The UAE is turning 50 this year and it's not very often we come across a hotel that's almost the same age as the country. But nestled in Al Aqah, in the emirate of Fujairah, is one of the nation's very first beach resorts.
Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort first opened in 1978, originally as a place where scuba divers would rent a chalet after a day exploring the waves along the east coast.
Today, the resort has 102 rooms and offers what it calls "a true beach experience" with "authentic and vintage rooms".
Curious to find out exactly what that means, The National went along to spend the night at one of the UAE's oldest holiday escapes.
After a lovely drive from Dubai that took us through mountain underpasses, along winding cliffside roads and past a sparkling blue shoreline, we arrive at Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort.
Parking next to the reception hall, we head inside to check-in. Key in hand, we return to our car and drive right inside the resort where we park beside the room we'll be staying at. This makes things very handy if you have a lot of supplies, children or suitcases with you.
Located in Al Aqah, about a two-hour drive from Dubai, Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort has been operating in some form for more than 40 years.
This part of the country has one of the best coastlines for marine life, and the resort draws divers, snorkellers and water babies keen on spotting turtles, fish and more.
The hotel has direct access to one of Fujairah's most famed attractions: the marine-protected Snoopy Island. Elsewhere, the surrounding Al Hajar Mountains offer trekking and biking opportunities for adventurous souls.
The safety measures
Temperatures are scanned upon entry and all staff wear face masks. In the room, we're provided with hand sanitiser and additional face masks. We do spot a few guests wandering around the gardens with no masks on, which is slightly disconcerting. We raised the issue to management, but are somewhat reassured the resort is so expansive that it's easy to keep our distance from these rogue troublemakers.
Hand sanitiser is available throughout the resort, including in the restaurants, although it's not always in the most visible of locations, so don't be afraid to ask for it.
We’re staying in a Snoopy Standard room, which is on the ground floor of the hotel's main two-storey complex. There's a king-size bed and large television, plus sliding doors that open out on to a small terrace.
The room is basic, but spacious and a cute display of towels shaped like swans is a nice retro welcome. The bathroom is adequate, with a powerful shower. A little kitchenette area gives us tea and coffee-making facilities, and there's a good-sized fridge for storing drinks and snacks.
Located in the quietest part of the resort, the patio outside is an ideal place to sit and enjoy the sound of the ocean waves. All rooms (except those located on the upper floor of the duplex complex) have their own private entryway, making social distancing easy.
The majority of staff are friendly and polite, with the staff at the beach bar being the most memorable in terms of making small talk and offering advice on what to order. Some of the reception staff don't seem to be quite so clued-up, and we overheard more than one guest querying information on their bill or not getting an answer to something else they had asked.
The carefree vibe that you'd expect from a former diving village remains at Sandy Beach. Families renting chalets sprawl in the gardens or barbecue on their grill, while those staying in the hotel rooms spend evenings enjoying the sea breeze from their patio or balcony.
The entire vibe is very chilled out – from the shoreside massages and Zanzibar-esque beach bar to the glistening infinity pool where sundowners are best enjoyed.
Children are certainly welcome here, and will love having access to the Splash Pad. With slides, fountains and a play area, this mini water park is ideally located in the centre of the resort so parents can keep an eye on little ones without too much stress.
Staying true to its roots, the resort remains popular with divers and has many repeat visitors. No other resort in the country has such unrestricted access to the protected marine site that is Snoopy Island. The Sandy Beach Dive Centre offers boat and shore dives to wrecks and reefs and can share the best sites for spotting blacktip reef sharks, turtles, sting rays and more.
Most people staying in the bungalows opt for the DIY barbecue experience. Each chalet has its own grill and staff can help with lighting it or providing food to cook on it, although guests are welcome to bring their own supplies.
Those staying in hotel rooms do not have barbecue access. Instead, dining options include Amouage Seafood Restaurant, where breakfast is also served, Snoopys Beach Bar + Grill and Snoopy's Lounge. The Clubhouse is another option, although this was closed during our visit.
We tried all of the available options and our favourites were beachside dining at the grill, and the creative poolside drinks. Snoopy’s Lounge was also lovely, with views over the water.
Amouage Seafood was unfortunately rather disappointing. We tried the grilled prawns (Dh80) served with vegetables and French fries, and the grilled lamb chops (Dh70), which also came with fries. Both dishes were adequate, but nothing special, and the overall dining experience was overshadowed by the very dated net curtains, faded tablecloths and heavy dark wooden furniture. Sitting outside was much better, if the flies don't bother you then dine alfresco.
Upstairs, the tiki-style Oceanview Bar is a good place to go for a game of pool or to enjoy a drink and the views from the sizeable terrace. There’s also karaoke for anyone who enjoys that sort of thing.
Highs and lows
No other resort in Fujairah has this direct access to Snoopy Island, which is a definite draw. Lounging in the infinity pool at sunset and enjoying the ocean on one side, surrounding palm trees and craggy mountain views on the other, makes it easy to feel like you're visiting somewhere further afield than Fujairah, which is a great antidote at a time when overseas travel is heavily restricted.
The low was the all-day dining restaurant. While the food was reasonably priced, dining here made us feel like we were stuck in a time warp.
The insider tip
Book a massage on the beach. There is an on-site spa, but if you want a more unique experience, ask to have your treatment on the beach pavilion. You can listen to the sound of the ocean, feel the sunshine on your legs and enjoy an excellent Ayurvedic treatment, all for a very reasonable price.
It’s easy to see why this place remains an old favourite with those who have been in the UAE a long time. It's unlike any other resort we’ve visited in the country, and offers a rustic beachside break.
While there is room for improvement – most notably on the F&B side – if you want a carefree, tropical getaway with the family, book one of the bungalows or chalets, bring some self-catering supplies and get set to unwind.
The bottom line
Rooms at Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort start from Dh414, with self-catering bungalow options from Dh753, both excluding taxes. These rates are non-refundable. Standard check-in is from 3pm and checkout is at noon.
Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort, Al Aqah, Fujairah; www.sandybeach.ae
This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel during the global coronavirus pandemic. It reflects hotel standards during this time, services may change in the future.