By Tiffany Ryes, International Banker
The Middle East is truly a grand place. Historically, it is the cradle of many great civilizations, and geographically, from its deserts and oases to its man-made islands, it is a wonder that is still being unraveled to this day. One thing is for sure, though—this part of the world offers a kind of hospitality unlike any other.
So, for discerning travellers looking to be disarmed by the charms of this region, there are many historical heavyweights to visit, such as Jerusalem, Istanbul and Beirut. Whatever city you go to, you’re sure to be amazed by the majestic, almost mystic, mix of ancient and modern as reflected in the architecture and culture.
However, there are accommodations worth visiting as well—places that are sure to tickle your every fancy—such as these luxury boutique hotels that are beautiful embodiments of charm served on intricate silver platters.
Alila Jabal Akhdar Hotel, Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Jabal Akhdar, or “Green Mountain” in Arabic, provides the perfect setting for Alila, the ultra-luxury boutique hotel that is considered to be one of the best in the world.
Perched 2,000 meters above sea level on this spectacular part of the Al Hajar Mountain range, Alila Jabal Akhdar provides an exquisite sanctuary for those searching for a reprieve from the desert. It can also be a memorable cosseting base for those with discerning tastes who want to explore what this region of Oman has to offer. In fact, it takes accommodations to the superlative level, with a brand of luxury worthy of fables similar to the mountains it’s nestled in.
For one, its 82 canyon-view rooms and 33 private-pool villas dotted along the edge of a clifftop seamlessly blend with the rugged landscape. And yet, its understated elegance gives way to the star of the show, the breathtaking views of the majestic mountains and dramatic canyons all around. The vast rooms and villas are stone-clad, perfectly blending in with the landscape. However, step into this luxe boutique hotel, and you’ll see exactly why Alila is outstanding.
The poolside villas alone provide a private and relaxing haven offering grand vistas that are an invitation to step into the outdoors. These villas are adorned with hand-painted juniper-tree motifs, striking a beautiful accent against the soft nutmeg and rich chocolate hues of the interiors. This relaxing color palette, peppered with copper ornaments, seems to take inspiration from the mountains beyond. But a stay in one of these villas will tell you that you’re in a luxury place with no expense spared on any detail.
The Spa Alila, for one, is everyone’s rejuvenation fantasy come true, with seven lavish treatment rooms, Vichy shower and changing rooms as well as a steam room and an expansive Jacuzzi. Then, a gustatory treat can be found in the Juniper, the hotel’s main dining area, which offers modern Middle Eastern dishes—as well as the Rose Lounge for casual dining.
Zaya Nurai Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Just 10 minutes off the coast of thriving Abu Dhabi is Zaya Nurai Island, an award-winning luxury boutique hotel.
A magical natural island that perfectly embodies barefoot luxury, Zaya Nurai boasts of a 32-villa hotel with private residences and water villas perfect for that idyllic escape. This boutique hotel was able to achieve the impossible—mixing that unmistakably rich Emirati gloss with a beachy, laid-back vibe. No wonder it’s one of the destinations frequented by the world’s celebrities and very important persons (VIPs). Best of all, it offers something for everyone: treehouses and watersports for the kids and kids-at-heart, as well as top-notch spas and beach clubs for the grown-ups.
However, the soul of this place is perhaps the island itself, with sparkling and clear turquoise waters and pristine white sand, where guests can truly feel relaxed and revived while tanning under the Emirati sun.
Once the day is done, the expansive and chic villas offer welcome havens. Each of the one-bedroom villas is beautifully decorated in soothing shades of cream, while the billowing white curtains invite guests out onto the sweeping balconies, where they can take in the view of the Arabian Gulf. Guests can enjoy their own private pool, soaking tubs and walk-in rain showers. Meanwhile, the king-size beds offer lush comfort, as well as the Molton Brown bath products that spell home away from home.
These Instagram-worthy villas, with their sophisticated interiors, are echoed outdoors on the beachfront themselves, where teepee-style beach tents can serve as private cottages for sitting back and relaxing.
Meanwhile, for those who want to indulge their appetites, the island offers six restaurants and bars providing various fresh-food-to-fork fare, from traditional Middle Eastern to Mexican and international dishes. The best, perhaps, is Hooked, tagged as the best seafood restaurant in Dubai, which offers fresh catches of the day on their menu.
The Merchant House, Manama, Bahrain
Bahrain recently obtained its first five-star boutique hotel treatment from Campbell Gray Hotels, when the international hotel group unveiled The Merchant House in February 2019. This artsy boutique hotel at the heart of Manama, in the vibrant Bab el-Bahrain Souk district, boasts of 46 well-appointed suites. Each features an open floor plan ideal for both business and leisure travellers with a taste for the finer things in life.
The Merchant House, like all Campbell Gray Hotels, features a plethora of artwork, this time from up-and-coming as well as well-established Bahraini artists. And art is indeed at the heart of this luxury boutique hotel, where vibrant colors and quirky silhouettes take prominence in every nook and cranny of this nine-storey property. In fact, dramatic graffiti and murals greet guests, providing an unorthodox reprieve from the solemn and predictable interiors of most hotels.
Best of all, The Merchant House has a library of more than 1,000 carefully curated books on the mezzanine overlooking the lobby—all available for guests and visitors to devour. The Kingdom’s VIPs, meanwhile, can frequently be found dining or having afternoon tea in renowned Chef Robert Shipman’s Indigo, one of the hotel’s two superb restaurants. Here, the menu offers Mediterranean and Asian-fusion fare.
This ultra-modern getaway also boasts of a quirky sense of grandeur that is reflected in its suites. The eclectic yet vibrant furnishings provide comfort and visual interest, while Sub-Zero refrigerators and Jura coffee machines provide modern comforts. And, of course, the hotel’s personalized service can’t be ignored, giving this boutique hotel the luxury status it so clearly deserves.
Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels by Tivoli, Doha, Qatar
For superior hospitality with that unique Arabian flair, Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels by Tivoli in the heart of Doha, Qatar, awaits.
Serving as an idyllic oasis in the middle of the historic Souq Waqif, this collection of nine luxury boutique hotels offers a relaxing sanctuary. Each of the hotels has a different look, from the façades to the general themes in the interiors and suites. For one, Al Jasra blends modern design and architecture with Arabian patterns and prints. This hotel is the ultimate choice for Doha’s most discerning business and leisure traveller.
Another hotel, the historic Al Jomrok, provides a stylish yet cozy atmosphere that mingles comfort with warm hospitality. This hotel has been fully restored from Souq Waqif’s custom offices to what it is now—a luxurious space with rich, custom hardwood furnishings and top-of-the-line, lush amenities.
The best among them, however, must be Bismillah, featuring its striking white façade with intricate carvings. This is Doha’s first and oldest hotel, built in the 1950s. Today, it stands as a beacon not only of the district’s rich history but also of luxury hospitality. This hotel offers just two private and highly exclusive posh residences, each spread out in 100 square meters of space. Each of the residences boasts of intricate Arabic designs merged with the best in modern comforts and fine furnishings, all leading to a private balcony overlooking none other than Souq Waqif.
Aside from these fantastic suites, this Tivoli hotel complex also offers satisfying culinary delights. Al Terrace provides casual dining with music from local talents emanating from the background. The restaurant offers international and local cuisines with a twist—the Arabic desserts are also a must-try.
This plush property is great for those in the market for exploring Doha’s rich culture and history as well as the occasional immersion in the city’s energetic shopping district.
Middle East travellers will find that while these places are predominantly Muslim, thereby requiring adherence to certain local customs and etiquette, they will be overwhelmed by hospitality to counter any amount of worry. Locals are known for their warmth and welcome, and visitors are very likely to be invited into a local’s home or share conversations in a coffeehouse.
With this variety of luxury travel options, you can find not just comfort in these accommodations but also a memorable mix of experiences and discoveries as you indulge in revelry, dining, shopping, sight-seeing, adventures or just a full immersion in this region’s richness in terms of history, architecture, art, cuisine, people and culture.