Is this the most expensive hotel in the Middle East? Inside Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Reserve

Rates at Nujuma, the Middle East's first Ritz-Carlton Reserve, start from $2,640 a night

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Saudi Arabia’s hotel rates have hit a new high after Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve opened at the Red Sea destination.

Room rates at the all-villa island retreat start at 9,913 riyals ($2,640) making the hotel the most expensive in the region, and more than double the room rates at Dubai’s seven star Burj Al Arab hotel.

One of only seven Ritz-Carlton Reserves in the world, the kingdom’s newest island escape promises travellers an idyllic hideaway in one of Saudi Arabia's most remote corners.

“All of our reserves are ultra-luxury, and they're also designed to be in very remote, private places for people who are explorers and actively seek out these locations,” Tony Coveney, general manager at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve and the St Regis Red Sea Resort, which was the first property to open on the coast at the destination, tells The National.

Nujuma is the third hotel to open on the 28,000-square-km expanse of islands and coral reef on Saudi Arabia’s west coast. Six Senses Southern Dunes, The Red Sea – an inland property – was the first to open in November 2023.

Sunset beach villas at the new reserve on Ummahat Island start at 6,400 riyals, which with added government taxes, fees and transfer charges comes in at nearly 10,000 riyals or $2,600 per night. Travellers who want to stay in the resort's Maldivian-style overwater villas can expect to pay even more, with rates from 8,800 riyals, plus taxes and fees. Basic rates are for two people and include breakfast.

Travellers planning a visit over the coming Eid Al Adha holidays will need to budget for even higher prices, with starting rates for the reserve's beach villas at 14,682 riyals, including taxes and fees.

For the resort's crowning jewel – the three-bedroom Royal Nujuma Villa, which sleeps up to seven people over 359 square metres – rates from 81,095 riyals per night, including taxes and fees, which is more than $20,000 per night. And this is even higher over the coming Eid holidays.

What do travellers get for the money?

Travellers arriving at the resort will come via electric sedan and luxury yacht, or they can opt to pay a little more to arrive by seaplane. Once on the island, there's a choice of 63 beach and overwater villas, each of which has been designed by Foster and Partners and is shaped like a shell.

Stylish interiors pay tribute to the destination, fusing traditional Saudi elements with modern luxury. Arabian ornaments, traditional ceramics, woven rugs and intricate wall hangings showcase local craftsmanship, while panoramic windows make the most of the views. Every villa has a sea-view private pool plus unrestricted access to the surrounding nature.

Several restaurant options are available, inspired by the Arabian tradition of gathering over meals at home to share stories, poetry and philosophy, as well as by the lives of the fishermen from the nearby Umluj region. All-day dining restaurant Sita evokes memories of vibrant bazaars; while Mediterranean-inspired Jamaa offers dishes by the resort's outdoor pool and private beach. Tabrah is a modern interpretation of a fisherman’s home with a menu of seafood specialities; and Maia is the place to watch the sun go down, with a wide-ranging menu of mocktails that have been prepared by expert mixologists.

Neyrah Spa is a wellness haven where guests can choose from a selection of treatments inspired by both regional and international methods. Those seeking something more active can head to Galaxea Diving Centre for excursions into the deep blue, as well as activities such as windsurfing, kayaking and sailing.

With a name inspired by the Arabic word for the stars, Nujuma is set in one of the most naturally beautiful parts of Saudi Arabia. Surrounded by pristine ocean and white shores, the region is also on track to become the world's second-largest international dark sky reserve.

“It's in a part of the world that has a natural dark sky and incredible starlight. There's no cities nearby,” says Coveney. Guests can make the most of the dark sky location via telescopes on the decks of each villa.

“And the outer reef is just mind-blowing. There are sharks and sea turtles, and the other day we saw a massive pod of dolphins right by the island. What's unusual about the reef is that because almost no boats are allowed here, there's been no damage done – no anchors have been dropped and the coral is gorgeous, alive and full of colour.”

The resort's Conservation House is the place to go for travellers hoping to find out more about the indigenous plant and animal life in the Red Sea destination, as well as discovering more stories about this ancient land and how to preserve it.

Guest will want for nothing as they'll be able to rely on their najm or najma throughout their stay. Also derived from the Arabic words for star, these staff members are carefully matched to guests and are available to assist with anything around the clock.

“They are a guest's guiding star and stay with travellers throughout the visit and are reachable via WhatsApp at any hour,” explains Coveney.

Weaving a tale of Arabia

At less than 1km from the St Regis Red Sea Resort, a stay at Nujuma starts with traditional coffee and dates, setting the scene for an Arabian escape, something that continues throughout the reserve.

“Nujuma is built around 10 [themes], split into two groups. One is around Red Sea culture and the other is themed around elements of the Earth. Under Red Sea culture, there are several themes, for instance, dates. Seven dates a day is something that the Prophet Mohammed used to say, meaning if you eat seven dates a day, you'll stay healthy. So we have different date preparations in different parts of the reserve. In the morning, you get a traditional type of date to give you energy for the day; in the spa, we have date smoothies; and then in the Levantine restaurant, the chefs make date balls,” says Coveney.

Other themes include Saudi patterns, fashion and indigenous plants.

“We've been working with the Saudi Fashion Commission and have ceramics, clothing and swimwear from some of the country's top emerging designers in our retail on the island. We also use hijaz textiles, which this region is known for, and we have a magic moringa tree. It's a plant that grows near AlUla and we're using it for shampoos and toiletries.

“It's a super-special destination and you really know you're in Saudi Arabia,” says the general manager who believes the resort's rates are justified.

“In our industry, prices are almost always driven by a combination of product and service,” he explains.

“And you also have that absolute wow factor, plus the people are something special. I've worked all over the world and I don't know if I've come across a culture that has quite the same inherent hospitality – particularly on Saudi Arabia's west coast. They're just kind people, nice people, and they want to show off their country to the best of their abilities.”

Updated: May 30, 2024, 10:23 AM