Oberoi Al Zorah in Ajman, the smallest of the seven United Arab Emirates, is a split-level, sea-facing resort with water features surrounding the lobby, vast villas lining the shore and a lengthy swimming pool in the middle. Every bathroom has a huge walk-in shower and enormous bath tub – some have alfresco showers. The hotel was designed by an Italian architect, who has opted for minimalism over the usual UAE maximalism – but if you do want a bit of that as well, Dubai is only 40 minutes away by car. Back in Ajman, you’re more likely to be hanging out with the flamingoes that frequent the million-plus mangroves.
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A 15-minute head and shoulder massage and 10% discount on F&B. GoldSmiths will also receive a bottle of wine
Double rooms from £316.12 (AED1,466), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include breakfast, served in Vinesse Restaurant.
Two of the bedrooms are suitable for wheelchair access and there are ramps throughout the resort, as well as buggies on request.
Building works for a neighbouring resort are underway, but every effort is being made to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, 24-hour gym, butler service (certain rooms only), valet parking, library, bikes, 400-metre beach, watersports, table tennis, shuttle to Dubai Mall. In rooms: free WiFi, free bottled water, tea- and coffee-making facilities, Forest Essential bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We loved the two-bedroom villas that line the shore at the lowest level of the property – they’re perfect for families, huge and the bathrooms have alfresco ablution opportunities courtesy of the outdoor showers. The hotel has an 80-metre pool, but if you’re concerned that’s not enough water, book a room with a private pool.
There’s a heated, family-friendly, 85-metre infinity pool overlooking the beach, with a lifeguard on duty between 8am and 7pm.
The spa has a steam room, sauna and treatment rooms with open-air showers and their own hammam. The therapists use Alqvimia products. There’s a yoga and meditation room next to the herb garden – free 45-minute sessions take place daily.
Sensible shoes for navigating this staggered resort and modesty-preserving pashminas and T-shirts.
There is a compulsory New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner on 31 December 2023. It’s AED 1,600 for adults and AED 800 for children aged 4–12 (under-4s dine for free). Rates are inclusive of taxes, service charges, food and drink (standard pouring brand only).
All ages welcome. Extra beds can be added to rooms, but the spacious villas are the best bet for families. The kids’ club is free and there are baby and toddler pools near the main pool. Babysitting can be arranged with a day’s notice.
Breakfast and an extra bed for one under-12 is included in the room rate; a second child stays for AED 400 a night (including breakfast) during peak seasons and AED 200 in low seasons. Over-12s will need their own room.
Babies and up.
The two-bedroom villas line the beach and have plenty of space for families.
The kids’ club is free and includes a sandpit and gardens.
Table tennis, bicycle riding, beach, swimming.
There are two additional pools by the main pool, one for babies and one for toddlers. Arm bands, inflatables and floats can be borrowed, and a lifeguard is on duty all day.
Highchairs are available on request. Children are welcome in all dining venues at all times; there are no special menus, but dishes can be adapted and baby food and milk can be heated up.
Can be arranged with a day’s notice for 50 dirhams an hour (two-hour minimum), plus a surcharge and taxi fare after 11pm.
Enlist the help of the concierge in getting a better-than-average table – intimate dinners can be held in the olive-tree garden for a start. You can also eat poolside or on the beach.
Both restaurants are relaxed affairs, but you might want to avoid causing offence (and sunburnt skin) by keeping it covered up.
There are two: Vinesse and Aquario, both of which have bars attached. Vinesse is where you need to be at breakfast, where a spread of doughnuts, pastries, fruit and typical Arabic items are on offer. Vinesse is at the top of the resort and surrounded by enough water features to make it look like it’s floating. Aquario (closed between 5 June to 5 October 2023) is down on the beach level and has a suitably seafood-heavy menu – there’s even a ‘fish sommelier’ on hand to help you choose from the catch-of-the-day counter. We especially rate the tuna tartare, soft-shell crab and scallops.
Two: named for and attached to each restaurant. Vinesse is near reception and surrounding by water and glass, making it especially sparkly after nightfall. The cocktail list references pre-prohibition classics and this bar also has an impressive range of single malts and Cuban cigars. Like its parent restaurant, Aquario is down by the beach. The star beverages here have to be the selection of gins mixed with house-made flavoured tonic waters. The Aquario bar is open all day between 11am and 11.30pm (1am on Friday and Saturday nights). Vinesse’s bar calls time at 11pm.
Breakfast is served at Vinesse from 7am to 10.30am; lunch and dinner here merge into one, with food served between 12.30pm and 11pm. Aquario serves lunch from 12.30pm until 3pm and dinner between 7pm and 11.30pm.
The full menu of both restaurants can be served in-room if you prefer.
The Oberoi Al Zorah is in the lesser-known Emirate of Ajman, close to Dubai but blissfully behind in the development stakes.
It’s 20 kilometres from Dubai’s international airport; allow around half an hour for the drive. Sharjah’s airport, which has flights from all over the region as well as further afield, is a 20-minute drive away. From both airports, hotel transfers in an Audi or Mercedes cost 500 dirhams each way for three adults or 600 dirhams for six adults (no-shows will be charged in full).
The hotel is 10 minutes by car out of the centre of Ajman. There’s a car park onsite and valet parking.
Seaplane arrivals can be arranged on request.
Worth getting out of bed for
There is a golf club and watersport-facilitating marina nearby. Ajman has a mall, but for serious shopping, head into Dubai – the hotel puts on a shuttle at certain times, otherwise it’s a 40-minute drive. The hotel’s private beach is at the bottom of the resort and has cabanas and sunloungers for guests. And if you want to get away from the skyscrapers and into the desert, seek the help of Magic Arabia, who will take you on a sandy safari.
Ajman and its neighbouring emirate Sharjah don’t have a huge amount of restaurants (yet), so for buzzy brasseries head into Dubai. Hashi, part of the Armani hotel at the bottom of the Burj Khalifa, serves up some of the best Japanese food in town. Over at the Bulgari outpost, Il Caféoffers artful Italian food and views out across the marina. And for Thai classics and spicy seafood, try Thiptara in the Palace Downtown.
You might not think it, but it actually took many trips to Dubai, staying either downtown or on the Palm, to acclimatise ourselves to the all-out luxury of its hotels, restaurants, bars and malls. Even so, not much could have prepared us for the (pardon the cliché, but nothing else here will suffice) pure relaxation of the Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah.
Situated a 30-minute taxi ride from Dubai airport and an hour from central Dubai, this Oberoi is in Ajman, one of the smaller of the UAE’s seven emirates. The hotel takes its name from the surrounding coastal suburb of Al Zorah, and lies at the end of an immaculate tree-lined driveway, which can’t be easy to maintain under the year-round, 30-degree-plus sun. It was only 10am and baking hot, but the perfect arrival awaited us: chilled welcome drinks and a fragrant ice towel to be enjoyed in an air-conditioned reception. Bliss.
And, despite our early arrival, we were promptly checked in to our room, a deluxe suite which looked out onto the grounds and sea. Modern in design with stylish, contemporary furniture and fittings, it was comfortable in the extreme – comfort par excellence – tempting us to lounge here indefinitely.
So, with breakfast being served until 11am, we decided we would vacate the bedroom for the a la carte and buffet-style breakfast at the Vinesse restaurant. Fresh fruit, warm pastries and local and international breakfast cuisines provided plenty of choice. We went for the eggs royale and French toast – both delicious. A surprise bowl of fresh, warm almond croissants was served with our coffee and were mouth-wateringly good.
The urge to return to the room was strong, but the beach looked equally tempting, so we decided to walk off breakfast with a stroll along perfect white sand, lapped by a gentle, bath-temperature tide. And this is one of the quirks of holidays in the UAE: we couldn’t be sure if the beach was man-made, but if it was, we couldn’t argue with its flawless design. And this is what I mean when I say ‘pure relaxation’: no sooner than we’d arrived, we were brought cold towels, water sprays and mango ice lollies, which we chose to melt into an ice-cold smoothie.
Effort, as you could guess, is at a minimum here, and it took very little to decamp to the spa to finish our day with a couple’s massage. The spa itself is like a tropical otherworld. We sauna’d, steamed, and had our feet bathed with rose petals before our massage: the staff recognising our anniversary with a single red rose stem laid out on the treatment table. Even the refreshing green tea with honey was pitch perfect.
That wasn’t the end of our anniversary treats, either. When we finally did arrive back at the suite, our room had been decorated with red rose petals and Jeff Koons style red balloons. Rose petals in the bath and a chocolate cake on the table added the final touches to what felt like being totally spoiled.
We chose to have dinner in the fish restaurant Aquario by the beach, which we were driven to by a buggy waiting in reception. We decided to sit outside in the garden where we ordered the tuna tartare and the beef with scallops. The cocktails were delicious and the waitress perfectly paired wines with each course, ensuring our glasses were topped up throughout the meal.
We didn’t think it possible, but the next day we expended even less energy that the day before. We spent it by the pool, which at this hotel appears to stretch for miles. Again, our waiter kept us fed and watered with cocktails and chilled beers, until we fell almost into a stupor of (you guessed it) ‘pure relaxation’.
With its excellent staff and attentive service, gorgeous landscapes and comfortable interiors, the Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah reminds you how easily other hotels get it wrong – by getting everything completely right.
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