In the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, just one hour away from Dubai, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi Resort closed its doors in December 2016.
The following day this desert resort re-opened under the management of The Ritz-Carlton Company, with 50 associates from sister properties across the region, reports Phil Blizzard.
One month on I was invited by general manager Amit Arora, a seasoned hotelier and no stranger to the emirates, to talk about the resort’s conversion and to sample Safran - the new Indian restaurant.
Sat on the terraced decking at Safran on a cool, chilly January night I was amazed by the vista.
On show by the watering-hole are Arabian Oryx, a member of the antelope species, with views over the long grassy reeds and then, in the middle-distance, large sweeping sand dunes made visible by the almost full moon.
Kept warm by the mushroom heaters and the welcome from the staff I was looking forward to catching up, not only with Amit to learn more about the achievements of the team, but also to sampling the new cuisine at Safran.
First a fine selection of appetisers arrived with the sublime Chowk Ki Tikki pan-fried potato cakes and Chapil Kebab, a pan fried marinated lamb, both standing out from the crowd.
Next, during the interval between courses, a show produced by nature at its brilliant best.
The crystal clear night sky created a canopy of stars, planets and distant constellations, including the Plough.
This, the Ursa Major constellation, started the evening low in the east and slowly arched its way across the sky to reach its zenith directly above our table!
All the while Magreb, or Magriz ad-danab, which in Arabic means ‘the root of the tail of the great bear’, shone down on us in the Arabian desert.
With the stunning starlight show moving slowly across the Arabian sky we decided it was time for the main course.
What followed next was a mouth-watering array - marinated lobster, hammour, prawns, marinated chicken and minced lamb.
If that takes your fancy make certain you order the Tahstari-E, the mix grill platter, deliciously accompanied by a selection of raita, pickles and Milijuli Tokari - a basket of assorted naan breads.
Then then final course: the interview.
Views over the newly launched Al Wadi Desert, Ras Al Khaimah
Spicy and full of content, general manager Amit offers enlightening insight into their first month of operations as a Ritz-Carlton property.
He explains: “We started this incredible journey with a full week of training and guidance which inspired our associates with Ritz-Carlton service culture and philosophy, while contributing to the implementation of service standards throughout the resort.
“This intense week helped us kick-start our operation successfully and set the ground for a promising season.
He adds: “We have already welcomed three high-profile groups and several members of the royal family; we had a fantastic festive season with overseas guests and local visitors; we launched a new Indian restaurant concept at Safran; opened our sales office in Dubai; and started works on enhancing our recreation facilities.
“Our falcon deck is undergoing a spectacular transformation to re-launch in the coming weeks offering a spectacular falconry experience to our guests, as well as astonishing banquet facilities for unique events at the heart of our desert nature reserve.
Asked what guests expect during the transformation he continues: “A lot has happened, yet there is so much more to be achieved.
“We are also currently busy designing our new restaurant concepts will be progressively be launched post summer, and are so excited to welcome new guests in particular families and visitors to the resort, day after day.
“Everyone has worked so hard to contribute to this launch, I like to believe that our passion and enthusiasm is driving us to achieve these key milestones.
“Just last week two owls have hatched at the resort, and we named them Ritz and Carlton.
“I hope this is a sign for our good fortune, and I can’t wait to see them grow!”
Within the sanctuary of Wadi Khadeja, an opportunity to be captivated by adventure and natural beauty awaits.
At Al Wadi Desert, Ras Al Khaimah, a Ritz-Carlton Partner Hotel, luxurious pool villas, a hydrotherapy spa, destination dining and an array of family-friendly and outdoor activities are set against a tranquil desert oasis.
Find out more on the official website.