7 ways to do Ras Al Khaimah
The city staycation is all well and good – and both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have a plethora of magnificent options – but for a sense of real escape, where the view from your hotel window isn’t ostensibly the same as that from your apartment, it’s always best to head north.
In a little over an hour, Dubai residents can trade the gleaming cityscapes for the mountain-fringed coastline, spectacular valleys and unspoilt deserts of Ras Al Khaimah, a sleepy emirate that, however you experience it, provides a genuine break from the routine.
As we approach the last few weeks of summer, we have come up with six sensational ways to get the most out of RAK.
The Cove Rotana
More of a village than a hotel, the Cove Rotana has the feel of one of those all-inclusive Mediterranean resorts that families from Derby and Dortmund return to year after year – an all-purpose, one-size-fits-all destination tumbling down into the sea that offers a range of activities, accommodations and amenities.
It is the sort of place that, having opened the door to your room, invites you to immediately spread around the contents of your suitcase as though you’ve already been there three weeks. Why stay one night when you can decamp for seven?
Its appeal is essentially threefold.
Firstly, there’s the overwhelming sense of calm. Its low villa-style rooms, whether surrounded by lagoons or landscaped gardens of bougainvillea and incarvillea, occupy such a large area that the ambience is one of total repose, completely detached from the town and main highway that lie behind the dune on which the reception building stands.
Secondly, and in addition to the two excellent pools, there’s an enormous stretch of beach, onto which the sea crashes at high-tide with surprising force, and which hosts all manner of water sports, including paragliding and paddle boarding.
Thirdly, there’s the privacy of the large, high-ceilinged lagoon-side villas, with sitting room, kitchenette and its very own plunge pool on the terrace.
In terms of food, most people opt for the all-day dining standards of Cinnamon, although the Italian restaurant Basilico is one of the better places to eat in town.
Indeed, another of the Cove’s plus point is its proximity to the rest of Ras Al Khaimah, meaning you put that statement to the test. The city centre malls, the water park and the various amenities of the other hotels are only a short taxi-ride away. Trust us, you’ll drive away on a Saturday lunchtime wondering why you didn’t book for longer.
Price: Rooms from AED700
Contact: +971 7 206 6000, website
Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah
Dubai is hardly short of fabulous spas, but the temple of head-to-toe pampering at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, the beachfront resort of 346 refined and generously proportioned rooms, is worth packing your overnight bag for. With an under-the-sea theme, the spa features calming blue and cream hues with mother of pearl detailing, floor-to-ceiling windows allowing lots of natural light and a soundtrack reminiscent of the sea (minus the whale songs).
There are 12 treatment rooms, along with an ultra-luxurious private spa suite and thermal area with aroma steam, sauna and a herbal bath. With nearly 50 treatments to choose from, the most taxing part of your mini-break will be deciding which treatment to plump for.
The spa uses organic seaweed products from the Irish brand Voya, and powerful, science-based formulations from QMS Medicosmetics. Try the signature Precious Pearl treatment, a 90-minute facial incorporating “the power of the pearl” that promises to plump and revive tired looking skin. We can vouch for it.
The spa also offers pre- and post-natal treatments, making it a great place for a babymoon or an indulgent treat for frazzled mums. If you can’t be bothered leaving your room, there are in-room treatments and a fragrance master who can recreate the Zen-like atmosphere of the spa with the signature rose, mint and jasmine scent, or a bespoke fragrance to spray over your pillow to ensure you sleep like a baby.
And, if you’re still having trouble de-stressing, the bath master will draw your bath at the end of the day, or any time of day for that matter, with a bath infusion of your choice, such as the luxurious milk and honey bath that will leave your skin as soft as Cleopatra’s.
Aside from the spa, of course, the Waldorf has 10 restaurants and lounges, a 350-metre stretch of private beach and two tennis courts. It’s a place you might never want to leave.
Price: Doubles from AED1,400
Contact: +9717 203 5555, website
Banyan Tree Al Wadi
You’ve probably done one of the many half-day desert safaris, complete with wild dune bashing and “authentic” belly dancing, but for a more indulgent experience, this peaceful desert retreat hidden among rolling dunes and ghaf trees of Ras Al Khaimah has all the right ingredients.
traight out of a modern-day 1001 Arabian Nights fantasy, the resort is made up of tented and mud brick-style villas, ranging in size to suit couples, families and small groups. Each one comes with a private pool and Arabesque décor, such as lattice woodwork panels and carvings.
Surrounded by the 100-hectare Al Wadi Nature Reserve, Ras Al Khaimah’s first fully protected desert area, you can venture out into the saffron-gold sands of the Arabian desert on horseback for your very own Lawrence of Arabia moment, or sign up for a more leisurely camel safari.
The reserve is home to three indigenous antelope species – the sand gazelle known as reem, the Arabian gazelle known as domain, and the endangered Arabian oryx or maha – and you’ll spot these graceful creatures as they roam by your villa or drink by the resort’s watering hole.
There’s also a fantastic falconry centre, an impressive stables for horse riding, sunrise and sunset yoga sessions, archery lessons and paths stretching out into the desert that you can explore on two legs or two wheels.
The desert also provides a stunning backdrop to a romantic torch-lit dinner à deux in the shadow of the stone watchtower. Alternatively, you can try the excellent Saffron, their signature Thai restaurant.
The Banyan Tree brand is of course famous for its spa and you can indulge in all manner of relaxing and rejuvenating treatments in the lavish spa pavilion, a complete state-of-the-art hydrotherapy facility. Meanwhile, the sister beach resort is a 20-minute drive away with snorkelling, water-skiing, wake-boarding and sailing all on offer.
Price: AED3,087 for Al Rimal Pool Villa
Contact: +9717 206 7777, website
Hilton Al Hamra Golf Resort & Spa
Designed by Dubai-based golf course architect, Peter Harradine – AKA “The Golfather” – Al Hamra’s par-72 course meanders around four lagoons and has excellent views of the Hajar Mountains and Arabian Gulf on almost every fairway.
t remains one of the more attractive courses in the UAE.
Take your camera as well as your clubs for Hole 3, one of its feature holes; a challenging par-5 on which you need to avoid the water from the tee, while the second shot needs to land short of the creek that protects the front edge of the green.
The intimidating par-5 18th is, though, the course’s signature hole. It is both extremely long and a nightmare for anyone with a natural fade in their swing: a sweeping lagoon borders the entire hole down the right. You have been warned.
Also, as we head into summer, the course is fully floodlit, so you can also tee off after the sun goes down. And if you’re just getting into golf, or looking to improve your game, there are PGA pros on hand for lessons, as well as a short game facility that includes designated bunkers, pitching, chipping and putting areas to fine-tune your skills.
The resort itself is a mix of modern beachfront villas and rooms overlooking the gardens or golf course. There are eight restaurants and lounges Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Lounge is a popular choice for residents and hotel guests – plus the restaurants, marina and mall of Al Hamra Village to explore. There’s also plenty to keep golf widows/widowers entertained, from chilling out by the temperature-controlled pools or lazing on the private beach, to playing a game of tennis or relaxing in the spa.
Price: Doubles from AED349
Contact: +9717 244 6666, website
Al Nadiyah Beach
For all its sophistication and luxury, sometimes the best of the UAE can be found in its less polished environments.
The stretch of public beach adjacent to the Bin Majed holiday resort might be located in the heart of the city, just as the coast-hugging E11 intersects with Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Road, but it is an ideal place to park up, unpack the sleeping mats and camp out under the stars – untroubled by neighbours or noise after the sun has gone down.
It’s pretty easy to find. Approaching from Dubai on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, you take a right onto E11, drive for 8km until you reach the clock roundabout, U-turn and after 1.5km pick out Reedan Restaurant.
Stock up on one of their fresh juices and, behind the dune, you will be astonished by the pristine beach and clear blue ocean water that awaits you on the other side. Pick your spot and settle in.
If there is one part of the United Arab Emirates that begs to be explored in a huge 4x4 with a tent, swimming gear and coolbox in the back seat, it’s Ras Al Khaimah.
The most rugged corner of the country and home of the Emirati half of the Hajar Mountains, it is the off-roaders adventure playground, with a range of wadis and creeks to explore – whether on foot or behind the wheel of an all-terrain vehicle.
A great introduction to all that RAK has to offer is Wadi Shawka, one of the most epic places to go for a rock crawl or water crossing drive in Ras Al Khaimah – if not the whole of the UAE, especially after the kind of rain we’ve been experiencing recently.
It’s popularity is hardly a secret and on Fridays in particular there are a number of families and tourists gathering but certain areas of the Wadi are only accessible by a 4x4 and a skilled off-road driver, so with the right gear and an adventurous spirit, you should have the place to yourself in no time.
To get to Wadi Shawka from Dubai, you’ll need to take the E66 highway towards Al-Ain and then take E611 until, after 26km, you reach the Sharjah-Kalba highway (Maliha Road). Take that and after around 50km or so, you’ll find the Wadi Shawka sign – take the exit, left and the first T-junction and you’re soon in the midst of the wadi.
There are a number of routes to take to explore the rocky terrain and creeks pouring down the mountains – some of which will have created deep pools in which you can swim.
As long as you have a full tank of petrol, plenty of water and a GPS – and an awareness of the potential for flash-floods – you can spend the day here getting to know all the back routes.
Google Map reference: 25.035494, 56.021077
Rixos Bab Al Bahr
Rixos Bab Al Bahr The Rixos Bab Al Bahr on Marjan Island has made much of its desire to attract guests from the emirates further to the south each summer – and have largely succeeded, with weekends in May and June pretty much fully booked.
The private beach here is 345-metres long and sprinkled with private cabanas, while the resort also has a total of seven swimming pools – three outdoor, one adults only, one for kids and two spa pools for men and women respectively. If you have time, take a long, slow Turkish-style hammam in the resort’s Anjana Spa. There’s tons of restaurants too, so foodies will have no problem satiating their hunger.
Where: Al Marjan Island, Ras Al Khaimah
Price: From AED900 per night
Contact: +971 7 202 0000, website