By Courtney Trenwith
Set against the backdrop of the UAE’s northernmost emirate, the property has all the fun and flavours for a perfect getaway
Most people enjoy a good story, and I’m no exception. So a visit to the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah was like traipsing through a well-crafted novel, with surprises in every chapter.
The traditional elements famous to the New York-grown brand are there, but the real highlights are the unique Arabesque influences, such as the maze-like Arabic script paintings framed on the hallway walls and majlis-like sitting areas in Peacock Alley.
As with all of the 20-plus Waldorf Astoria hotels, a grand clock is the welcoming feature. But in RAK, the design reflects the area’s pearling history and five rings around the base indicate each day’s pray times.
It’s an exploratory experience and in many cases you need a guide to explain the stories behind the intricacies of the hotel design; but that’s where a personal concierge – a key principle of the Waldorf Astoria brand - comes in handy.
The details also are an intriguing touch to yet-another five-star hotel in the UAE, and one of several cropping up along the rapidly developing shores of Ras Al Khaimah, in the country’s north.
The Waldorf Astoria RAK opened only in August, last year, and has already been recognised as one of the top five-star hotels in the region.
Its location of just 50 minutes from Dubai International Airport has made it as popular among UAE residents as it is with foreigners, particularly from Saudi Arabia, Russia and Germany.
The palatial building was originally built by the ruler of RAK, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, but its transformation into a hotel means each room is oversized, with the smallest a mighty 56-square metres.
Ours is a sprawling king classic room with a separate living area running onto a balcony overlooking the Arabian Gulf and the largest of the hotel’s pools. The walk-in-robe with a sit-down dressing table and the enormous marble bathroom create a royal scene for those unaccustomed to such elegance.
A personal fragrance master soon pays us a visit and we select a mixture of lavender and basil that will later be sprayed on our pillows.
But there’s no time to be wasted in the room. There is a myriad of ways to spend your time in RAK, making it my favourite emirate to visit. RAK is about the only place in the Gulf that offers adventure, nature and tranquillity: it boasts just about every environment you could enjoy.
An 18-hole championship golf course lies next door to the Waldorf Astoria, while you can take on sailing, scuba diving and other water sports, or join a desert safari.
The potential for adventure activities in the Al Hajar Mountains – a defining back drop to the emirate – is far from being fully realised, but you can take yourself hiking there, or book a charter helicopter flight for a view unavailable elsewhere in the UAE.
There’s also the Iceland Water Park and traditional camel racing or you can dip into the area’s 5,000-year-old history with a tour of local sites and the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah or by attempting archery and the most famous Arab pastime, falconry.
Dining is also a smorgasbord of choice, from a laidback afternoon tea at Camelia or a poolside meal from Azure to a jazzed up version of Arabic cuisine in Marjan.
We started on the deck of the casual, yet refined Lexington Grill, an exaggerated take on US steak houses and the famed New York street of the same name.
A bite of the chef’s air-dried beef cuts will have your mouth watering! We were also entertained by a personal mixologist who used a science beaker to create our smoky apple drink.
Past sunset, we headed up to UMI, a trendy Japanese restaurant with the largest sake selection in the region. Who had ever heard of sparkling sake? If I never ate at another restaurant ever again, I’d be happy - that’s how good the miso black cod was. I let every little slither melt in my mouth before contemplating another, just to allow the experience of such flavour and texture sink in. It was worth writing home about, although it doesn’t come cheap.
Even higher up the hotel, on the 17th floor, we found the central bar, 17Squared. One of the more popular destinations for locals alike, it helps to be in a party mood to enjoy the real atmosphere here.
If that’s not your thing, you might prefer the Cigar Bar. As you would expect, it has an extensive collection of cigars from around the world, and can even keep your favourites safe in between visits.
One thing to bear in mind is, the Waldorf Astoria RAK is a family hotel. Unless you’re tucked away in a majlis or bar you’re likely, even in UMI, to have children around you. There is, however, an adults-only pool. The kids’ club also is apparently five-star.
At the other end of the stick, the hotel’s meeting and board rooms, with views of the sea, would make anyone happy with their office for the day.