• BRLBrazilian Real
  • BWPBotswanan Pula
  • CADCanadian Dollar
  • DKKDanish Krone
  • HKDHong Kong Dollar
  • IDRIndonesian Rupiah
  • ILSIsraeli Shekel
  • INRIndian Rupee
  • KHRCambodian Riel
  • KRWKorean Won
  • KWDKuwaiti Dinar
  • LAKLao Kip
  • LKRSri Lankan Rupee
  • LSLLesotho Loti
  • MURMauritian Rupee
  • MXNMexican Peso
  • MYRMalaysian Ringgit
  • MZNMozambican Metical
  • NADNamibian Dollar
  • NZDNew Zealand Dollar
  • OMROmani Rial
  • PHPPhilippine Peso
  • QARQatari Rial
  • SARSaudi Riyal
  • SCRSeychellois Rupee
  • SGDSingapore Dollar
  • SZLSwazi Lilangeni
  • TNDTunisian Dinar
  • TWDNew Taiwan Dollar
  • VNDVietnamese Dong
  • ZARSouth African Rand
  • ZMWZambian Kwacha
Close the pop-up×
Best Rate Guarantee

Found a better rate elsewhere? If so, we are more than happy to match it. And if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of making a booking, we will match that and give you an additional 10% off.

*Terms and conditions apply

See Details
Primary content

Shifting Sands: The Empty Quarter


It’s morning rush hour in Dubai. Slinky sports cars and hulking SUVs edge along the Sheikh Zayed Road before slowing to a near crawl near the Dubai Mall – drivers consulting the shadow of the giant Burj Khalifa sundial; a metro train whooshing past, Gold Class passengers enjoying ample legroom and the sweet taste of privilege; an army of delivery boys rushing around with orders of soya lattes and flat whites for the power brokers in downtown Dubai.

A mere 380 km south west, in Rub’ al Khali, things couldn’t have been more different. Meaning 'the Empty Quarter' in Arabic, it’s a wilderness filled with nothing but gravel plains surrounded by towering sand dunes – a desert second in size only to the Sahara and the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass.

What used to be a hostile and unforgiving environment inhabited by nomadic Bedouin tribes has since been conquered by human ingenuity (or so we humans like to think) and fashioned into a manmade oasis that is the Anantara Qasar Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.

Visually and aesthetically, Qasar Al Sarab is '1001 Nights' meets Agrabah meets 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Soaring walls (to ward off the invading sands rather than marauding armies), turreted gates and imposing watchtowers that look like they mean business are a nod to a traditional desert fortress. A perennially popular location for fashion shoots and wedding receptions, it’s a feast for the eye and a delightful fantasy that anyone with a taste for desert adventure can inhabit.

Qasar Al Sarab does a formidable job recreating a sense of a traditional Bedouin community where resident falcons, saluki dogs and camels do not seem like parts of a stage set but organically add to an oasis-like setting. Your senses are tickled by the sounds of traditional oud music, the aroma of cardamom-infused coffee, the silky touch of luxurious bedding and the colours of glorious sunsets.

During the day, life revolves around a cluster of palm-lined swimming pools. After nightfall the centre of gravity shifts to the open-air Bedouin camp restaurant strewn with Persian carpets and ornate cushions. Don’t expect a humble meal of dates and camel milk, however – a diet that sustained the roaming tribes in the past. Instead prepare for a lavish feast of assorted mezzeh to be scooped up with pita bread – the next perfectly shaped dome coming out of the oven just as you polish off its predecessor; followed by the meaty delights of kebabs, roasted lamb and shawarma and ending with heaving trays of syrupy pastry served with sweetened mint tea.

But it’s what lies beyond the turreted walls of this immaculately kept sanctuary that makes it such a magnet for locals who come here to escape the fast-paced city life and reconnect with the past.

Crossing borders into four countries: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the Empty Quarter is a protected natural reserve and a glimpse into Gulf life before oil. Whether you arrive here from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, the contrast between the cutting-edge modernity of UAE’s coastal cities and this kingdom of shifting sands is striking.

As you leave your plush lodgings to indulge in a spot of camel trekking, falconry or dune bashing, it feels that if you squint hard enough, you can spot Lawrence himself descending the crest of a sloping dune – the setting sun tinging his billowing white robe the many shades of nostalgia and romance.

Curated For You

You Might Also Like

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

In the heart of the Empty Quarter, an oasis of Arabian luxury is surrounded by endless dunes. Cross the world’s largest desert on a camel or race off dune bashing. After adventure, spa wellness refreshes with ancient hammam rituals and healing desert elixirs. Toast sunset from the seclusion of a private villa plunge pool. Feast on timeless Bedouin traditions and exceptional global tastes.