One of the great things about the UAE is the vast number of places there are to escape to for a short staycation. And one of the newest offerings that opened last year in Sharjah is all about getting back to nature: Kingfisher Lodge, which offers a glamping experience in the protected Al Qurm Nature Reserve.
Arriving at the village of Kalba, an enclave of the emirate of Sharjah that’s nestled in the middle of Fujairah, is like stepping back in time. It’s a sleepy village, and there is not a tall building in sight. The drive there takes you through the desert, with the vast Hajjar Mountain landscape laid out ahead. Located between Khor Kalba (Kalba Creek) and the Gulf of Oman, the resort features 20 luxury tents located in a 500-hectare area of protected mangroves, said to be among the oldest in the country.
We take a small boat across the creek to the reserve, where we are welcomed in the central lodge before being shown to our stylish sea-view tent, where there is nothing but ocean for the eye to see. Hawksbill and green turtles nest around the mangroves area, and can be spotted if you are up before it gets too hot or if you venture out as the day cools down. Meanwhile, there are copious amounts of hermit crabs nesting on the beach, awash with greenery, shells and an entire eco-system of its own.
The area is bursting with all kinds of flora and fauna. The endangered Arabian-collared kingfishers — a small to medium-sized bright blue bird with an orange crest and longish beak — are the most famous inhabitants. Flamingos and gazelles are included on the long list of creatures.
The Fat Bikes provided at every tent are a fun way to get a true feel for the reserve, which does not allow fossil-fueled vehicles. Guest buggies are all electric. Each tent also has a private pool, allowing guests to cool off on their doorstep, if they choose not to go into the glorious ocean. There are also flat trails that are perfect for running. The lodge has no gym facilities, but there are a few pieces of outdoor exercise equipment.
Kingfisher Lodge’s cosy spa tent offers the essence of the pared-down lodge, with all products, furnishings and therapists worthy of a five-star hotel. I was given a half-hour neck and shoulder massage that was very relaxing. Cost: Dh225.
Being able to stay in the heart of a nature reserve is really very special. Listening to the chorus of birdsong, you could close your eyes and just for a minute forget you’re just an hour and a half from Dubai. Kingfisher Lodge offers socially conscious activities, including beach clean ups, and will soon be organizing nature walks so that guests can learn more about the work behind such conservation projects and the local eco-system. There are no petrol-driven vehicles on the island and the resort follows the guidelines of the local environment agency. Recycled water and solar lighting are all in the pipeline at the lodge, as are plans to make more use of local resources. The hotel says it uses eco-friendly products where possible and does its best to minimize plastic use. In the rooms, water bottles are made of glass.
Unfortunately, even when booking the more expensive sea-view villa, there is still the view to the opposite side, which looks across to the shops and run-down buildings of the local Corniche main road. But don’t fret. In consultation with the local environmental protection authorities, there will soon be a new row of trees to obscure that view. We really wanted to go kayaking to get into the mangroves, but for now an outside provider charged over Dh500 for two, which is more than double the prices I would pay in Dubai or any other emirate. The good news is that the lodge plans to get equipment of its own to eliminate that extra charge.
Service, even though only three of the tents were occupied, did leave a little to be desired. Calling reception or room service sometimes took three attempts for someone pick up, and simple miscommunications led to missed or wrong orders and at two meal times, room service and in the restaurant.
Packages are half-board and might seem costly. A one-bedroom tent in high season — for example, during Eid — can cost in excess of Dh3,500 per night for a mountain-view tent, and more for sea view. There needs to be more on offer to be able to justify the price in a market that has so much to choose from, such as kayaking, some standup paddle boards, and perhaps snorkeling. That’s because at these prices you can stay in the Maldives, for example. However, Kingfisher Lodge management will soon be introducing more activities, including stargazing, yoga, film nights and family activities, trying to capture the local family market. So stay tuned.
The menu is about to undergo a revamp in a more Emirati direction. For now, we found the food fairly basic: a mix of Arabic dishes and the usual array of international dishes, such as pizza and pasta. But then, when we were there, ours was one of only three tents occupied, so the offerings were, perhaps understandably, somewhat limited. The upgrade in catering should be truly positive and something to look forward to.
We enjoyed breakfast in the room. Platters of fresh fruits were available and were welcomed. But a little more creativity would have been even more appreciated. The offerings remained much like any other property around the word: the usual eggs and granola, bread baskets and pastries. This is one area where all properties, right up to the luxury end, really need to up their game, especially with more healthy options available. Consumers are tired of bread and cereals, and let’s face it, most of us are eating more consciously now too and growing numbers of people realize they can’t, or choose not to, eat gluten or dairy. Thus, alternatives should be readily available, not something to order in advance of arrival. But management already says a lot of changes are coming in the way of dining — so stay tuned there, too.
Go to Sharjah Collection for more information or to book a stay.
Melanie has been practicing yoga for 11 years and teaching for nearly six. She discovered the practice at a time when work life-balance was at its lowest, living a busy life in London working for national newspapers. She teaches at Fairmont The Palm and Zen Yoga Dubai Media City.