Dubai may be in the limelight with Expo 2020 now less than a year away, but it’s all about Sharjah circa now. The city recently earned a spot on UNESCO’s Creative Cities list, recognized for its contributions to the field of Crafts and Folk Art. But this comes as no surprise to us – Sharjah has long been our cultural capital, after all.
What may come as a surprise, however, is the fact that one of the country’s most luxurious hotels doesn’t reside in Dubai, but Sharjah. Enter: Al Bait Sharjah. Not only has this heritage hotel won multiple awards in next to no time, but it’s also unlike any other in the UAE. Here are 13 reasons why – no pun intended.
The Arabic word bait translates to home, with the name of this hotel reflecting the transformation of historic manor houses (once occupied by prominent local families in the fields of publishing, government, and business) into Al Bait by luxury hotel group GHM. But the sense of home goes well beyond the property’s origins.
Arabian hospitality is the stuff of legends and, here, you’ll experience it in spades from the get-go. The lavender welcome drink owes its sparkle to pearl powder, the “magic chocolate” served upon check-in contains a secret ingredient that evokes our childhoods, and a high staff-to-guest ratio ensures that your every whim will be satisfied. Heck, the hospitality begins before you’ve even arrived, with transportation options boasting a vintage Mercedes-Benz Pullman limousine dating back to 1967 – true story.
Get a Room
Somewhere between the authentic Arabian ambience (created by timber ceilings, traditional fabrics, majlis-style seating, and recessed alcoves displaying antique décor accents) and modern-day creature comforts like Acqua di Parma toiletries and a full-fledged pillow menu, you can’t actually go wrong with booking into any one of the 53 rooms and suites.
But what you’ll remember long after you’ve checked out – and we don’t say this very often – is the bed. That bed. That decadent, commanding, four-poster bed furnished with just about the most luxurious (read: a tear-inducing $22,000 price tag) mattress in the world. But be warned: a night spent on a legendary Duxiana ‘Dux’ bed will make returning home harder.
Three words that scream volumes about Al Bait going the extra mile? Luxury bathing ritual. This delightful surprise is complimentary for all guests who are staying in a suite with a bathtub. What they’ll return to after dinner is a warm and inviting bath inspired by Arabian traditions, prepared with camel milk and topped with rose petals – and accented with music, of course. Because what bath is complete without jazzy tunes wafting from a vintage-y looking gramophone?
It’s not just history buffs who’ll take to the stillness of time here – any hopeless romantic worth her salt will be enraptured by how the historical character of Sharjah in the ‘50s is preserved. It was eight years in the making, but today, guests can cross a threshold dated 1944 to discover a beautifully weathered elephant door from the home of Ibrahim Al Midfa and browse everything from his letters and personal belongings to rare manuscripts and tools used by pearl traders at what is now the resort’s onsite museum.
Not only was Midfa a noted intellectual – he launched the first newspaper in the UAE – and key community figure, but he was also the first to construct a circular wind tower for natural ventilation in order to ensure that the daily discourse in his majlis was conducted in comfort. It’s the only one of its kind in the country and has pride of place at Al Bait.
A little pampering and pool time is practically mandatory in such surrounds, and the good news here is that organic brands such as Ila and SpaRitual reign supreme at The Spa, complementing everything from reviving body polishes and elaborate bathing ceremonies to therapeutic massages and hammam rituals.
However, we can’t help but steer you in the direction of the ‘Voya Organic Seaweed Leaf Envelopment for Detoxification’ that will rid you of big-city grime with the help of an exfoliating scrub, a firming wrap, a conditioning scalp treatment, and a nourishing massage – all featuring the finest seaweed hand-harvested from the Atlantic Ocean by luxe skincare brand Voya. Two hours later, peeling yourself out of an absurdly plush bathrobe and into your own clothes may prove challenging.
Between regional favorites served family-style at The Arabic Restaurant and international fare served at The Restaurant, your taste buds are in for a treat, regardless of where you end up for dinner. What promises to be a culinary highlight, however, is dining at The Café, which resides in the heritage house of Bait Majlis Ibrahim Al Midfa.
For starters, this is where you’ll discover the aforementioned circular wind tower and a stunning al fresco set-up. The menu at The Café boasts pages and pages of herbal teas, soda-based creations, smoothies, juices, and coffee concoctions, so placing an order is a tricky endeavor. But it’s the rather theatrical ‘Tray for Two’ that we’re dubbing a must-try. A feast for both the eyes and the palate, Al Bait’s take on afternoon tea is heaped with sweet and savory creations that look more like art – and taste even better.
If you struggle with your sugar addiction, proceed with caution. All guests are treated to a gourmet ice cream tasting at The Ice Cream Shop, which looks to dondurma – Turkey’s taffy-like ice cream – for inspiration. In a case of “when in Rome”, opt for the flavors made with camel milk: chocolate, saffron, and mastika (complete with pistachios and rose petals). For more exotic options, it’s a toss-up between activated charcoal with gold leaf and burnt s’more with basil.
But there’s more. We pressed a magical little button on our in-room phone for the “sweet of the day” – out of sheer curiosity, of course – and were presented with pieces of chewy, gooey fudge in no time.
Bright and Bubbly
Sharjah is famously a dry emirate, but Al Bait works around this with great creativity. Not only is the menu at The Café rife with playful “inspired drinks” such as ‘Sichuan Julep’ and ‘Candy Cosmo’ (yes, there’s candy floss involved), but it also serves some of the finest non-alcoholic wines on the planet – think: ‘Bianco’ and ‘Bubble’ by Scavi & Ray and ‘Sparkling Rosé’ by Le Petit Béret.
A commitment to ethical practices is something that Savoir Flair greatly values in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle brands, so we’re taking a moment to pause and praise Al Bait’s efforts.
Steel straws, glass bottles, biodegradable garbage bags, and metal room keys collectively eliminate the use of plastic. The property has its own water filtration plant, which produces both produces both still and sparkling drinking water. All glass, cardboard, and kitchen oil is recycled as part of a zero-waste policy, and motion sensors for lighting ensure energy isn’t unnecessarily consumed. There’s even a Tesla charging station – how’s that for progressive?
Usual suspects aside – a 24/7 fitness center, an outdoor pool, and even hot and cold plunge pools exclusively for women – onsite facilities include a generously stocked library, a quietly refined cigar lounge, and even a jewelry boutique that offers Emirati-inspired pieces. More hands on-options come in the way of calligraphy classes and the beloved ‘Follow the Chef Experience’, a cooking class that starts with a trip to the bustling Souq Al Jubail for fresh produce as well as insights into local life and ends with a private dinner at the Chef’s Table.
It’s one thing for a hotel’s concierge to help with currency exchange and airport transfers. It’s another for them to have insider access to the best seats for theater performances, live music, and sporting events. The globally recognized art scene of Sharjah is nothing short of dynamic, and the concierge can even set you up with a professional art curator who will customize and lead a private tour to the top art, design, and antiques addresses in the city.
Prefer to head further afield? Al Bait can arrange a visit to traditional Bedouin camps so that guests can linger over a picnic lunch atop the scenic sand dunes of Al Dhaid, a region known for its date palm plantations irrigated by water from the nearby Hajar Mountains via centuries-old falaj channels.
It’s easy to get caught up in the countless offerings at Al Bait, but take some time to get lost in its winding alleyways by yourself, camera in tow. Look closely and you’ll discover sunken courtyards, hanging lanterns, hand-carved wooden doors, walls embedded with coral, and copper dallahs that cast beautiful shadows – all of which silently scream volumes of a bygone era. To say these elements make for a treasure trove of photo ops is an understatement.
Location, Location, Location
But arguably Al Bait’s strongest asset? Its location in the Heart of Sharjah, the largest and most ambitious preservation and restoration project in the region. Staying here allows for taking in the art exhibitions and urban gardens of Sharjah Art Foundation, shopping on antiques and handicrafts at Souq Al Arsah, sipping on the past – Namlet soda – at Souq Al Shanasiyah, singing in the rain at Rain Room, and admiring the renowned “calligraffiti” of eL Seed with ease. They’re all in a ten-minute radius, they’re all part of what makes Sharjah so special.
And that’s only scratching the surface.
For more details or to book a stay at Al Bait Sharjah, click here.