The Hatta Fort Hotel is an old favourite for UAE corporate retreats, conferences and boardroom meetings about two hours drive from Dubai near the border with Oman.
This 51-room boutique hotel with its stunning mountain setting and award-winning architecture was looking a bit rundown before a renovation programme started four years ago.
That project was completed last spring and this 36-year old property is now again attracting a lot of corporate groups.
When I stayed Control Risks UK was holding one of its regular events in the spacious detached Margham conference suite with one large function room that can be divided into two, with both a balcony in front and breakout area behind it.
Due to arrive the following day, Sharjah-based sun-cover constructor Mister Shade was to hold a gathering for 200 in the semi-permanent marquee to the rear of the hotel that has full air-conditioning and can seat 300. This was a one-day conference. There are not enough rooms for such a large group to be accommodated overnight. Other regular corporate guests include the likes of UAE telecom major du and the hotel’s owners the local Dubai group Dutco.
The recent installation of four Tesla charging stations in the hotel - one US plug and three European - is a testament to the legion of car manufacturers who have found Hatta a useful pit stop for test drives over the years. I was there once with Daimler Chrysler.
But will the refurbishment of this venerable old lady win these prized companies back?
For overnight stays there is a definite improvement. The generously sized, 45-square-metre chalet rooms were formerly a bit of a time capsule.
They are now pleasantly all-white and modernist with huge 220cm super-king beds, nicely finished bathrooms and a private terrace useful for homework or relaxing.
It is true that there is no desk apart from the small dressing table. But the 10.6 Mbps complementary WiFi works well and you have multiplugs. Weekdays start from Dh700 per night, including breakfast.
Room service offers a steak sandwich for Dh69, spaghetti for Dh62, soft drinks at Dh18 and a small water for Dh6, although two are provided.
However, you may need to dine in your room as sadly the only alternative in the evenings for ordinary guests in the hotel is the modest Jeema buffet in what used to be the fine dining restaurant upstairs in the main building, and it can get rather noisy and crowded with families.
That said corporate groups have many other options around the resort that can be set-up especially for them, and this is why corporate event planners have always loved Hatta Fort.
You could have a barbecue at an Arabic camp with an open fire. The second, childrens’ swimming pool area can become a setting for a buffet and barbecue. It features a grass-topped hillock for sundowners and an air-conditioned games room with billiards, AirHockey and table tennis.
Breakfast and lunch are taken at another partially al fresco Cafe Gazebo overlooking the adults-only swimming pool and could also be used in the evening by special arrangement. There are several other niches around the resort where smaller groups of diners could congregate.
For such small hotel this is really quite an amazing number of corporate lunch and dinner options. It is the same when it comes to activities to amuse, entertain and bond corporate guests. I was a complete flop as an archer but managed to hit the target with an air-gun.
There’s also a golf driving range, 9-hole mini golf, a herd of deer, bird sanctuary, goat herd, 20 peacocks, a bio-garden and a perilous-looking climbing wall which was awaiting a new operator, plus a new 2-kilometre hike around the resort that I found quite invigorating; and a newly-equipped gym and spa treatment room.
Unfortunately, the town’s most famous natural feature, the Hatta Pools, is now off-limits except to GCC guests, and the closure of the E44 highway, that passes briefly through Oman, to non-GCC drivers means Hatta is about half-an-hour longer away from Dubai than it used to be. Still, there is a good Heritage Village and a honey bee farm to visit.
I also liked the hotel’s homely charm. Partly due to its relative isolation, many of the staff have been here a long time, although not all as long as Laxman the bellboy who has been working here since the opening of the hotel in 1981.
They are calm and relaxed but still attentive and alert. My request for extra teabags first thing in the morning brought a quick response.
For the most exclusive accommodation choose one of the two-bedroom bungalows set a little away from the main complex that have small private gardens and jacuzzis, and you can land your helicopter nearby, not a facility often available in a small boutique hotel.
Presently, this is the only hotel in Hatta. But the Dubai Government is building a rival on the opposite side of the main road on the same roundabout, and it seems ready to face its first-ever competition.