Bab Al Shams Near+Far rating: 9/10
Why Stay at Bab Al Shams
For a fun, family-friendly taste of the desert, a short drive from the city, you can’t do better than Bab Al Shams. And since the hotel’s recent renovation, the iconic and much-loved property has re-opened with a bang, offering an eclectic mix of velvet, gold and marble amongst the desert dunes. Spread across 16 two-storey buildings, the 115-room resort is the longest-running desert escape in the UAE (launched in 2004) and a popular weekend staycation spot. Arabic for ‘Gateway to the Sun’, much of Bab Al Shams’ favourite features remain the same, including the stunning swimming pool, the iconic Al Hadheerah restaurant, feature archways and the exterior facade. Many of the rooms boast private courtyards dotted with swaying desert palm trees – visitors can also opt for a suite with views straight out to the sand dunes. You’ll still find camels and belly dancers – a highlight to many when it comes to a desert escape – but alongside that, there is a more subtle approach to ‘Arabia’, an elevated F&B offering and a bit more style.
Roughly a 30-minute drive from the heart of Dubai, Bab Al Shams sits on the edge of the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, the largest un-fenced nature reserve in the UAE. A stone’s throw from the 86-kilometre Al Qudra Cycle Track, you’ll often find cyclists sitting beside you enjoying breakfast at the weekend. The hotel is also close to the Al Qudra Lakes, housing large flocks of flamingos and Egyptian geese and Dubai International Endurance City, home to a collection of stables and training facilities.
Being set amongst the sand dunes has its advantages – one including the ability to easily go off-road and explore the desert by car. Bab Al Shams has a fleet of smart new Land Rover Discoveries where they can whisk you away to spot Arabian oryxes, sand gazelles and, of course, camels.
Rooms & suites 9/10
The resort blends seamlessly into the surroundings with 115 lavish rooms and suites housed in 16 two-storey buildings. Styled to mirror an Arabian fortified village, the design allows for plenty of shade, deflects the harsh desert sunlight, and keeps interiors cool. Coloured to match the landscape, rooms are connected with winding pathways and water features with plenty of palms and ghaf trees to keep passengers travelling by foot cool.
The new rooms are a highlight for me – having visited the resort several times prior to the refurbishment, the lighter, fresher and chicer rooms make staying a Bab Al Shams a total treat. You’ll still find Arabian design touches mixed with soft patterned rugs, rich pops of velvet and beautiful arched windows. Gone are the heavy textiles and dark wood furniture, replaced with a lighter palette, exposed beams and sleek furniture. The beds no longer resemble a rock and have been replaced with buttery soft sheets and comfortable beds, and the bathrooms have large mirrors, oversized baths and stunning marble mosaics in the shower and on the walls.
Food & drink 7/10
As expected, the dining offering has been elevated, and whilst I am saddened that the Indian restaurant is no more, the new restaurants do not disappoint. Al Hadheerah remains similar, offering Middle Eastern cuisine under the stars with nightly entertainment from dancers and musicians. Two new restaurants have popped up – the first, the resort’s contemporary Ottoman and Greek-inspired eatery, Zala, which is open all day (the breakfast is spectacular!) And the brand-new Anwa Sunset Lounge, where you can sip a cocktail or two while soaking up the sweeping desert views and enjoying some Asian-inspired food.
Afternoon tea is delicious and served at the lobby lounge daily, whilst Ya Hala – a speakeasy-style lounge – offers an impressive cigar collection. Over at the Pool Bar, drinks and snacks are served right to your sun lounger, and the popular swim-up pool bar remains intact.
Spa & facilities: 9/10
Despite its renovation, some favourite features of the original site remain, including the desert infinity pool. However, around the pool, plush sun loungers await with private cabana options and a pool bar. There is also a brand-new spa, The Desert Spa featuring rejuvenating treatments and mindful therapies inspired by diverse world traditions and contemporary techniques.
The resort also tends to families with a variety of break-out spaces and activities, beginning with a dedicated experience lounge, Kid’s Club housing a selection of board games, movies, and outdoor sand adventure playground featuring children’s zip line, offering a multi-generational resort experience.
I was pleasantly surprised with the result of the refurbishment. I have long been a fan of Bab Al Shams but was aware the hotel needed a large refresh – Kerzner International has done a fantastic job of keeping the soul of the hotel alive whilst adding an update that was so desperately needed. A great spot for a holiday, staycay or quick day-cay, the hotel is great for families, friends and couples alike and is also large enough for you to hide away, if calm and quiet is what you are craving. The service is also sensational – the staff are eager to help, confidently friendly, and genuinely interested in making your stay as perfect as possible.
Low season doubles from AED720 per night, high season from AED1,530; Bab Al Shams, A Rare Finds Desert Resort, Al Qudra Road – opposite Endurance City – Dubai; book now