I’m posing for a photo beside a giraffe that is contently nibbling on a frankincense tree – a particularly surreal moment as a photo is being snapped on Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island, eight kilometers off Abu Dhabi’s western coastline.
Established in 1971 as a wildlife reserve as part of Sheikh Zayed’s ‘greening’ vision, Sir Bani Yas Island is a captivating initiative, a destination where endangered animals and fauna meet five-star luxury accommodation. Case in point? From my villa’s private vista, one of the 30 villas found on the Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort property, I overlook a tranquil lagoon of mangroves, which, apart from providing a spectacular view, create an environment for aquatic life to breed and pink flamingos to roam freely.
Shades of cream, tan, chocolate, and charcoal wood paired with elegant furnishings and open-floor plans comprise the villa interiors, 16 of which face the Arabian Sea and 14 that overlook the mangroves. There are several instances during my trip when I’m in awe of the stunning remoteness of the resort – during one particularly unforgettable moment, a white gazelle traipses past my villa porch, curiously eyeing me as I dip my feet into the villa’s private plunge pool.
Yet, despite basking in the feeling of escaping back to nature for the weekend, I’m thoroughly aware of the fact that I’m a guest of a five-star hotel, whether it’s the epicurean dinner selection at the resort’s Italian restaurant, Olio, or my 90-minute signature massage treatment at the neighboring Anantara Desert Island Resort & Spa a 15-minute car ride away.
Other highlights of the experience include waking up early – 6 a.m. to be exact – to explore the island. I meet my guide, Conrad, who encourages me to leap into a wheat-colored safari-style Land Cruiser that looks like its been driven straight out of the Serengeti, before heading fifteen minutes east to bike along the eastern shores of the island. Post-bike ride, we’re off again for a Wildlife & Nature drive, during which I have the opportunity to learn more about Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the island, as well as about the 30 or so species of animals that roam in the Arabian Wildlife Park, including Arabian Oryx, antelopes, hyenas, ostriches, and even five cheetahs, which I’m not actually able to see during the tour because they are hibernating from the heat.
All in all, there’s no denying the exquisiteness of an experience that is set against the backdrop of astounding wilderness – and Al Yamm Villa Resort certainly has that going for it. But, having recently stayed at the Anantara Al Qasr and Anantara The Palm properties, I did feel there were a few things that could be refined. After driving four hours from Dubai and taking a fifteen-minute water taxi to reach the island, I was admittedly frustrated when I had to wait for my car transport from the water taxi to the hotel property, despite having called in advance to confirm the timings. However, despite small glitches such as this one, my holiday was transformative in shaping my overall vision of what it means to staycation in the UAE.
Photos: Courtesy of Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Yamm Villa Resort