am sure they would have had much of interest to offer. I refer anyone who may think of visiting RAK to www.rasalkhaimahtourism.com.

Private pool and beach gazebo at Banyan Tree ras Al Khaimah Beach
Private pool and beach gazebo at Banyan Tree ras Al Khaimah Beach
Selection of breakfast juices
Selection of breakfast juices

Reached by a four minute ferry ride, our beach resort was small, simple with luxurious touches, and ideal for relaxation, despite the almost incessant noises of the water sports motor craft from neighbouring hotels. The accommodation was extremely well appointed with an extra large four poster bed, a seating area and TV, a generous bathroom with shower and spoily Banyan Tree products, a deep sunken outdoor bath, an outdoor shower too, free bottled water, a coffee machine, fruit bowl and the usual minibar. The buffet breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the water, offered an excellent choice of food, including a most wonderful tropical fresh fruit salad, bircher muesli, dairy, soy milk or yoghurt, savoury dishes, pastries, honey and preserves. Twice we ate dinner there, sitting outside on the decking with romantic table lights and waves gently lapping on the shore. Service was a little slow but very friendly, the menu tempting, the food good, although not always exactly as described, and some of the portions very small. On one occasion the tuna turned out not to be seared but cooked through and the promised Parmesan ice cream which would have given the grilled palm heart salad an otherwise lacking element of surprise, was altogether missing. However, the Vietnamese salmon Ca Song, the watermelon and duck salad, the Seafood Platter, the roasted chicken with lemon garlic and sweet potato chips and the grilled rock lobster were quite divine, while the Hamachi Ceviche was a little too creamy and lacked citrus tartness. Still, the management took our little niggles on board and very generously did not charge for those dishes we had small issue with. IMG_5766 Our third and final evening, we spent at the Beach Resort’s sister hotel inland, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi, www.banyantree.com, We arrived after a 20 minute drive, as the surrounding sunset was turning the dunes pink and just in time to enjoy a cool sundowner on the roof terrace, overlooking the enchanting desert landscape. Where the beach resort is casual and supremely laid-back, this hotel is much larger, more formal and imposing, with oversized doors and columns, courtyards, water features, much marble and has the air of a glamorous desert palace. It’s website describes it perfectly: “Be whirled away upon a magical journey across desert plains with true Arabian nights, desert adventure, Middle Eastern fauna and nomadic romance. Step into a privileged sanctuary at Wadi Khadeja. An oasis of peace awaits you at Banyan Tree Al Wadi, the United Arab Emirates’ first desert resort to offer an all-pool villa concept with integrated facilities comprising Asian-inspired hydrotherapy spa facilities, dedicated nature reserve where you interact with Arabian gazelles, camels and oryxes, 18-hole championship golf course and access to Banyan Tree’s private Ras Al Khaimah Beach. A jewel amidst the endless sandscape, the resort is set against the waters of the Arabian Gulf and magnificent Al Hajjar Mountains, offering you the surreal aura of desert romance”.

The dessert at dusk
The dessert at dusk
Banyan Tree Al Wadi
Banyan Tree Al Wadi

Our dinner there in one of several restaurants was impressive too. We started with a selection of Arabic meze with hummous, tabbouleh and moutabel and shared a grilled halloumi and watermelon salad. As main courses, we chose butter chicken simmered in tomato gravy, herbs and spices, with steamed rice and Maine lobster ravioli with hazelnut and fennel salad in bouillabaisse, all of which tasted fabulous, apart from the bouillabaisse which was much too salty and therefore, unfortunately, virtually inedible. For pudding we shared Um Ali, a most delicious Middle Eastern sweet treat, which I was first introduced to by a treasured friend of mine, one of Baku’s hostess-with-the-mostests, the charming Egyptian ambassador’s wife.. It’s a kind of creamy Arabic bread pudding with raisins, pistachios or almonds and the perfect, if very calorific, desert dessert .

Rock lobster supper
Rock lobster supper
Um Ali
Um Ali

We returned to a spring-like Baku, warmed up, refreshed and revitalized, after our short holiday in the sun. They say a change is as good as a rest and Ras Al Khaimah certainly ticks all the right boxes for a quick weekend getaway!