The Luxe List 2009, United Arab Emirates: Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa, Abu Dhabi

Get back to nature in style at this Arabian Nights–inspired gem, the first Middle East resort by Thailand’s Anantara group. The 64 villas nestle amid date palms on Sir Bani Yas, the largest natural island in the UAE and site of an 87-square-kilometer wilderness reserve established by the late ruler Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It’s a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi, but your time on the road will be amply rewarded. Thanks to decades of conservation work and ecological investment, the reserve is now home to thousands of free-roaming animals and birds, including gazelles, giraffes, and the critically endangered Arabian oryx. When you’re not partaking in the resort’s nature-driven activities—jeep safaris, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, and snorkeling among them—relax in one of the lavishly appointed suites, fitted with cool terra-cotta floors, Egyptian cotton sheets, large marble bathrooms, and Middle Eastern art. Private seafood dinners can be arranged on the beach, but the best water views are afforded from Samak restaurant, which overlooks the infinity pool and the Persian Gulf beyond (Sir Bani Yas Island; 971-2/801-5400;; doubles from US$381).

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