Habitas AlUla Near+Far rating: 8.5/10
Why stay at Habitas AlUla
Habitas AlUla’s opening in 2021 was one of the most anticipated hotel openings the region has ever seen, opening in an ancient desert landscape once home to the great Nabatean civilisation and a key trading hub on the Incense Route, but one that had remained relatively unseen by tourists’ eyes. That was until the launch of Saudi Arabia’s e-visa and the Kingdom’s kick into overdrive to develop its myriad cultural and natural treasures – one being AlUla, located on the western shores of the Kingdom inland from the Red Sea. A handful of accommodations existed there, but Habitas’ opening marked a new dawn for the ancient city – a luxury, international brand was opening. Known for its bohemian resorts in Mexico’s Tulum and Namibia, Millennial-focused Habitas brings together a like-minded community of travellers with earthy, yet super-premium, accommodation and social spaces. Its eco-chic AlUla outpost lies in the heart of the Ashar Valley and comprises 96 villas hidden amongst the rocks and dunes. Habitas AlUla has a soul like few other hotels – with a big focus on social living and wellness programming – meaning guests leave feeling better than they arrive.
The location: 9/10
Habitas AlUla is set right in the heart of the protected Ashar Valley – an ethereal, otherworldly landscape of soaring rock formations and endless desert plains. From the property, it’s possible to explore the nearby ruins of the ancient Nabatean city of Hegra (of Petra fame) – a UNESCO World Heritage site and collection of 111 beautifully preserved carved tombs. The hotel is also around a 30-minute drive to AlUla Old Town, where you’ll find a maze of cobbled mud-brick buildings, trendy pop-ups, shopping and restaurants. AlUla International Airport is also a 30-minute drive away (with direct flight connections to Dubai and Saudi cities) – making it a very accessible hotel for a weekend escape.
The rooms: 8/10
In keeping with Habitas’ eco ethos, Habitas AlUla’s Guests stay in stylish container-like villas scattered across the vast swathes of sand, built on top of the land so as not to disturb the landscape (meaning they could, in theory, be packed up and the valley left just as it was). The villas – of which there are three categories – are eco-chic and natural but with traditional Saudi design touches like colourful outdoor majlis and woven blankets. Canyan villas have close-up views of the cliffs from their small private terraces, Alcove villas are slightly bigger with views of the sandstone canyons from their small private patios, and Celestial are the biggest – with decking, seating right in the sand and super spacious interiors – complete with a telescope for stargazing. An outdoor shower makes you feel even more connected with the stunning natural surroundings, and retro fittings and furnishings add a quirky and creative feeling to the rooms. There are no in-room televisions due to Habitas’ focus on community and bringing people together. All rooms come with super-powered e-bikes making getting around the vast resort a total breeze – and quite fun, too.
Food and drink: 7/10
As mentioned, part of Habitas’ DNA is to bring people together, so Habitas AlUla has just one restaurant, Tama. Translating to ‘here and now’ in Aramaic, the open-plan, airy and earthy restaurant is a triumph – infusing global and Middle Eastern cuisine using fresh local ingredients where possible and spices traded along the Incense Route. Breakfast is exceptionally moreish – and you can’t go a morning without trying the deliciously rich Levantine eggs. Be mindful that there’s no room service, as guests are encouraged to dine in the central social hub and not stay in their villas.
The spa and facilities: 8/10
Habitas AlUla’s vast infinity swimming pool is set against a striking backdrop of the desert rocks and offers ample opportunity for sunbathing – in sunken loungers or around the pool (bikinis and swimwear are all acceptable within the resort). The area is one of the most beautiful poolside in the region – and it’s easy to spend a few hours doing nothing but staring at the pale blue contrasting with the gold of the desert. After sunbathing, bike to Thuraya wellness centre for a yoga class, spa treatment or work out in the modern high-tech gym. Habitas AlUla offers a world-class programme of wellness classes and activations and hosts regular visiting professionals in various wellness and spiritual fields – making it possible to return repeatedly and always experience something different.
The vibe: 8/10
Cool and creative, though elevated, with a generally younger crowd found throughout the resort. Everyone seems to share (or be on board with) Habitas’ social and sustainable ethos, creating a sense of harmony that’s palpable across the resort. AlUla is a burgeoning art destination, and several installations from DesertX 2020 are still tucked away across the grounds – and curiosity and playfulness are encouraged – most apparent in the hotel’s hidden set of sunken trampolines and scattering of swings, which provide ample Instagram opportunities. The hotel also operates a second side, Caravan by Habitas, a glamping-style spot tucked away from the main resort with accommodation in chic Airstreams, food trucks and a more party vibe.
Habitas AlUla was the catalyst for a new era of tourism in AlUla, attracting a cool crowd of explorers, creatives, wellness lovers and adventurous from across the globe to explore the ancient Saudi valley. Though opening less than two years ago, the resort is full of heart and soul, from its charming staff to its warm public spaces. The villas may seem a little rustic temporary, but that’s part of the charm, and guests won’t want for anything when in residence (you won’t notice there’s no TV or have any desire for room service, trust us). Trampolines, art installations, visiting practitioners and special themed escapes (such as summer wellness weekends) make this one of the most exciting, and forward-thinking, properties not only in Saudi Arabia, but the region itself.
Villas from SAR2,000; ourhabitas.com