Escape from Dubai

Neil Corder / Courtesy of Starwood Hotels

Al Maha is 45 minutes from the city's center—and three centuries away.

Given Dubai’s size and clamor, it is a bit of a shock to be free of it so quickly. The enormous skyscrapers vanish and desert dunes in various shades of yellow and red roll out in all directions. Soon you turn off the blacktop and enter the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where you bump along a rough road to reach Al Maha, an understated resort reminiscent of a South African safari lodge, resting subtly on a low hill. What is most striking is the absence of noise. It seems inconceivable that the Burj Khalifa, the nightclubs, the racing Range Rovers are all only 40 minutes away. Here it is tranquil: a few singing birds but otherwise just the sound of wind in the trees. After being introduced to your personal concierge, you’re taken via golf cart along one of the many paths to your room. The Presidential Suite (from $3,400) is enormous and comes complete with a kitchen and a staff’s quarters. George Clooney stayed here while filming Syriana, and indeed scenes from the movie were shot in the living room. But unless you plan to entertain or are arriving with extended family in tow, the Bedouin Suite (from $790), with its dark-wood furniture, tented ceiling and infinity pool, is the one to get—it’s among the resort’s loveliest rooms.

There is no shortage of activities at Al Maha—archery, wildlife walks, desert drives. But it’s best to do very little. Watch the oryx wander past. Spend a few hours in the wonderful Timeless Spa. Return to your room, slip into your heated pool and swim beneath a rising moon as it lights up the silent desert. Rooms start at $790; Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve; 971-4/832-9900;