Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Travel: A Weekend At Bab Al Shams

Bab Al Shams means "gateway to the sun" in Arabic. Nestled in the Arabian dessert, the hotel is only an hour's drive from Dubai city but it feels like another world. As my taxi left the skyscrapers and malls behind, the buildings became smaller until they dropped away to reveal an expanse of sand. The city has been a relatively recent imposition here - the dessert likes to occasionally make its claim back by spilling sand onto the tarmac in yellow waves. The road stretches ahead, so hot that it appears to shimmer and gleam like after recent rain, the mirage shrinking and disappearing before you can ever reach it.

The hotel is designed like a traditional Arabic fort with courtyards, hidden walkways and water features - it has the huge advantage over city hotels in having a lot of space to play with. The hotel is low-rise and you can get nicely lost wandering through the maze-like courtyards, finding hidden seating nooks as you go. It's quiet and peaceful, although strange at first to realise that the ambient noise of traffic ever-present in the city has been replaced by chirping birds.

It's pretty hot at this time of year in Dubai so a weekend of doing not much at all was definitely on the agenda. When it's 40+ degrees, even lying by the pool in the shade is tiring work. I couldn't imagine 40+ heat before I moved to Dubai - in reality its not as bad as it sounds but as someone who spends most of the week indoors, a couple of hours by the pool was all I could manage before air-con and a cold Diet Coke started loudly beckoning me inside. I visited during Ramadan and the hotel was business-as-usual, with one restaurant closed for the month. Summer is a quieter season for tourism in Dubai so there are often good deals to be had, I booked this one.

My room was on the ground floor, over looking a courtyard. The rooms are decently sized with giant comfortable beds and corner baths. The entire hotel complex has free wifi and free bottled water is provided. The promotion I booked under didn't include breakfast which is a little cheeky given that there's nowhere else to go - just desert in every direction. I skipped the breakfast buffet in favour of teaching myself to use the in-room Nespresso machine. There's also a kettle for tea-making, I am turning into my mother and now appreciate such touches.

The pool is the standout feature, looking straight out at the flat, endless dessert. It's a huge pool with different sections for sunbathing, seeking shade and swimming. There's a swim-up pool bar and you an order food and drink straight to your sun lounger if the heat is all too much. At sunset, I ventured onto the rooftop bar to watch the sands turn golden. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a line of gazelle ran through the dunes and if I hadn't been clutching my phone I would have felt liked I'd ventured back in time, or at least more than an hour away from the bright lights, crazy traffic and work demands of the city.

Everyday at 5pm the hotel offers free camel rides and the chance to befriend a falcon. The camels arrived on cue from the dessert, I'm still fascinated by them and relish any chance to use the camel emoji.  I passed on a ride as I've sat astraddle of a camel a couple of times before, it's about as uncomfortable as it sounds does not make for flattering photos. I opted to befriend the falcon instead, he was very heavy and his claws looked pretty terrifying but I think I look pretty calm holding him, all that yoga must be making me more zen than I sometimes feel. 

The offer I booked under included a daily voucher to use at the hotel - I used mine in the spa for a dreamy Thai massage which added to the "relax and get away from it all vibe". I read an entire book from start to finish and, the weekend after the UK elections, kept the TV in my room firmly turned off. Heading back into the city, I felt like I'd been away for more than 24 hours - proof that you don't need to jump on a plane to have a complete change of scene for the weekend. 



  1. Sounds like you had such a lovely, chill weekend. I could do with one of those :)

  2. It sounds so relaxing- I had no idea there would be gazelle in the desert, amazing!
    Love that pineapple top too.

  3. This place looks absolutely amazing! I've been on a camel once and it was kind of terrifying, I thought I was going to fall off.

    Jane / deluminators

  4. Don't think my comment was successful so I'll try again!
    This looks like such a lovely place to go - so beautiful! But the heat would really put me off (I guess for Dubai in general as well). I'm not a hot weather person! I hate to feel all lethargic and not want to do anything because I'm too hot.
    The falcon thing looks cool too - I'd have chosen that over camel riding as well!

  5. This place looks incredible! I think I might have to try to go next time I'm in the region!


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