The United Arab Emirates is a constitutional federation of seven emirates Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajmani, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah formally established in 1971 when the British withdrew from the Gulf. It overlooks the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf and is an important world trade centre.
Four-fifths of the UAE is desert, yet it has contrasting landscapes of dunes, oases, rocky mountains and fertile plains. It is one of the world's fastest growing tourist destinations, offering sun, sand, sea, sports, shopping and extraordinary hotels and restaurants. It is literally crime-free. Somehow traditional eastern values and western technologies have blended well in this melting pot of many nationalities and cultures who live and work harmoniously.
Dubai is the second largest emirate after Abu Dhabi, covering 2590 square kilometres. It has a natural harbour and is divided by the Dubai Creek. The ruler, HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, succeeded his father, one of the founding members of the UAE, in 1990. The elder was sufficiently savvy to persuade the British shipping line between Britain and India to make Dubai their main port of call during the 1940s.
There have been problems over the years, small and large, but the marriage in 1999 of the crown prince of Dubai with the daughter of Abu Dhabi's sovereign brought the two emirates together, publicly and privately. These days, Dubai is host to international tennis, horseracing, racing car and golf championships.
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is an exclusive oasis within a 225 square kilometre conservation reserve, just 45 minutes from the international airport. It is accessible by 4WD but not open for private vehicles or outside visitors.
The resort was built in the style of a traditional Bedouin encampment, with guest areas adorned by traditional artefacts and precious antiques. A ratio of three staff to each guest ensures superior service and the Hajar Mountains in the distance form a beautiful backdrop.
Each luxurious suite has a private pool, elegant dining area, special wines and indigenous flora and fauna the resort has reintroduced indigenous fauna, including the Arabian oryx, sand gazelle, mountain gazelle, Arabian fox, caracal, lizards and skinks, all living in open plains.
The owner's suite is 375square metres, with two large bedrooms and bathrooms, spacious lounge with dining facilities and residential quarters for guests' private staff (housekeeper, security and chef). It has a large chilled swimming pool and private courtyard.
Two Royal suites, each with an area of 175square metres, have a large lounge, two bedrooms and bathrooms and large chilled swimming pool surrounded by wooden deck.
Twenty seven Bedouin suites each have an area of 75square metres, bedroom with sitting area, ensuite bathroom and chilled swimming pool.
General facilities include a lounge, bar, library-cum-boardroom, two traditional Arabic meeting areas, main dining room with annex, gallery, private check-in and a fully-equipped gymnasium.
Hidden in the dunes near the main building and integrated into the main swimming pool and pool bar is Al Maha's Jamilah Spa & Leisure Centre. In order to conserve the desert's most precious resource and in keeping with Al Maha's environmental focus, all water is fully recycled and returned to its groundwater source via a unique irrigation system.
There are two single and two double massage rooms above private gardens offering complete body massage treatments. Timber decks link the interior and exterior giving access to the lush oasis. There is a sauna, steam room, interior jacuzzi and plunge pool with wonderful views.
Activities include horse and camel safaris, falconry, archery and guided nature walks. Off-site activities range from historical and architectural tours in and around the Hajar Mountains to sand-skiing and 4x4 dune driving.
Camels have been a source of transport, meat and milk for hundreds of years and gentle, guided tours give the ultimate feeling of being in the desert.
The art of falconry dates back to the 13th century BC. In the desert regions of Arabia, falconry served as a means of supplementing the Bedu's diet. Today the art of falconry has become more sophisticated with the use of four-wheel drive vehicles and tracking equipment, but this traditional sport still forms a vital link between the Arabs and the desert.
Falconry displays take place during the cooler parts of the day due to the sensitivity of the birds. Different species of falcons are flown to the lure in a display which demonstrates the falcon and the falconer's abilities. Falcons may be handled by guests under supervision.