It was time to head to one of Ras Al Khaimah’s desert camps, the luxury Banyan Tree Al Wadi, not far from Bassata Desert Camp and the Bedouin Oasis Camp. Banyan Tree is an enormous area of undulating palest-cream sand, some 247 acres in all, bordered by a metre-high packed-sand wall to keep out marauding wildlife – and to keep in the elegant gazelles that grace the place. The six-year old luxury hotel has a total of 101 villas, either 1,600 sq ft, which can be connected to neighbouring villas, or the larger 2,600 sq ft villas, which are all independent (the gal loved the latter, because of the absolutely huge bathrooms, with glass-sided central showers).
But regardless of size all villas have something in common. All come with bicycles. The villas all look like tents as they have encompassing flysheets over their main roofs. All have sizeable royal-blue pools, glistening in the otherwise-off-white landscape under the baking UAE sun. Inside the villas, all are low-tech, high touch, which means light switches are easy to see, and the simple up-down on-off variety. Telephones are, similarly, sensibly landline, and easy to use. Actually all the villas are so attractive that, as GM Axel Jarosch says, there is above-par private dining, either in the villas or outside, on terraces that are absolutely private except for the occasional gazelle dropping by.
In my short visit, I took a quick tour around – SEE THE VIDEO BELOW – and I had a fabulous treatment in one of the ten spa rooms. High ceilings and subdued light gave a feeling of peace to the whole experience, and I gather that all the therapists are retrained on a regular basis. And then I had lunch with Neda Carrillo, when we talked at length about food in Ras Al Khaimah while the chef composed a magnificent salad, a slate covered with masses of grilled marinated vegetables topped with slices of grilled halloumi cheese.
I later found out that halloumi is originally Cypriot, and it is about 25% fat – to burn off the calories from 20 gram of halloumi you need to run for five minutes, or walk for 17 minutes – never mind, it is worth it. I was seen off from this gorgeous luxury retreat by both Axel Jarosch and Neda Carrillo, and my Uzbek driver started along the route to Abu Dhabi. Some commute this way every weekend, which must be a real toil when the traffic is heavy. Today we are lucky. We should do the 225 km to Abu Dhabi in two and a half hours. We do. NOW SEE THE VIDEO BELOW