Time for the gal to do a bit of sightseeing, following the guidelines of today’s luxury travellers, who want a sense of place, history and authenticity, clean air and surroundings, and Ras Al-Khaimah, the most northerly of the seven Emirates that make up the UAE, can provide all the requirements. As Uzbek tour guide Avaz Mamirov drove the 4×4 north along the coast we soon passed RAK Ceramics, the biggest industry around (you see their china in more and more top luxury hotels around the world – the company, with annual turnover of over $1 billion, is now chaired by Abdullah Massaad, son of the interesting founding Chairman, Khater Massaad).
Ras Al-Khaimah has an unusual past. Home of the Al Qasimi family for generations, its fleet was largely destroyed in a famous 1809 battle when British ships sailed from what was then Bombay to stop pirates raiding shipping in the Straits of Hormuz. But the Brits famously failed to overcome Ras Al-Khaimah’s Dhayah Fort, the remains of which today form what is claimed to be the only authentic fort in the entire Emirates (we climbed up to the Fort, a full 246 steps in a temperature of around 30 degrees, for spectacular views). The Al Qasimi family took their territory away from neighbouring Sharjah in 1972, and Ras Al-Khaimah became an Emirate in its own right.
Since 2010 the Emirate has been ruled by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, who continues his late father’s guideline not to expand too fast. Do not go the Dubai route, seems to be the marching cry. As a result many other Emiratis come to Ras Al-Khaimah at weekends, for an escape to the countryside (it does feel like a village, with a mere 350,000 population). Ras Al-Khaimah has beautiful beaches, wild desert countryside, and Hajar Mountains that include the Emirates’ highest, Jebel Jais, 6,345 feet ASL – warning, it is a quite tortuous road, even to get to its base. McKinsey has advised that Ras Al-Khaimah should maximize its unique qualities, and that winding road passes what will be the world’s longest zipline, 2.6 km in all, opening next month.
There will be three ziplines, and a Via Ferrato extreme-sports route, maximum three hours’ climbing and ziplining around mountain cliffs. For other adventurers, Ras Al-Khaimah offers abseiling, mountain and speed cycling, and a host of water sports. We, in the form of my friends Avaz, and Joyce Fernandez, preferred leisurely driving around Al Marjan man-made islands, and into the Awafi Desert and the foothills of the mountains. And then we had a picnic, sitting on a Syrian rug and dipping into a Fortnum and Mason wicker hamper to try smoked salmon sandwiches and other delicacies prepared by Yansoon, the Emirate’s most popular local restaurant (designed, coincidentally, by another friend, Bob Puccini). And after that the hour had arrived to return to my temporary-home luxury hotel, for a good workout in its gym. NOW SEE MY FORT CLIMB, BELOW