A weekend on Sir Bani Yas Island

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If you’re anything like us you’ll enjoy a getaway with a bit of a difference. Angela Beitz packs her bags and heads off to the Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa for a magical 48 hours of sun, surf and safari.

Set on the remote and beautiful haven of Sir Bani Yas Island, the largest island just off the coast of Abu Dhabi and housing the once private Royal Nature Reserve of HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers travellers a very special island escape where they can enjoy leisure time along with loads of activities. A former palace on Sir Bani Yas Island, Desert Islands has 64 bedrooms decorated in chic Arabian style while their beach and royal villas have private swimming pools.

Since the death of Sheikh Zayed in 2004, Sir Bani Yas has been transformed into a wildlife park where daily safaris are offered. More than 350 kilometres of original fencing has been torn down to create an ‘open range’ safari feel on the refurbished island. Some creatures, such as the athletic sand gazelles, roam wild – hence the 50km/h speed limit on the single lane, paved road – while others, such as cheetahs, are contained in sprawling, expansive pens.

Dining
You’ll have no choice but to eat in the hotel while staying here – it is quite literally in the middle of the nowhere. Don’t fear though, because you’ll be spoilt for choice with the food on offer. You can choose from a huge breakfast buffet at The Palm all-day-dining restaurant where the friendly chefs will whip you up a made-to-order omelette. For dinner there are a few options. Their signature restaurant Samak serves up an abundance of seafood such as king crab, prawns and a wealth of fish. The other equally good option for dinner is the newly-opened Amwaj. Set right on the beach, a small walk from the hotel, you’ll find a tapas-style menu with options spanning Asian, Arabic and International flavours. Make sure you finish your meal off with some of the amazing homemade ice-cream. The décor is pretty special with cosy, oversized chairs and sofas on the terrace creating a relaxed vibe that makes you feel a world away from Abu Dhabi. There’s also a very good poolside beach bar, Al Shams, which serves icy cold mocktails and equally delicious food.

Accommodation
At the top end of the accommodation choices are a royal villa, four beach villas and two junior suites but most guests will be content with the airy comfort of the standard rooms with their broad balconies overlooking the sea and the sprawling pool. The bath tubs are big enough to swim in and the rooms are decked out with a Nespresso machine, high-end bath products and luxury linens. The lobby is scattered with antiques, Arabian art and lanterns. Its exterior windtowers and Arabesque arches offer the distinct air of Arabian, Asian and African influences, apparently designed to look as if Sheikh Zayed himself decorated it with exotic artefacts from his travels. All rooms have large balconies and each enjoys a breezy view of the sea, while the royal villas have a private plunge pool and direct access to the beach. Then there’s the luxurious Safaa Spa, not to mention the stunning infinity pool that’s mere steps from the sand.

Activities
Guests have a host of nature-based activities to choose from, including a brisk mountain bike ride, a kayaking expedition through peaceful mangrove lagoons or snorkeling in the clear waters to spot dugongs, sea turtles and tropical fish. The most popular excursion, however, is the early morning game drive. Piling into an open air jeep the tour explores the island’s game parks, where you can spot hundreds of sand gazelles and the UAE’s largest herd of endangered Arabian oryx. We have an interesting encounter with a friendly ostrich named Sweetie that has two very cute babies. She certainly wasn’t shy. So much so that she came all the way over and stuck her head right into the jeep. The highlight though would have to have been the two slinky cheetahs that were prowling around the jeep and the beautiful giraffes that were gathered in a group having their breakfast. They have recently introduced horse riding too, catering for all kinds of riders whether its your first time or you’re more experienced.

If you’re a water sports fan then you must visit the new centre which offers a range of activities including scuba-diving, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling and much, much more.

Leisure
The Safaa Spa is designed around treatments inspired by ancient Bedouin culture and desert traditions. Indulge in an assortment of deeply invigorating rituals and modern day spa treatments to kickstart your relaxing stay.

There are six treatment rooms in the amazing spa facility which look out to the beach through large windows. There are fresh flowers everywhere and we are offered chilled ginger tea and dates upon arrival, which is a nice touch. We tried the signature treatment called Sands of Time which is a 120 minute massage using hot sand packs to massage your entire body. This was the perfect start to our weekend and it left us feeling on top of the world.

How to get there
By car: The resort is located just 8km off the Abu Dhabi western coastline and 250km from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Should you wish to drive, follow the E11 highway directly from Abu Dhabi or Dubai in the direction of Tarif and Mirfa. Continue straight until you pass Tarif, Mirfa and Baynoona. Take the exit marked Al Ruwais (Exit 142) and continue until you pass Al Ruwais, after which follow signs to the right for Jebel Dhana and then for Sir Bani Yas Island. Take the second U-turn from Jebel Dhana road and take the first right turn. At the end of the road there will be a roundabout. Follow the Sir Bani Yas/Desert Islands sign that will lead you to Jebel Dhana jetty. Guests can park their car in a safe, covered area before boarding the water taxi for a ten-15 minute journey to Sir Bani Yas Island. This boat ride is complimentary for guests of Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara.
Rooms at Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa start at Dhs1,600 per night. Check the website for special summer discounts and packages www.desertislands.anantara.com (02 801 5400).

By Angela Beitz
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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User reviews:

Posted by: Me on 11 Mar ' 15 at 17:14

Edited by TimeOutAbuDhabi.com

Hi there, wish you would have put some emphasis on this island being a very important nesting site for marine turtles. Hopefully the island doesn't get spoiled by ignorant tourists not having that in mind. Best