The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab
Qasr Al Sarab. Supplied
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Updated 27 November 2020

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

DUBAI: The colors change depending on which direction you’re facing or what time of day it is. The shifting sands ripple in undulating, multi-colored waves — rusty oranges, wisps of silver, shimmering gold. The colors depend on the minerals in the sand, but also on the effects of the ever-present sun, beating down on one of the world’s harshest and most desolate landscapes.

This is the Rub’ Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter. At 650,000 square kilometers, this giant desert is larger than France, and straddles four countries — Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE. It is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world.

Of course, given that the majority of the Gulf region consists almost exclusively of desert, that may not sound especially impressive. But comparing this vast swathe of towering dunes to any other desert is to do it a significant disservice. Not least because, on the UAE side, it is also home to the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab hotel.




Anantara Pool Villa Terrace. Supplied

Nestled in a desert valley with soaring dunes to the left and right and salt flats in front, the hotel announces itself with stone towers, grand trellises and water features, resembling an old Arabian fortress town.

Qasr Al Sarab is basically the only structure for miles around — a lone ship adrift in a sea of sand. So the hotel must sustain itself, given it’s two hours from Abu Dhabi and about 45 minutes from any other notable township. The hotel recycles all its water, has its own sewage plant, and even grows its own fruits and vegetables in a desert greenhouse.

The hotel, which reopened on August 15 having been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been busy preparing for the return of guests. Especially those from the local market. There’s a newly refurbished gym (complete with Technogym equipment), new kid’s club and a revamped pool area. The on-site restaurants offer traditional options — via a Bedouin-style outdoor, tented area —as well as more modern ones in the rooftop steakhouse, Suhail.




The on-site restaurants offer traditional options as well as more modern ones in the rooftop steakhouse, Suhail. Supplied

The hotel library is stocked with historic books and information on the landscape just beyond the windows. It’s the perfect place to read up on the Empty Quarter’s ecosystem: the fearsome and the tame alike. Although it seems devoid of life at first glance the desert is actually home to plenty. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes, sand foxes, gazelles, birds, scorpions and camel spiders. The Abu Dhabi government has been working on an oryx rehabilitation program, releasing Arabian oryx into the protected area near the hotel.

And the hotel itself hosts numerous animals. A small population of Arabian horses and camels take guests on treks through the dunes at sunrise, while six Saluki dogs, traditionally trained for hunting by nomadic Arabian tribes, perform shows with the hotel’s falcons. But if you’re really looking for something to get your heart racing —and stomach churning — head out for some dune bashing. It is, of course, a favored pastime wherever you are in the UAE, but the size of the dunes in the Empty Quarter means the experience is even more hair-raising than usual. Any rollercoaster will forevermore pale in comparison to an hour in a Nissan Patrol with skilled driver Waris, one of the most experienced dune bashers in the area. He was on location with the crew of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and was also charged with taking the new Bentley Bentayga for a spin to test its capabilities.




The size of the dunes in the Empty Quarter means the experience of dune bashing is even more hair-raising than usual. Shutterstock

After a lie down to recover, evening entertainment comes in the form of pitching up under the stars. The vastness of the night sky seems more obvious here, the stars clearer than anywhere else in the country — a particular shock to city-dwellers so unaccustomed to the wonders of a clear sky. Here, the peace and tranquility seem almost otherworldly; just as explorer Wilfred Thesiger described the area 70 years ago in “Arabian Sands,” when he wrote: “It was very still with the silence which we have driven from our world.”

It may have gained five-star lodgings since then, but this magnificent desert remains fundamentally unchanged.


Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes
Updated 28 February 2021

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes
  • The cafe’s original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years
  • Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighboring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions

DUBAI: A haven for humans craving furry feline company, a cat cafe in Dubai also doubles as an adoption center for some of the United Arab Emirates’ many strays.
The Ailuromania Cat Cafe, which was the Middle East’s first cat cafe when it opened in 2015, hopes the relaxing properties of its 25 rescue and shelter cats will help find them their forever homes.
“Anyone who is stressed just has to find a cat. All your stress will go away,” said Omnia Fareed, whose two cat-loving sisters Allaa and Iman started the cafe after university, taking inspiration from similar establishments in Korea and London.
The cafe’s original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years. Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighboring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions.
The cafe’s name Ailuromania is a play on the Greek-derived English word for a lover of cats: ailurophile.
The cafe has regular customers who come seeking relaxation from the stresses of life, or because they cannot keep a cat at home.
“They are so cute, they love playing,” said visitor Shaasthra. She said she appreciates how the cafe looks after the cats’ welfare by advising people not to hold them or wake them up.
Another regular visitor, a street cat who would stare in through the window, was also invited and eventually adopted.
Since Dubai began lifting coronavirus lockdown measures last summer, the cafe re-opened with capacity and sanitization restrictions.
Dubai has a large number of stray cats, with many abandoned on the streets by their owners. In 2018 UAE authorities made it illegal to abandon animals, but animal welfare activists in Dubai have for years called for a large-scale trap-neuter-release scheme and feeding programs to bring numbers down humanely.
In August, Dubai municipality issued a circular restating a policy of fining anyone caught feeding strays, saying it increases the spread of diseases.


Sneaker giant New Balance releases latest line with French-Moroccan label

New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied
New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Sneaker giant New Balance releases latest line with French-Moroccan label

New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied

DUBAI: The latest collaboration between Casablanca x New Balance dropped yesterday on casablancaparis.com and, naturally, it sold-out within minutes – Footwear designer Amina Muaddi took to Instagram to show off her pair – But, if you didn’t manage to click “add to cart,” then we have some good news for you: You can still get your hands on a pair of the highly covetable footwear when they drop in the region next week.

Drop III comes in two silhouettes. The 327 boasts an octopus-like outsole that extends up the shoe and an interlocking Moroccan tile print that stays true to the French-Moroccan designer Charaf Tajer’s North African roots.

New Balance x Casablanca 327 silhouette. Supplied

Meanwhile, featuring a wedge heel, suede, mesh and nylon upper, as well as Casablanca’s signature monogram design, the 237 is an entirely new silhouette. Unlike the 327 style, the lugs on the outsole are less bold and don’t extend up the back of the shoe. 

Both trainers feature a clean white, pink and green colorway and an oversized “N” logo on the upper.

It’s not the first time the Paris-based apres-sports fashion house and the footwear company have joined forces. In fact, this recent drop marks their third footwear collaboration together.

New Balance x Casablanca 237 silhouette. Supplied

Casablanca’s first collaboration with New Balance debuted last year, when the 327 dropped in zesty orange and green colorways, inspired by Moroccan sweet oranges and tennis uniforms, respectively. 

The Casablanca x New Balance 327 and 273 sneakers will be available to purchase on March 5 at 9am (KSA time) on newbalance.co.ae and will be retailing for $163 for the 327 and $150 for the 237. Given how quickly the shoes sold out online on Feb. 27, we suggest setting an alarm.


Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions

“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied
“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions

“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied

LONDON: “White Eye” — a short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan — serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. After all, the pivotal moment at the heart of Shushan’s semi-autobiographical (and recently Oscar-nominated) short involves little more than a dispute over a stolen bicycle, with no lavish set pieces or special effects required to create an enthralling atmosphere. Furthermore, “White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike.

The short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. Supplied

The camera buzzes around Omer, sometimes looking over his shoulder, then backing up to show events unfolding in front of him, or circling to show the audience what he can’t see. It makes for an intense 20 minutes of cinema, and it’s no surprise that “White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.

“White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike. Supplied

Shushan keeps the scale of the film small. “White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. As Omer’s attempts to get his bike back escalate into a far more high-stakes situation, there’s a palpable sense of rising tension and, without giving away too much of the story (which would undo the strength of the narrative), Shushan begins to ask a number of uncomfortable questions — about assumption, about prejudice, about empathy and retribution.

“White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. Supplied

The 20-minute runtime flashes past in a heartbeat as the tiny world the film inhabits becomes both more familiar through repetition, and more uncomfortable as the severity of the situation dawns on Omer — and, by extension, the audience. Thanks to an understated performance from Gad, we see Omer begin to ask himself the hard questions about the strength of his own character. And by that point, we’re so taken in by Shushan’s carefully crafted microcosm that we can’t help but ask ourselves the same of our own humanity.


Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram
Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram
Updated 28 February 2021

Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid offered fans a glimpse into how she treats her autoimmune disorders in an Instagram post this weekend.

On Friday, the 24-year-old posted a series of photos showing her hooked up to an intravenous drip. “Living with a few chronic autoimmune disease = always finding time for my IVs,” she captioned the post.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012 alongside with younger brother Anwar, 21, and their mother, Yolanda, 57.

In 2016, Bella opened up to People magazine about dealing with Lyme disease while being in the spotlight.

“Life isn’t always what it looks like on the outside, and the hardest part of this journey is to be judged by the way you look instead of the way you feel,” she said at the time.


Part-Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi is the star of the Dundas Fall 2021 collection

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied
The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Part-Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi is the star of the Dundas Fall 2021 collection

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied

DUBAI: Norwegian designer Peter Dundas presented the Dundas Fall 2021 collection this week with a little help from Malika El-Maslouhi. The fashion heavyweight tapped the Moroccan-Italian rising model to showcase the glamorous new offering, which was digitally presented in a look book format.

The 22-year-old, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, features in the look book, shot by fashion photographer Charlotte Wales in London, wearing 31 looks that range from draped minidresses and velvet pantsuits to slender duster coats and the brand’s newest category — hosiery.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MALIKA (@malika.elmaslouhi)

“If we’re ever allowed to go out at night again, I promise I’m stepping out in @dundasworld,” wrote El-Maslouhi on Instagram alongside a carousel of videos and photos that included backstage clips from the shoot. “What a fun day it was and loved to rock these looks. Thank you for having me,” she added.

Indeed, the collection is perfect for post-lockdown revelry.

Inspired by the glamour of the 1930s and the 1970s, the collection was punctuated with flowy wide-leg trousers, tailored jackets worn over lavish dresses, fringed tops and skirts, feathered cardigan dresses and lots of animal print.

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied

The London-based designer chose rich and luxurious fabrics such as velvet and charmeuse and details like ostrich fur and sequins to dream up the latest offering.

El-Maslouhi, who is signed to VIVA Model Management, made her modelling debut when she was 18 years old at the Alberta Ferretti Fall 2019 show and went on to walk for the Dior Cruise 2020 show held in Marrakech a month later.

She would go on to quit her university studies to pursue modeling full-time, and completely captivate the fashion industry in the process.

The model posed for Norwegian designer Peter Dundas’s latest collection. Supplied

In addition to gracing the runways of storied fashion houses such as Hermes and Chanel, the rising fashion star has also appeared in international campaigns for the likes of Jacquemus and Zadig & Voltaire, and was selected as the face of Calvin Klein swimwear.

Meanwhile, the model, who splits her time between Italy, France and the Netherlands, was also recently selected as the cover star of the latest edition of Elle France.