Jet-Set Bohemian: The Middle East's Desert Decadence

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Jet-Set Bohemian: The Middle East's Desert Decadence

A jetset lifestyle doesn’t have to be all private planes and decadent digs. In Paste Travel’s Jet-Set Bohemian series, we blend the best of high and low for just the right balance … enticing everyone from backpackers to luxury boutique hotel lovers to come along for the ride.

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Hopping in the back of an open-top, pale mustard yellow Land Rover, I tied my scarf Bedouin-style around my head in preparation for the evening’s desert wind. By day, the temperature in Dubai varies from hot to blood-boiling, but when you’re being chauffeured in air-conditioned cars from one spot to the next, you never really have to feel just how stiflingly dry the air is. Night, on the other hand, is a different story, especially as you cruise an hour out from the metallic city into the more barren parts of the desert that until only 50 years ago were still nomadic lands inhabited by the Bedouin people.

The Emirate is expanding at a rapid-fire pace constantly competing to have the world’s tallest skyscraper or Ferris wheel, but this city of superlatives is leaving one piece of its history untouched, setting aside an 87-square-mile piece of desert wilderness dotted with 6,000 indigenous trees and shrubs.

As the car raced across the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve’s Champagne-colored sand dunes that stretched into the horizon, we approached an oasis of palms surrounding a safari camp.

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Al Maha .jpg Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels

“That’s where royalty stays when they come to the desert,” the driver explained, pointing to the five-star Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa. Inspired by traditional Bedouin tented safari camps, the 42-suite resort seemed like a mirage, so out of place sitting majestically solo in the quiet desert sand.

Snagging this kind of five-star stay in the desert on some of the most picturesque dunes is becoming the Middle East’s version of Bedouin glamping, where you can arrive by camel or in more modern fashion in the back of a Maserati.

From the wooden deck of Al Maha’s Royal Suites’ private pools, you can stargaze from sun loungers or watch gazelles and Arabian oryx grazing nearby. The top-of-the-line tented Presidential Suite also has everything a sheikh would need, from the contemporary play on classic Arabic architecture to hand-crafted furniture and private infinity pools extending over the sand. Days here can be spent cruising through the dunes by camel, Arabian horse or 4×4, while evenings are devoted to sundowner cocktails and fine dining on the dunes picnic style on Persian carpets—white tablecloth and all.

Just two hours from Oman’s capital of Muscat, meanwhile, lies the only luxury camp in the country, the five-star Wahiba Sands Desert Nights Camp, set on 10 secluded acres almost seven miles into the Omani desert. The spot’s 30 Bedouin-style tents are flanked by mountains rising in the distance, nestled within sweeping dunes prime for bashing or biking.

Guests are greeted in similar style to the luxurious hotels sitting back in the capital, with cold towels and qahwa, or traditional Arabic coffee, and rooms here could easily be mistaken for six-star ones—until you look up at the tented linen canopy ceilings and step outside on your private patio overlooking the red dunes of the Wahiba Desert. After embarking on a sunset camel safari, head back to the “hotel” and experience a glammed-up version of an Omani tradition: Shuwa. Sit on Arabic-style wooden furniture around a campfire and prepare for a chef-led feast of barbecued lamb.

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Hud Hud Bedouin Tents in the Wahiba .jpg Photo courtesy of Hud Hud Travels

If you’re looking for a more rustic experience (read: an actual tent), Hud Hud can pitch a bespoke private Bedouin camp in Wahiba Sands in the spot of your choosing. Those wanting to get cozier with their other half won’t have a problem in these two-person traditional tents lit by candles, oil lamps and bonfire. Bathrooms aren’t quite five-star style, but the separate shower tent is still nowhere near roughing it. Tents are set up with super plush bedding—think Egyptian cotton sheets, feather pillows and Arabian throws—and despite being surrounded only by desert sand dunes, you still won’t have to lift a finger as a private chef takes care of all the cooking.

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Wadi Rum Tented Camp.jpg Photo: Dan Lundberg, CC-BY

For an Old World-inspired desert stay that’s still outfitted with the finest of amenities, head to The Valley of the Moon, or Wadi Rum, in Jordan. Start with a safari on the back of a camel through the country’s largest valley, heading in the direction of Lawrence Springs. Your final destination: Wadi Rum Night, a private desert camp composed of 25 lamp-lit tents. You’ll still have the luxury of modern amenities despite being in the heart of the desert, with king-sized beds dressed in fine linens; plush bathrobes and slippers; hot running water and showers in your private bathroom, stocked with spa products; and solar-powered electricity in the evenings.

Mornings start with freshly brewed Arabic coffee and a full breakfast spread prepped by the private chef in your sit-out as you stare out across the the sweeping sandstone mountains, while dinner takes on a local flair with a full Jordanian feast—served in your tent or out under the stars.

Photo: Globovisión, CC-BY

Lane Nieset Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.

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