The JA Hatta Fort Hotel, set within the rugged mountains in the east of the UAE, is a world away from your typical Dubai holiday.
And now it's offering something extra besides a landscape that is anything but seaside and sand – the opportunity to take your pet on your stay.
The National checked in to see what the experience was like.
The drive from Abu Dhabi takes around two-and-half hours and provides a contrasting backdrop as you go from city to desert, back to city (Dubai), then desert again before winding through the rocky peaks where the small town of Hatta is nestled in a valley.
The hotel is visible on the side of a small hill next to the main road, the E44, so access is straightforward.
We arrive late afternoon having stopped a couple of times on the way to let our dog, a Dalmatian puppy, stretch his legs – and for the kids to stock up on refreshments.
Parking is located close to the reception and dogs are allowed to join you in the foyer as you complete the check-in process, which was smooth and efficient.
Hatta is well-known as a popular location for adventure-seekers. The surrounding mountains provide hiking and biking opportunities aplenty. One of the main attractions is Hatta Dam, a five-minute drive from the hotel and a place where you can rent a small boat, pedalo or, if you really want to burn off some calories, a kayak. We took the kayak option with our dog joining us.
As for the town itself, it's a tranquil, low-rise traditional scene rather than shiny new towers and malls that you'll find across much of Dubai.
The safety measures
Two-metre spacing stickers were visible on the floor from the moment we approached the hotel entrance and sanitiser was on hand inside. Masks were worn in all communal areas and, inside the rooms, the TV remote was wrapped in plastic.
Having visited the resort around six years ago, the chalet-style rooms have since been renovated with fresh paint and some new accessories. While retaining a rustic feel thanks to the stone walls and wooden roof, the rooms now have a brighter, more refreshing feel.
We were staying in adjoining mountain-view rooms with the children on one side, and there was plenty of space. As for the dog, food and water bowls were provided on a sensibly placed bath mat and an easily removable sheet covered the sofa so he had an ample and comfortable sleeping space if he wanted it, although ours preferred his own cushion.
The view from the balcony is spectacular – lush green grass and palm trees with the mountains in the background take you to a new level of relaxation away from the bustle of the city. The Hollywood-esque Hatta sign is also visible in the distance.
We were given a short tour on arrival as the staff made our options clear in regards to how to incorporate the dog into our plans.
There were three dining choices: room service, outside in the Palm Tree Garden, or in the conference hall where they had set up a few dining tables for those who wish to eat inside with their pet.
We had dinner in the Palm Tree Garden as the evening air was thankfully cooler. Staff asked how we would like each course to be spaced out time-wise and were true to their word arriving, via golf buggy, with the dishes hot.
The in-room dining service was swift, though we had to make do with sitting at the coffee table which made things slightly awkward height-wise.
From the moment you reach the hotel's driveway and come face to face with a group of deer, you know it is going to be animal-friendly. By the time the car is parked you'll likely also have seen rabbits and perhaps a peacock or two strutting about.
The expansive, undulating grounds provide a pleasant and safe environment for dog walking and there's a marquee where they can be let off the leash. While we saw a few other guests with pets, those staying without one don't need to worry about being overrun by rampaging dogs.
For guests wishing to remain on-site, there are two swimming pools – one with a waterfall which keeps the young ones entertained – and other forms of activity such as archery, mini-golf, air gun shooting and a bouncy castle. The hotel also has its own small mountain trail for some extra exercise and a fabulous vantage point.
It may be a four-star retreat, but the dining was superior to that. From the grilled scallops starter (Dh63) to the prawn masala (Dh110), all of the meals that we had were of a high standard, and it was good to see the children's menu going beyond the usual nuggets or pizza and chips. They enjoyed the likes of lemon sea bass (Dh55) and pad Thai (Dh55).
Highs and lows
Having your pet with you is a weight off the mind, and ours certainly felt at ease with the surroundings. In fact, the relaxed atmosphere is a blessing for all, as you don't spend your time worrying about what you can and can't do with the dog or upsetting other guests. Of course, had he spent the whole time barking that may have been different.
Kayaking at the dam is worth a day trip even if you're not staying at the hotel and provides an experience that you just can't get elsewhere. The scenery is extraordinary.
One pointer for how the hotel could improve the experience for pet owners would be to have a dog-sitting or kennel service. While you can leave pets in the room you run the risk, and potential cost, of any damage occurring.
The Insider tip
While relaxing by the pool is perfectly acceptable, it's best to pack your walking shoes and a hat because the best things to do in Hatta are outdoors. Aside from Hatta Dam, Hatta Wadi Hub offers plenty of adrenalin-filled pursuits with plunge pool slides, zorbing and biking.
And, don't worry if you forget to pack any essentials – there's a supermarket and ATM within walking distance of the hotel.
If you live in the city and need to get away, but don't want to be separated from your dog, then it's a case of problem solved. The hotel may lack a little jazz but makes up for it with character and a gorgeous setting in which both pet and owner can have a great time.
The bottom line
Room rates start from Dh575 per night, including breakfast, and guests can get 50 per cent off their third night. There is an additional cost of Dh150 per stay and Dh50 per day, per pet, to be added for sanitisation and dedicated pet cleaning services.
JA Hatta Fort Hotel, Hatta Oman Road, Hatta, Dubai; jaresortshotels.com