Dubai’s towering skyline has erupted from the desert in just two decades, and if you’re one of the ten million tourists who visit each year you’ll know that it’s a town built on excess. It’s a city of glass summoned into reality in the middle of a desert. Pity the tireless window cleaners. Everything must be bigger and grander than everything else that’s gone before – and after a while, it all gets a bit much. When a man is tired of Dubai, where does he go?
Ras Al-Khaimah – an hour’s drive or a short hop on a seaplane – is positioning itself as the new alternative destination within the United Arab Emirates. If Dubai is where you go to shop, party and date, Ras Al-Khaimah is where you retreat to unwind in real luxury. At the Emirate’s flagship Waldorf Astoria, even the trained falcons that keep the pigeons from defacing the roof are fed only quail.
The 346-room beachfront hotel, which opened last August, is just as sprawling and as opulent as you’d expect in a part of the world where there’s plenty of land and apparently no shortage of marble. It looks and feels like a palace, so it’s no surprise when we spot Ras Al-Khaimah’s ruler Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi over sushi at its Japanese restaurant UMI.
There’s a decent cocktail bar on the 17th floor, but with much less of a nightlife scene than Dubai what the Waldorf Astoria really lends itself to is a couples’ retreat. The charming personal concierge was more than happy to provide roses for the room – £41 for a dozen, although they turned their noses up at spreading them on the bed (plays havoc with the linen, apparently). They can also arrange a private dining area at Marjan, the Middle Eastern restaurant overseen by Lebanese celebrity chef Joe Barza, or organise a champagne-fuelled cruise on the Arabian gulf onboard Tony Fresco’s Freedom catamaran. There are several pools, the well-appointed spa offers a “VIP couples’ journey” and the bathroom provisions mean you never have any excuse for not smelling as Salvatore Ferragamo intended.
Less than a decade ago the main industry here was pearl diving, and companies like RAK Pearl can still let you prise your very own trophies from oyster shells. However, to really impress your date head inland into the Arabian desert where – with another quiet word to the concierge – you can arrange to explore the seemingly endless horizons by 4×4 until you see, as if by mirage, the hotel’s own staff waiting to serve high tea atop the dunes. Alternatively, maybe a champagne reception would be more appropriate – after all, it seems only right to take advantage of Ras Al-Khaimah’s offer of a certain style of decadence that Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia himself, would surely have approved.
Originally published by British GQ.