November/December  2005 




"Since history has been recorded, men talked of a wondrous place within the depths of the shifting dunes...where water flowed from a rock, the perpetual spring fed by ancient underground lakes. “

That legendary oasis is Al Maha Desert Resort, named for the white spear-horned Arabian oryx that still roam the dunes and seek shelter under the date palms. The resort itself, now 40 luxe Bedouin-style tents on a 225-square kilometer desert reserve just 45 minutes from the center of Dubai, was built in 1999, but it wasn’t until last year that its Jamilah Spa opened, tapping the curative powers of both the oasis and those date palms.

Tucked into a low slope in the sandy landscape to preserve the resort’s rolling desert views, the spa is a low rectangular adobe building in the style of an Arabian fort. Wide steps lead to the lobby that frames the main swimming pool and the rolling dunes and desert plain beyond.

On one side are the steam room, sauna, plunge pool and gym with the latest training equipment. On the other is the heart of the spa: a large relaxation lounge with a circular pool in the center, oriental carpets on the tile floor, and wicker recliners looking out on the pool and dunescape. Completing the spa facilities are two single and two double treatment rooms (partner therapies are enthusiastically administered), the jacuzzi and hydro-therapy pools, and most intriguing of all, a Rasoul room.


“Since history has been recorded, men talked of a wondrous place within the depths of the shifting dunes ... where water flowed from a rock, the perpetual spring fed by ancient underground lakes.”

almaha-3There is a choice of almost twenty face and body treatments including deep tissue massages, pre- and post-sun skin treatments, Swedish massage, reflexology and aromatherapy facials, but the most interesting is the Desert Sand-herb Rasoul Treatment (60 minutes, AED350). This is an oriental skin care ceremony that combines light, heat, warm aromatic steam and the application of mineral-rich clay in a rather exotic enclosed environment based on the interplay of the elements of water, fire, earth and air. It’s as romantic as a spa experience gets, and not surprisingly, particularly suited for couples.

First, a short shower before entering the Rasoul chamber, where ergonomically designed and heated seats warm certain body areas and promote relaxation. Calming maroon, pink, green, blue and lilac mood-sensitive lights project soft pools of color. Three different clay-muds are used for the face, joints, and body, and are applied by a therapist or your partner. The warm room and its low humidity quickly dry the muds on your skin. With several steam infusions, the room slowly heats up, humidity increases, and the aroma of herbs being steamed on the stove wafts through the chamber. Soon the clay-mud liquefies on your body, and you rub it in to tighten skin and tone muscles, using the running water built into the arms of your seat. Finally, the mud is thoroughly washed off in a private shower, and specially blended oils applied.

Rasoul is a dramatic treatment that exfoliates, detoxifies, and purifies your skin as well as an ancient, calming, even mystical, ritual.

almaha-6Some of the other spa treatments:
Timeless Four Hands Body Treatment (90 minutes, AED1,200). A synchronized full body massage by two therapists combines Swedish and deep-tissue techniques, and includes an all over body peeling, a soothing foot pack with fresh dates, and a face pack with fresh dates and cooling golden gel around the eyes. This treatment is available for two people together, with one therapist each, or with just one therapist at AED 600.

Swedish Massage (60 minutes, AED370). Traditional deep tissue massage with a choice of Aroma Relaxing Oil, Aroma Balancing Oil or Aroma Energizing Oil. Utilizing the same techniques, a De-stress Back Massage (45 minutes, AED270) focuses on back, neck and shoulder areas.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (90 minutes, AED600, for women only). Light-flowing massage strokes work over the body’s lymphatic system to boost the immune system and stimulate the release of toxins, which helps with water retention, weight control, depression, and improving metabolism.

Desert Aroma Massage (60 minutes, AED370). Flowing massage movements with a choice of Aroma Relaxing Oil, Aroma Balancing Oil, or Aroma Energizing Oil, to suit your body’s needs.

Aroma Hydrotherapy Spa (30 minutes, AED280).
Salt Body Peeling (45 minutes, AED370). Sea salts and essential oils deep cleanse the skin, stimulate circulation, and fight cellulite and sluggish lymph flow.

Frankincense Aroma Facial (60 minutes, AED500). This is Al Maha's signature facial that relies on the age-old regenerating properties of frankincense to rejuvenate the skin and the healing powers of fruit dates. A revitalizing face mask rebalances the skin, and a tension release massage improves circulation to scalp, neck and shoulders.

Refreshing Aroma Facial (60 minutes, AED450). This is designed to help travelers confronting the desert sun, heat, and air-conditioning that strain the body system. Aroma massage softens the skin by applying gentle lymphatic movements to aid detoxification.

almaha-5A variety of spa packages are tailored for guests staying one to four nights.  For instance, for overnight guests “Jamilah Traditions” offers two treatments for $210 (the Salt Body Peel and Desert Aroma Massage, or a 75-minute Timeless Traditions Massage and Aroma Hydrotherapy Spa); guests staying two nights can sign on for the “Desert Tranquility” package of four treatments for $400 (Desert Sandherb Rasoul, Desert Aroma Massage, Refreshing Aroma Facial, and Aroma Hydrotherapy Spa).

Even spa products incorporate indigenous ingredients. The AL MAHA “Timeless” range (BABOR is the other line) blends Arabian Frankincense, a distillate of natural sap long used as a calming lightly-scented incense, and the soft oils of dates. Dates, intrinsically linked to Arabian culture, are part of welcoming ceremonies, and were used by Bedouins as an antiseptic and a poultice for burns, as well as a valuable food on their long desert treks.

almaha-4Al Maha Desert Resort, owned and managed by Emirates, is designed in the style of a traditional Bedouin encampment around an oasis.  Its main communal center, shaped like an Arabian desert fort, houses a lounge, library, bar, dining room, and terraces. In contrast, the 40 individual suites dotted among the dunes are the ultimate in privacy. In each suite a soaring Bedu-style calico tented ceiling supported by two sturdy poles covers the spacious bedroom, with its large bed, two sofas, handcrafted wooden armoire and desk, and oriental rugs, and inviting easel with water color paints. The tiled bathroom has a separate shower, a large tile-enclosed tub, its own oriental rug, and doors that lead to a wrap-around deck and a generous infinity plunge pool, all of it screened for privacy.

Suites start at $1700 for one or two people; the rate includes full board, complimentary laundry and on-site activities, such as guided desert safaris, archery, falconry, camel trekking and horse riding. “Arabian Experience” packages are frequently offered at much lower rates, which range from $900 to $1150 to $1350, depending on the dates.

Note: 1 United Arab Emirates Dirham is about 27 cents.

Al Maha Desert Resort

(Leading Small Hotels of the World)




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