Al Bait Hotel brings Sharjah’s heritage into modern world

Step into Sharjah’s newly opened Al Bait hotel and you will leave the snaking traffic behind for a tranquil oasis of old worldly charm. (Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2019

Al Bait Hotel brings Sharjah’s heritage into modern world

DUBAI: Restored with the help of UNESCO experts, the resort consists of four heritage houses and a new section built along similar lines.

The five-star hotel stays true to its history: sand-colored walls, impressive carved doors and statement walls dotted with corals — a nod to traditional Emirati homes.

Step inside and you glide over polished cement floors, with custommade rugs. Far from being staid, the interiors pay homage to the past without falling into the dusty doldrums of museum showcases.

And speaking of museums, the hotel has a small-but-fascinating one on site, which even features a room that once housed the city’s first post office. (There’s no shisha lounge, due to the emirate’s strict laws, so you have to scale down your entertainment expectations.)

Step outside and you are greeted by a rare circular wind tower restored by the same team that worked on the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. A little further afield is the Heart of Sharjah, a culturalheritage project that aims to preserve and restore the old town, including the oldest souk in the UAE — Souk Al-Arsah — which backs directly onto the hotel.

After a day of wandering, it’s time to head to one of the hotel’s 53 rooms, all of which are decked out with modern amenities and four-poster beds fit for a princess.

The culturally sensitive hotel offers a female butler service, which we took advantage of in our Al Bait Grand Suite, featuring a kitchenette, dining area, majlis, a large bedroom and two bathrooms. Organic treats filled the fridge and a large copper bath stood sentry in the grand main bathroom.

The only real complaint was the relatively weak water pressure in the tiled shower — everybody needs a hot power shower after a tough day of tourism.

The hotel is home to four dining concepts: The Restaurant, The Arabic Restaurant, The Café and The Ice Cream Shop.

The Café’s specialty is a woodland-themed board filled to the brim with snackable treats — from shredded chicken buns and halloumi-filled mini croissants to delightful chocolate mousses and a soft, fleshy mango tart. It’s called the Afternoon Tray and it’s certainly worth it — and not just for the Instagram-worthiness.

The hotel is staunchly antibuffet — so no cold-around-theedges starters or gelatinous piles of pasta, instead guests can enjoy dinner at The Arabic Restaurant and breakfast in the lighter, airier The Restaurant.

Although I would have loved to see more Emirati fare on the dinner menu, since the hotel is a celebration of all things local, the options were varied and ranged from Levantine cuisine to North African treats.

Breakfast featured the usual suspects, with a few decadent additions including a steak-andeggs dish that delighted my dining partner, as well as a plate of unusual charcuterie including duck meat that was well worth a nibble.

After a leisurely breakfast it was time to head to The Spa. And the experience did not disappoint.

The compact, tastefully decorated space houses massage rooms with private bathtub, shower, changing room and toilet) and the spa includes a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and cold plunge pool, all of which are located in a private area.

 I chose from an array of house-blended oils for The Spa’s signature Balinese massage with a therapist who paid careful attention to my specific needs and applied just the right amount of pressure for a relaxing experience.

Although Al Bait has to contend with Sharjah’s infamous traffic, inside, it’s a bubble of quiet comfort. Friendly staff and fascinating history make this hotel stand out.

Sheikh Zayed Book Award winners announced despite lack of ceremony

The winner of each category took home a prize of $204,192. File/Shutterstock
Updated 08 April 2020

Sheikh Zayed Book Award winners announced despite lack of ceremony

DUBAI: Today, the winners of the 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award were announced, despite the awards ceremony not going ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A record-breaking year for submissions saw seven awards go to recipients hailing from six countries: the UK, US, the Netherlands, Iraq, Tunisia and Palestine.

A total of 1,900 nominations from 49 countries - 22 Arab and 27 foreign countries - were submitted for the 14th  Sheikh Zayed Book Award across its nine categories.

Salma Khadra Al-Jayussi, 94, was awarded Cultural Personality of the Year for her contribution to Arabic literature and culture.

The prize for literature went to Tunisian poet Moncef Ouhaibi for his book “Belkas ma Qabl Al-Akheera.”

Meanwhile, The Young Author award went to Iraqi writer and academic Hayder Qasim for his book “ilm Al-Kalam Al-Islami fi Derasat Al-Mustashrikeen Al-Alman.”

Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat clinched the Children’s Literature award for her book “Al-Fatah Al-Laylakeyyah.”

Other winners included Tunisian translator Mohamed Ait Mihoub, Dutch author Richard van Leeuwen and London’s Banipal Magazine.

The winner of each category took home a prize of $204,192.