Grand designs

Bab Al Shams ... unique desert resort

SOME hotels take over ancient palaces. Some construct traditional forts and castles.

And, still others, choose to recreate bygone eras. By all accounts, more and more hotels are indulging discerning guests and transporting them back in time even as they wallow in the lap of modern-day luxuries. In other words, the hospitality industry around the world has woken up to the fact that its future lies in the past!
And the Middle East is no exception. Earlier this year, residents of the UAE got their first ‘real’ taste of a truly royal experience with the opening of Jumeirah International’s Al Qasr (The Palace), the second grand boutique hotel at Madinat Jumeirah, The Arabian Resort. And, late last month, the award-winning Dubai-based luxury hospitality group, opened the gates to its latest offering: Bab Al Shams, an elegant desert resort in a traditional Arabic fort setting. 

BAB AL SHAMS: Magical experience
Even though the design and feel of Bab Al Shams, which translates into ‘The Gateway to the Sun’, is set back in time in a totally rustic environment, it has all the trappings that you would expect from a luxury, five-star property. After Al Maha Desert Resorts, owned by Emirates, this is the second such exclusive resort located in the middle of the desert.
Just a half-hour drive from Burj Al Arab, The Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Madinat Jumeirah, the desert resort and spa, more than holds its own against its sister properties. Surrounded by natural landscaping, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa is an architectural wonder that boasts 115 guestrooms in 16 double-storeyed, exclusively designed individual buildings.
Its traditional Gulf décor, which appeals to both international and GCC travellers who wish to enjoy Arabian hospitality in a traditional, yet comfortable surrounding, is accentuated by the use of natural stones, dark wood and Arabian glasswork. What’s more, all rooms and suites situated on the ground floor of the hotel have direct garden access and most of the rooms and suites on the first floor feature private balconies or terraces.
However, But Bab Al Shams not only offers feast for the eyes, it is also a gourmet’s delight with a variety of restaurants and bars including Al Hadheerah, the region’s first authentic open air Arabic Desert Restaurant, which boasts a fine-dining experience combined with live Arabic entertainment including a henna-painter, shisha area and falcon display, the Al Sarab Rooftop Bar & Lounge and Al Forsan, an all-day dining restaurant.
But that’s not all. Whilst relaxing at the desert retreat, guests can take advantage of the extensive recreational health and leisure facilities including the luxurious Satori Spa, featuring indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, a well-equipped gymnasium, a local heritage and art display in the lobby lounge, a desert-side swimming pool and bar with breathtaking views and an activity club dedicated exclusively for children.
“Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa will offer guests a unique Arabian desert experience,” claims Bill Walshe, corporate director of sales and marketing for Jumeirah International. He couldn’t be more right.

EMIRATES PALACE: Regal splendour
While Bab Al Shams promises a magical experience in the middle of the desert, the Emirates Palace Hotel – less than an hour’s drive away – is sure to take your breath away with its sheer grandeur. Set to open its doors in Abu Dhabi this month, this grand property is billed as the most impressive hotel and conference venue ever to be built in the Middle East.
Showcasing the beauty of traditional Arabian culture like no other property, Emirates Palace will give guests a chance to indulge in their royal fantasies. An architectural marvel, it has been built in the style of an Oriental palace – the colours of the facade of the grand property represent different nuances of the sands of the Arabian desert – and, indeed, it is a sight to behold!
The government of Abu Dhabi-owned property will be managed by Kempinski Hotels & Resorts, the oldest European luxury hotel group with a vast experience in managing legendary properties such as the Adlon in Berlin, Ciragan Palace in Istanbul, Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg and the Leela Palaces in India to name a few. A luxurious retreat, Emirates Palace is spread over one million square metres of beautifully-landscaped park with several open lawns exotic park – the palace itself will be 700 m long, while the rest consists of the 1.3 km beach, the landscaped park, the marina and the 7,000 sq m conference centre. (It is approximately a 2.5 km walk around Emirates Palace.)
Among the highlights of the hotel’s exterior are 114 distinctive domes – each dome is covered in blue mosaic glass tiles topped with gold finials. The largest dome, the Grand Atrium dome, is a 42m wide dome with a surface finish of silver and gold coloured glass mosaic tiles. On the apex sits a gold finial. The gazebo and main auditorium both have domes measuring 17m in diameter; the smaller domes range from 12m to 7m in diametre, with the smallest dome measuring 2.9m.
As for the magnificent interior design, there are acres and acres of gold leaf and the finest marble throughout the building. (For the record, 110,000 m3 of top quality marble was used in the construction including 13  different types from Italy, Spain, China and India.) Moreover, Emirates Palace houses a magnificent collection of 1,002 chandeliers made with Swarovski’s premier Strauss crystals and it will have no less than 102 lifts at the guests’ service.
Elegant and opulent in a contemporary Arabian style, the hotel has two wings spreading out from each side of the central Palace. It boasts 302 deluxe luxury rooms and 92 grand suites – which come equipped with plasma TVs in each room, a wireless internet network that covers the entire property, a fully-interactive TV system and electronic programming guides. The various types of accommodation include coral, pearl and diamond rooms and park view and ocean view rooms, with tranquil colour combinations of light blue, gold and crème in silk upholstery, brightened up by honey brown wooden veneer and marble floorings.
Besides 20 food and beverage outlets (to be opened in phases), two spas (one in each of the east and west wings) and two landscaped pools (one free-form pool and one adventure pool), huge landscaped parks, a selection of designer shops, a helipad and a large marina for the finest yachts, Emirates Palace also has the region’s most sophisticated meeting and conference facilities.
The Emirates Palace Conference Centre houses some of the largest, most luxurious and technologically-advanced meeting facilities in the region – its total meeting and conference space exceeds 7,000 sq m, including a state-of-the-art auditorium for 1,300 people, the country’s largest ballroom, a high-tech media centre and 30 additional meeting rooms. Additionally, six large terraces and a number of pre-function areas will provide plenty of possibilities for cocktail receptions and banquets.
The meeting rooms boast of high-tech equipment such as plasma screen, wireless microphones, portable touch screens, wireless and fixed internet access. The ballroom alone features 12 plasma screens, projectors, special stage with sub-woofer and special sound systems, broadcast connectivity, camera connectivity and special lighting.
With landmark conference facilities, Emirates Palace is largely targeting the MICE market. However, as the grand hotel gets ready to roll out the red carpet, the rich and famous and everyone else in between who wants to be whisked into a world worthy of royalty and experience the finest Arab hospitality – when open, there will be over 1,000 staff members representing approximately 50 nationalities at hand to offer the finest service – can add a grand new address.