The Middle East is envied for the indulgence and exuberance of the hospitality it extends. Cities with soaring skyscrapers and plenty of shopping and entertainment have become the highlight of its tourism spiel. But the life and soul of these Arabian cities are not lost in some of our favourite hideaways in this part of the world. Get back to nature or reconnect with local culture and community.
Jabal Akhdar is one of the Arab world’s best kept secrets — a rugged plateau some 2,000 meters above sea level that at first glance seems an empty parched landscape. But the rocky geography holds a treasure trove of adventures. Designated in 2011 by the Sultan of Oman as a nature reserve, selected eco-friendly institutions have made in-roads to offer off-the-beaten-track hotels and cultural experiences. The latest addition, Alila Jabal Akhdar is sculpted into the natural rocky landscape, staying true to its commitment to provide guests with an immersion experience with nature. The locale, famed for its Omani roses and juicy pomegranates, has yards of orchards and gardens to be explored through Alila’s specially crafted journeys that emphasizes cultural learning and conscious living.
With almost zero carbon footprints, Feynan Ecolodge, an off-the-grid adventure escape, is located in Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve. Designed by renowned eco-architect Ammar Khammash, the lodge generates all its energy needs from the sun, and is lit by candles and stars at dusk. In symmetry with its local environment, the lodge is not only completely solar-powered but is run entirely by local communities from service staff to adventure guides. Explore nature, historic copper mines, archaeological treasures and lush canyons and be one with the Bedouin culture through interactions with the friendly locals. Food served at the lodge is exclusively vegetarian and plastic bottles have been replaced with clay jars made by local community cooperatives.
A complete escape from the glitzy hotels of Dubai, the XVA Art Hotel is a rare gem — refurbished from the former home of the Seddiqi family (Dubai’s Rolex dealers)into a soulful boutique retreat. Hidden in the heart of the Al Fahidi neighborhood,Dubai’s historical traders' settlement, the hotel combines all the characteristics of an art-furnished space with the architectural splendor of a 100 year-old house that includes two traditional courtyards and three wind towers. The space is also home to the XVA Art Gallery, an outfit dedicated to contemporary art from the Arab world and the subcontinent. Dubai’s creative crowd fills the restaurant and cafe on cool evenings led by the establishment’s owner Mona Hauser – the city’s art doyen.
Step into the heart of old-world Doha from the doorstep of Al Jasra, one of the culturally-inspired boutique hotels that pioneered a change in the hospitality landscape in Qatar. Part of Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels, this hotel was among the first that offered an alternative to the big name chains that dominate the city. Designed to reflect old Qatari dwellings, Al Jasra's rooftop is the best gazing point to view the hustle and bustle of the busy souq, from its traditional traders to the lively restaurants.