Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
Backstory: Back in the late ’90s, Sheikh Mohammed decided that what Dubai—a desert city-state groaning under the weight of unchecked building growth—needed was a conservation area. And what a sheikh wants, he gets, even if that means amending the country’s constitution to make it a reality. Enter Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, a 10-square-mile respite from the never-ending string of shopping malls, reclaimed tropical islands and indoor ski slopes.
What You’ll Find Just Outside: The conservation reserve covers about 5 percent of Dubai’s territory and houses imported Arabian oryx (a longhorn antelope that once flourished in these parts) and a host of other animals that had disappeared from the area. In this burnt-orange moonscape, you’ll spot hundreds of gazelles and spiny-tailed lizards playing among the life-giving acacia and ghaf trees, while ospreys, vultures and eagles circle overhead.
Design Notes: Lavishly decorated with ornate Arabian furnishings, the Bedouin-inspired tent villas pair the romance of Lawrence of Arabia with the sophisticated elegance of the plush five-star resorts you’ll find throughout the Emirates. Living areas are stocked with blood-red Deco sofas, novella-thick handwoven carpets, traditional water jugs and trays of dates for snacking. From the lounge chair on your private deck, you can peer out over plunge pools and rolling sand dunes.
Amazing Amenities: Guests can go out and tackle those wide-open desert landscapes on a camel trek or a Land Cruiser safari, which offers a thrilling white-knuckle spin over sand dunes that rise hundreds of feet. Falconry classes at the harsh crunch of dawn educate guests in what great hunters these birds of prey truly are—and show what an independent streak they can have. Sometimes they simply don’t return, leaving hapless attendants to scour the hinterland for hours in desperate pursuit.