Living in the Wadi

Discover the neighbouring emirates.

12 January 2021

It doesn't always have to be Dubai. The lesser-known neighbouring emirates not only have great-sounding names, but now also offer plenty of luxury and adventure. A personal report.

We leave the glittering skyscrapers of Dubai behind us. But also the eternal traffic jams that are part of everyday life in this crowded emirate. In recent years, travelers have discovered that there are other destinations on the Arabian Peninsula besides Dubai and Abu Dhabi.After all, the United Arab Emirates, UAE for short, consists of a total of seven regions, which of course have a certain similarity based on landscape and culture alone. But ultimately, each emirate is a little different. Names like Sharjah or Ras Al Qaimah already sound like 1001 Nights, like the Orient as you would wish it. And they are also easy to travel to, because the road network is well developed.

Hot desert sand: If Dubai is too strenuous for you, you'll find peace and relaxation - and more pristine life - in the other emirates. Luxury of silence: The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert guarantees romantic dinners in the desert.

But where does Sharjah actually begin? It's only been about 15 minutes since we left Dubai. Our driver smiles and points to an inconspicuous bridge we're passing under: "You hardly notice it, but a new emirate starts here." At first you don't even notice the difference, but then the pace becomes more leisurely, the streets are narrower, you see more small shops instead of the typical huge malls that have dominated the cityscape so far. People stroll the streets, the car is not the sole mode of transport as it is in hectic Dubai. There is a market hall through which one can stroll leisurely, the fish market is bustling in the morning when the fresh goods are delivered directly from the boats. The wooden boats are called dhaus, they have been sailing in the Gulf for centuries using the wind. No question about it, Sharjah has flair. You feel like you've been transported back in time. Instead of glitz and skyscrapers, tradition is cultivated. Sharjah is considered the most conservative emirate, so there is also a strict ban on alcohol for foreigners. You can also look at it this way: Detox is guaranteed!

Fat catch! Sharjah has flair: the traditional fishing boats bring the goods, which are sold fresh at the market. The fish market is particularly lively in the morning hours after the fresh goods are delivered.

Pulsating life, traditional style

The emirate consciously wants to set itself apart from Dubai, and the ruling sheikh focuses on culture and tradition. There is an annual book fair, numerous museums, a biennial with contemporary art - and not least two universities. After all, education is a key asset in making a country fit for the future. Sharjah is also trying to establish a uniform, traditional architectural style. Modern buildings that are not particularly successful are being torn down and replaced by historical replicas. Of course, this free approach to tradition should not be measured by European standards: Much of what looks old in the Emirates has just been built. Nevertheless, it often works surprisingly well, as can be seen in the luxury hotel "The Chedi Al Bait"(translated: the home) can experience. The complex, which is over 10,000 square meters in size, looks like a small medina with narrow, shady alleys. The hotel was built around four existing historic houses, one of which was the residence of a pearl trader. The hotel is like an oasis in the vibrant city. Right next to the hotel is a small bazaar, and there are numerous restaurants nearby. And yet it is pleasantly quiet and tranquil.

Light and shade: The pools of the luxury hotel "The Chedi Al Bait" provide cooling in the hot hours.

Those who know and love "The Chedi Muscat" in Oman - one of the most elegant hotels in the entire region - will also like its sister hotel "The Chedi Al Bait". The architecture reflects the local culture, materials such as stone provide cooling in the heat, wood for comfort, the courtyards and roof terraces for an Arabian feeling. The high-quality furnishings manage the balancing act between traditional and modern very well.

Superman pose

Sharjah is the third largest emirate by population and is an ideal base for excursions, bordering all six other emirates - and the Sultanate of Oman, which is always worth a trip. But let's start in the north: Ras Al Kaimah scores with rugged mountains and the world's longest zipline, which lets you fly over the bare mountains in a Superman pose - at speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour. That's pure adrenaline. If you want to take it easy, the beach is 64 kilometres long and mangrove forests can be explored by kayak. You are surrounded by birdsong, even flamingos cavort here. Unlike the other emirates, Ras has lush vegetation that you wouldn't expect in this desert-dominated region.

Luxury is also guaranteed with The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Kaimah, Al Wadi Desert, which is located in the nature reserve. Wadi is the name given to a valley or a river course that fills with water after rainfall. The wadis are among the most beautiful and surprising natural experiences in the world. You drive by car through bare stone or desert areas or you hike there until you stand in a lush, green sprawling landscape. On hot days, a dip in the water is wonderfully refreshing. But the dried wadis are also impressive: you can see the force with which the water has torn river courses and valleys and the perseverance with which plants wait for it to finally rain again.

Pure nature: The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Kaimah, Al Wadi Desert is located in a nature reserve: You stay in desert villas and see free-roaming animals.


In the "The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Kaimah, Al Wadi Desert"The desert villas are kept in Bedouin style. Each villa has its own pool, from which you can enjoy the dramatic sunset as relaxed as possible. From a distance, the mud-brick architecture of the complex looks like a mirage. Falconry demonstrations and camel rides are also offered, of course. But you can also just chill out in the pool and watch the free-roaming gazelles at the waterhole. Hawks, buzzards and even eagles make their rounds in the sky. Here in the desert you forget the time, sunrise and sunset are the only constants. A holiday with deep relaxation is guaranteed.

Vacation with deep relaxation: Before the return flight, a quick soak in the luxury tub of "The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Kaimah, Al Wadi Desert".

Lunar landscape

The emirate of Fujairah, located on the east coast, also beckons with green wadis and the rugged Hajar Mountains. Or miles of beaches, like Khor Fakkan, from where you can dive to coral reefs. The real highlight, however, is the moon-like landscape with its rust-red, jagged mountains, which can also be seen from the beach. The emirate also boasts the oldest mosque, believed to date back to the 15th century.

On the east coast: The emirate of Fujairah has the oldest mosque and attracts with green wadis and lush nature. Marvel at the breathtaking nature in the middle of the wadis.

Marvel at the breathtaking nature in the middle of the wadis

And what does Umm al-Qaiwain, the second smallest emirate with the most resonant name, have to offer? Date palms line up with date palms, they are a central source of income. Many tourists pass through this emirate without stopping. Yet the long, untouched sandy beach is an insider's tip for adventurers. You may miss the infrastructure, but nowhere is more tranquil. You'll see the fishing boats, be greeted by friendly locals having a picnic with the family. And the sunsets are spectacular too.

The next morning we head back to the airport in Dubai. Our driver asks how we liked it. We have the feeling of having had at least three different holidays: Skyscrapers and untouched nature, luxury hotels and simple beaches, innovative utopias of the future and the search for our own traditions. Where should we start? After all, the drive to the airport takes just one hour. We smile contentedly. Probably not the worst way to tell about the unknown Emirates.

Picture Credits: Getty Images, Max Poriechkin/The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Pascal Reynaud, Martin Sasse / laif / picturedesk.com, mauritius images / Alamy / Aleksandar Tomic, Rhiannon Taylor, mauritius images / Alamy / Khristine Sumo

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