Luxurious, remote and romantic, the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort near Abu Dhabi's Liwa Oasis inhabits a staggering, sun-baked sandscape. Outside, the desert heat rages; inside is cool, calm and brimming with Middle Eastern opulence – arches twinkle with Arabic lanterns, palm-lined courtyards centre on tinkling fountains. Lounge poolside, pamper in the Anantara spa, kick up a sandstorm in a 4WD then dine under starry skies in a Bedouin tent big enough for two.
Get this when you book through us:
A falconry experience for two (October–April), or a 4WD desert drive in the summer months
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £347.58 (AED1,646), including tax at 21 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of AED10.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a generous buffet breakfast.
The sumptuous and serene Anantara Thai spa is set among aromatic hanging gardens, around a peaceful courtyard filled with trickling fountains. It means business with its navy- and gold-tiled hammam, ice room and six lavish treatment rooms, four of which are for both Mr Smith and his Missus. There are also two outdoor Thai salas for private yoga. All therapists are Thai and, as per UAE law, women are always treated by female therapists and men male therapists. The wide range of treatments includes exotic wraps, jetlag-combating herbal compress massage, floral foot rituals, milk baths, scrubs and OPI mani-pedis. Spa treatments and also offered in your room.
There's a compulsory New Year’s Eve dinner on 31 December 2020, which is AED1,960 an adult and AED980 for each child between four and 12. Prices include service charges, local fees and taxes.
At the hotel
Spa with hammam, sauna, Jacuzzis, steam rooms and yoga salas; tennis courts; gym; gardens; DVD library; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, CD/DVD player, pillow menus, air-conditioning, Nespresso machine and tea-making facilities, free bottled water. Bathrooms feature deep round oversize baths, separate walk-in rain showers, double sinks, fluffy robes and Molton Brown toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
With desert views of varying distance, all rooms and villas mix Arabic decor with dark wood furniture, marble floors and neutral earth tones. Entry-level Deluxe Garden and Deluxe Balcony rooms are very spacious and offer the best value; Deluxe Balcony rooms offer roof-level views of the fort and desert, Deluxe Garden rooms also look out over the dunes but at ground-floor level, with the added bonus of a small garden and private outdoor terrace. On the upper floors, Deluxe Terraces have roomy outdoor spaces with day beds looking out across the sand. Upgrade to a super-luxurious, one-bedroom Anantara Pool Villas for a separate living area, kitchenette, a private plunge pool, sun deck and personal butler.
The super-roomy infinity-edge freeform pool looks out towards the surrounding desert valley and is open 7am–9pm. There are plenty of loungers and parasols, plus a swim-up bar (open 9am–9pm) mixing mocktails (it’s unlicensed) and light snacks.
There's no spa, but therapists offer a range of treatments in the privacy of your room.
Sunhats and swimwear. Yes, the mercury can soar to over 40 degrees in summer (don’t skimp on the factor 50; you’re still going to get your best tan ever) but the desert gets cold at night so pack some lightweight, long-sleeved numbers. If you’re planning on visiting local villages on a Liwa tour, women will need to cover their shoulders and knees.
Leave the drones at home – this is a no-fly zone.
Very welcome: tots aged two years and under stay free in cots, and extra beds for under-12s can be added to parents’ rooms (AED406). There’s a kids’ club (for ages 3–12), a playground and a kids' menu. English-speaking sitters available for kids aged 1+).
The Qasr's biggest treat is a private, bespoke four-course champagne dinner for two in a torch-lit, cushion-filled and comfy Bedouin tent. Your companions? A butler, firepit and the horizon-filling sunbaked sands. Five-star desert luxury (for AED520).
Play at Aladdin in harem trousers: it’s cover-up but dress-down for breakfast and lunch, smarter after dark. Note the air-conditioning in the resort’s restaurants tends towards the fierce so you’ll want linen/cotton layers to peel on and off.
Al Waha (the 'Oasis') offers all-day dining indoors under the air-conditioning or outside on an airy terrace overlooking the dunes. Its breakfast buffet is gargantuan (made-to-order eggs and omelettes, Emirati pancakes, bacon, sausages, home-made hash browns, plus unlimited fresh fruit, breads, pastries and cakes). Lunch and dinner take in Middle Eastern as well as international cuisines, but whether you want a sarnie or a shawarma, it’ll be made to order by one of the chefs at the live cooking stations. Some evenings feature traditional dance displays – easily avoidable if that’s not your cup of (mint) tea. Overlooking the pool from its terrace, and especially pretty at night, is Al Ghadeer, with an open-plan kitchen and Italian/Spanish influences. Try the tagliata of beef with pont neuf potatoes or jumbo crab salad. Upscale steakhouse and rooftop bar Suhail is open for sunset cocktails (from 7pm) and à la carte dining (7pm–11pm). The bar here means business: its walk-in wine cellar counts 120 bins, and the beef on offer includes Australian Blackmore – among the world’s best.
Just off the lobby, Al Liwan ('the gathering place') has high ceilings and marble floors and is a cool endroit to escape the afternoon heat for a refreshing mint tea, handful of dates and sugary, spice-laden pastry. For something stronger, there’s a long list of long drinks, whether you favour a Tom Collins or an Old Fashioned. Quench your thirst poolside with an icy, fruit-laced daquiri, mojito or margarita from the bar, just a few steps from your day-bed. Perfectly chilled fresh juices, lemonade and tea infusions slake alcohol-abstainers' thirst. During Ramadan, drinks are only served indoors (not by the pool), after sunset.
All night long, via room service. Al Liwan and the rooftop bar within Suhail are open 7pm–1am. Breakfast is served 7.30am–10am; lunch from noon, and dinner 7pm–10.30pm.
24 hours, although the menu is more restricted after 11pm. Try a range of Arabic dishes from biriyanis to shawarma – there are burgers and club sandwiches too. From Villas, you can order a luxe private barbecue, including sashimi, koftas and beef grills.
Surrounded by dunes as far as the eye can see, the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort is in the emirate of Abu Dhabi near the Liwa Oasis, on the border of the Empty Quarter, the largest uninterrupted stretch of sand in the world.
Abu Dhabi International Airport (www.abudhabiairport.ae) is the closest option, a 200km or two-hour drive away. Dubai International Airport (www.dubaiairport.com) is an alternative option (it’s further though, at 300km away). Book your airport transfers in advance.
If you want to journey to and from Abu Dhabi airport under your own steam, follow the E11 road towards Mussafah, Tarif and Mirfa. Come off at Exit 306, turn left at the first roundabout and head straight over the second roundabout onto the E65 to (Madhar) Hameem. Point and shoot on this road for approx 154km. Eventually you’ll pass the Liwa Car Museum on your left. Once you reach (Madhar) Hemeem, look out for the petrol station on your left. Your GPS will tell you to take the first U-turn after the petrol station – don’t! Instead, take the second U-turn, where you’ll see signposts to the resort. After you’ve turned off the main road, take the first right through the gates. The track to Qasr al Sarab is another 12km.
There's a helipad, if you fancy splashing out on a chopper transfer, and parking for 14 helicopters. Unless one of them is yours, don’t expect to do anything unscripted during your stay – you really are in the middle of the desert, a million miles from anywhere. Choppers can be arranged through the Smith24 team, and cost roughly AED72,000 for a one-way trip (depending on the number os passengers and luggage).
Worth getting out of bed for
At the edge of the fabled Empty Quarter, the Liwa Desert is an unforgettable landscape for intrepid souls, a million miles from spreadsheets and inboxes where life’s worries slip away like a grains of sand through your fingers. You can’t make impromptu forays out into this unforgiving sand-scape on your own, but that doesn’t mean the more distant dunes are beyond your reach – just ask staff at the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab to book the trips for you and thrill to making travellers' tales a reality.
Other activities on offer (depending on season) include Emirati cookery classes, desert yoga at dawn, dune-bashing in a 4x4, mountain biking, archery, camel trekking, horse riding and more…
Find out more about life beyond the sand with a tour of the Liwa Desert – you’ll discover sudden and verdant oases among the dunes and learn about the traditional Bedouin tribes who live on them. The 4.5 hour tour, organised through the hotel, takes in a date and cucumber farm, a camel farm and camel race track, plus, of course, those endless dunes. Alternativley, try your hand at falconry, one of the UAE's oldest traditions: a hotel guide will take you out into the desert to see this magnificent bird of prey in flight and learn more about the part it plays in local culture.
As we collapse into the car at Abu Dhabi airport, I have my doubts about Mr Smith’s promise of a dreamy getaway amid scenes of stunning natural beauty. Our hotel is meant to be buried deep in the world’s largest sand desert; a place romantically known as the Empty Quarter. But as we whizz past the fluorescent lights and mega high-rises of Abu Dhabi city, the name seems frankly delusional. Can it really be true that somewhere out in the night there’s an isolated, palatial resort?
Fast forward a couple of hours, and all doubts are banished. Up ahead, rising from the sand – if you’ll excuse the cliché – like a glittering mirage, is Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort. It’s a desert fort straight out of Lawrence of Arabia, with torches and huge turrets marking the threshold. Not everyone comes by road, though. As we sweep through the enormous central courtyard, a couple of helicopters come into view.
The welcome is seamless, even though it’s almost midnight. Incredibly friendly staff soon have us sipping mint tea in the library, with mounds of cushions around us and elaborate lanterns overhead. We have a convoy to get to our room, with one golf buggy for us and another close behind transporting our (embarrassingly mismatched) bags. Mr Smith is firmly back in my good books – I feel like royalty. Which is no surprise, as it transpires. The Abu Dhabi Royals’ personal pavilion is just round the corner, and this land used to be theirs.
As we wind down the path towards our room, our driver points out a dark shadow rising up into the night sky. Apparently it’s the biggest sand dune in the area, and he says we must climb it at sunrise. Mr Smith looks excited, while I silently ponder whether walking on sand counts as exercise. The buggy ride unveils more of the hotel, which is almost a small village. A tumble of walls, balconies and courtyards stretch out on either side of the main tower, meandering for a mile. I’d been worried that its size might make Anantara Qasr Al Sarab feel like a cruise ship plonked in the desert, but the layout is perfect. Each room has its own private outdoor area or balcony, and everything is built low – it’s all very discreet and quiet, with four or five rooms in each cluster.
The room is fabulous. A wall of glass looks out to the desert, which by this time is a sheet of stars. All fears of a crystal-and-gold-leaf explosion evaporate as we take in the beautiful dark wood, soft white linen and twinkling lights. Outside there is a shaded chillout area and lawn, surrounded by dovecotes. Even though we’ve booked the smallest room on offer, the bath is big enough for a harem; a private hammam, with bath salts provided daily and genie-like glass bottles with cork stoppers for shampoo. There’s also a walk-in monsoon shower, and double sinks, all set in sandy stone, creamy marble and dark wood. It would be entirely feasible to spend a week just hanging out in here.
Famished from our trip, we order room service and tuck into the first of many rounds of mixed grill and moutabel (their take on hummus). It’s delicious. This isn’t a hotel that cuts corners on quality, and the food is no exception. There’s wagyu steak at the rooftop restaurant, and all the pool options are pretty good, too. Which is lucky, given the only alternative food option is slaying a stray camel. My personal favourite of the many dining options is the made-to-order crumpet stand at breakfast. Heavenly, and just one part of a giant buffet selection that stretches from eggs/pancake territory to a full range of Middle Eastern meze.
As we wake up on our first morning, the wall of darkness has transformed into the most heart-stopping view imaginable. Pink-tinged sand swoops all the way to the horizon, and the sky is blue and enormous. Make no mistake – this is the reason to come to Anantara Qasr Al Sarab. The view brims with romance and adventure, a fitting comeback to any cynics that argue Emirates escapes have less soul. The scenery dominates every room in the hotel, and the pool is built right on the edge of the desert, so that you can hop out of the water, climb over the wall and head out into the sand. The landscape is unimaginably vast: as I struggle to the top of the nearest dune, with Mr Smith practically dragging me up, it is impossible to comprehend how anyone could traverse the full length of the desert. In our whole time at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab, I meet only one creature who might be up to the task. Shaheen.
To tell the truth, I’ve lost my heart to Shaheen. He’s got beautifully dark eyes, long lashes and a very toothy grin. He also has two humps and gigantic feet, which make him very well equipped for desert life. The activities at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab range from falconry to desert safari, but they’re the one time during our stay when it all feels a bit touristy, so in general we steer clear. The sunset camel ride is too much to resist, though, and Shaheen and I bond as we cross the blushing dunes and head for the horizon.
Over the next few days we try out the spa (serendipitous), dune bashing in four by fours (terrifying), and open-air dinner out in the desert (unspeakably romantic). It is all idyllic, and the staff we meet are attentive and thoughtful. But on our last night, with all the options on offer, all we want to do is head out to the dunes and watch the sun go down. Because, really, it’s all about the view.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort’s Guestbook below.
This hotel is beyond amazing if you are looking to get away into the middle of nowhere, which I personally love to do. Hotel itself is gorgeous, it's a two-hour drive from the city (Abu Dhabi) and just like a movie scene you drive in the middle of the desert to huge walls of the hotel all Moroccan style combined with 'I might see Aladdin' (yes we all know he was from Baghdad, but you got the picture). End of November the weather is perfect, warm during the day, you swim and tan and do activities and cooler at night to gram some snacks and hot tea in the main patio of the hotel or have dinner at their outside on the sand restaurant with an amazing Armenian musician who plays beautifully Arabic and international music on a instrument called 'Qanon'. The rooms are very clean and beautiful , all of them have a view of the desert. It's like a small city outside of the globe with is what you need sometimes. Also the spa is very nice, with great staff and you come out of it like a newborn. They also have a outdoor massage area right on the sand. I enjoyed my stay.
I was only upset on the food. The hotel is such a luxury that from travel and being in these kinds of hotels, I know that the food has to be great but it was okay. All three restaurants I have tried and none of them was something I would try again. The best food and dessert in the hotel serve at the lobby cafe, library, cigar bar and patio area. We ordered a lot on the last day at the hotel and I wish we ate there from the beginning.
ByYelena York, BlackSmith
Stayed on 22 Nov 2018
Incredible resort. Beautiful architecture scenery. Staff were all top notch and extremely helpful. Definitely do the dune bashing – highlight of the trip.
Cheap food and drink.
Stayed on 21 Apr 2018
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