Weekends look a little different these days. With a toddler in the house, long gone are the lie-ins and late breakfasts. Instead, our Friday mornings now begin at a time when our Thursday nights used to end, as our daughter Francesca rises well before the sun.
And while romantic weekends à deux may be a thing of the past, we’ve recently discovered that luxury hotel stays don’t have to be ruled out entirely… you just have to find the right destination.
The three of us recently set off for a weekend getaway in Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost emirate in the UAE. Within half an hour’s drive, Dubai’s Blade Runner streetscapes give way to the beige landscapes of Sharjah, and soon after that it’s sand as far as the eye can see. Here in the Al Wadi Desert, wild camels wander beside the highway, and the sands take on a rich terracotta hue, swirling and sweeping across the road in whorls.
Within 90 minutes of leaving Dubai Marina, we’re pulling into the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, a luxe desert hideaway in the heart of the 500-hectare Al Wadi Nature Reserve. We’re led down a colonnaded breezeway to the lobby, a sun-drenched space of lanterns and lounges, with a 300-year-old Spanish olive tree at its heart. After check-in, where the staff don’t blink an eye at our grubby, watermelon-covered toddler, we’re whisked away in a golf cart to our Al Rimal Pool Villa.
There are 101 villas scattered throughout the resort, each with its own pool overlooking the nature reserve. Inside, carved wooden panels, lanterns and swathes of fabric draped from the ceiling give the impression that we’re staying in a Bedouin tent, albeit one with a bathroom as big as a studio apartment.
I leave Simon and Francesca splashing in the sapphire-blue swimming pool while I jump one of the retro bicycles parked out the front and pedal up to the spa for a massage. While I’m getting pummelled with exotic oils, Simon takes Francesca to see the hotel’s menagerie of camels, horses, gazelles and Arabian oryx, a majestic white antelope with tall, ramrod-straight antlers.
Dinner that night is an Arabian barbecue under the stars, where we feast on a banquet of dips, pickles and salads; pastries filled with salty cheese; tagines of chicken and vegetables; and smoky skewers of lamb, chicken and prawns straight off the grill. In a life before Francesca, Simon and I would have sat here for hours, revisiting the buffet and the open bar, but tonight we’re one of the first families to leave, heading back to the villa for a moonlight swim, followed by a soak in the oversized bathtub.
For couples looking for a back-to-nature staycation in the UAE, you’d be hard pressed to find a more romantic escape, but for such a luxurious retreat, the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah is surprisingly family friendly, with camel rides, falcon shows and a kids’ club providing endless distractions. We see children of all ages out with their parents on the upcycled bicycles, and each of the villas has two couches that could double as kids’ beds, plus ample room for
a cot. The staff has set up a cot for Francesca, which she uses for all of an hour before calling out to be brought into our king-size bed for the night.
At 6am, our little water baby is flapping her arms furiously, telling us that she’s ready for her first swim of the day. Outside, steam rises off the water, the dunes are hidden by a thick blanket of mist, and the only sound is the noise of birds flitting and chirping among the trees. It’s not often we’re grateful for Francesca’s early-morning wake-up calls, but today it feels like we’ve been let in on a secret.
It also means we’re one of the first tables at breakfast. Simon fills his plate with cakes, pastries and freshly baked breads, while I zero in on the Arabian fare: spinach fatayer pastries, dollops of hummus and labneh, thumb-sized sujuk sausages, hardboiled eggs and pita bread. As someone who’s never been big on breakfast cereals and toast, this mezze-style spread is right up my alley.
After breakfast, we jump in a golf buggy for a ride to the reserve’s wetland, then squeeze in one last swim before checkout. It’s been less than 24 hours since we set out from home, but such is the magic of this desert retreat, it feels like we’ve been away for days.