Anantara has three resorts on Sir Bani Yas Island, 8km from the coast of Abu Dhabi, some 250 km from the main Abu Dhabi International Airport, all offering something different.
The Desert Islands property is the largest (with 64 rooms and suites), welcoming children and with a full water sports centre, several restaurants, tennis courts and an adjoining conference centre of corporate retreats.
A five-minute drive away is the more intimate Al Yamm (no children under 12), just 30 villas on a sweep of beach and one restaurant and, just opening in December, the 30-villa Al Sahel resort in the park. To read about the attractions of Sir Bani Yas Island, click here.
WHAT'S IT LIKE?
A luxury coastal resort only 25 minutes flight or two hour’s drive from Abu Dhabi, but a whole world away from the bright lights of the city or Yas Island. The location on a vast white coral beach sets the tone, with all the villas and public areas looking out to the beach and the Arabian Gulf, while behind the land gradually rises to the hills of the nature reserve.
There’s a simple, almost austere feel to the place, half Arabian beach house and half luxury resort, with the inspiration coming from an Emirati fishing village, albeit one with five-star luxury.
The lobby has a library of books on Abu Dhabi and the nature and wildlife, and there’s lots of natural stone, wood, and even rope motifs throughout the resort. The staff are superb, often anticipating needs, and jumping in the golf buggies to shuttle people around the resort whenever needed.
The hotel has a central pool around which the main house gathers itself, and also a spa bath area just off this pool. The whole place is very peaceful, not least since guests seem to rarely leave their villas – many of which have their own plunge pools and large terraces.
WHERE IS IT?
On the eastern edge of Sir Bani Yas Island, the nature reserve island created by His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late ruler and founding father of the United Arab Emirates.
It’s an incredible project, which surely would only be possible in the UAE, since ever single tree and animal on the islands depends on desalinated water being pumped through to the island from the mainland to sustain the flora and fauna of the island, much of which is endangered, but flourishing on the island 8km off the coast of Abu Dhabi, 250 km from Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The nature reserve alone has 300 full time employees – everything from guides and park rangers to a full time vet, and guests to the islands can explore using a variety of options (see below). It’s possible to drive, or fly with Rotana Jet which runs a service several times each week from the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi (prices are around £200 per person return).
There are just 30 villas, all of which face the Arabian Gulf. To the south they face a mangrove lagoon with the sea beyond, while to the north you are directly on the beach.
The Emirati fishing village-vibe continues in the rooms, which have that sun-bleached feeling of a coastal cottage to it, although that would be one with air conditioning, free wifi, iPod chargers, Lavazza coffee machines and fine percale cotton sheets on the bed.
There is a choice of one bedroom villas (50sqm with 18sqm of terrace), one-bedroom pool villas (with a plunge pool – same size as the one bedroom villas) and two-bedroom pool villas, which are huge with 150sqm of living space and a roof top terrace for views back across the nature reserve towards the hills in the centre of the island and along the white sand beach.
At the time of our visit in late October, the air conditioning wasn’t particularly needed, but the controls in the room were quite difficult to understand, and without labels, the panel controlling the lighting was inscrutable, though I was told they were considering solutions to this.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
There is just one restaurant – the all-day dining Olio – a la carte (though with an option of a buffet breakfast with cooked items ordered separately).
Guests can also get a complimentary shuttle five minutes along the coast to the Desert Islands resort and dine at one of the five restaurants there - Al Shams, The Palm, Samak, Savannah Grill and Amwaj - signing it back to the villa at Al Yamm.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES
None really, though there is a conference centre at the sister resort five minutes drive away.
There’s a huge range here, with the resorts having a small gym but also access to all the activities of the larger Desert Islands Resort a five-minute (complimentary transfer) drive along the coast.
So, as well as that resort having an Anantara Spa and larger workout room over there, guests can take advantage of the activities programme on the island.
There are nature and wildlife drives in 4x4 vehicles to go out and look at the giraffes, gazelles, hyenas, oryx and cheetahs in their natural environment, nature and wildlife walks including a wadi walk along a dried river bed, mountain biking, horse riding from the equestrian centre, deep sea fishing, snorkelling and diving (apparently there are sunken cars to explore somewhere off the coast) kayaking, archery and most incredibly, a visit at an ongoing archaeological excavation close to the resort where in the 1990s the remains of an early Christian Nestorian monastery dating back to the 6th Century have been found.
Ideal both for a short break for those visiting (or living in) Abu Dhabi, or for a longer break in the area, it’s a fabulous destination, with the majority of the island being a nature reserve for endangered species.
- HOW MANY ROOMS? 30 villas, one or two-bedrooms.
- HIGHLIGHTS plunge pools stepping straight out on the white coral beach, free wifi, total peace and quiet
- PRICE from AED1870 (£310) per night for a one-bedroom villa.
- CONTACT Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Yamm Villa Resort, P.O. Box 12452, Al Ruwais, Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE Tel: +971 (0)2 801 4200 Fax: +971 (0)2 801 4208; al-yamm.anantara.com