If the ancient Nabataeans were still flourishing today, with all their advanced skills and ways of life, they probably would have approved of the Banyan Tree AlUla.
In fact, the 300-hectare, all-tent luxury resort was inspired by the Bedouin tribe who roamed the same land thousands of years ago.
Set in the Ashar Valley, Banyan Tree AlUla officially opened last Friday with a glitzy ceremony that included a private performance by Mariah Carey. Made up of 79 luxury tents spread across the resort, each inspired by the nomadic lifestyle of the Nabataeans, it's a desert escape that puts well-being at its centre, while also paying homage to its historical surroundings, which include striking rock formations and the Unesco World Heritage site Hegra.
The National checked in to find out what it has to offer ...
A 40-minute drive from AlUla International Airport through surreal landscapes transports visitors to Banyan Tree AlUla. The first Banyan Tree Group property in Saudi Arabia, the resort's location is unlike any other, set amid rolling dunes and AlUla's otherworldly landscape.
The resort is split into two sections, north and south pavilions, each snaking out into opposite directions through the craggy landscape, and providing each tented villa with a space of its own. The two pavilions are both served by their own reception areas, where guests are checked in in record time and then driven off by buggies to their private villas.
Banyan Tree AlUla joins a number of world-class resorts now open in the Ashar Valley, developed by the Royal Commission for AlUla, including Habitas AlUla. The Singapore-owned Banyan Tree brand is known for its high-end properties around the world and for popularising pool villas.
Ashar Valley is also home to the stunning multi-purpose venue Maraya, the world's largest mirrored building, located a few metres away from the resort, and visible from many of its vantage points.
Guests can choose from four types of villas — one bedroom, one bedroom with pool, two bedroom with pool or three bedroom with pool — with sizes ranging from 77 square metres to 240 square metres for the three-bedroom.
With sustainability at its core, the tented villas come with timber doors and finishings, which hark back to traditional Bedouin homes, as well as locally made handicrafts and decor. Everything within the villa is eco-friendly, including the all-important toiletries, featuring wooden toothbrushes and toothpaste tablets in glass jars, instead of plastic.
Despite a few opening week glitches, staff at Banyan Tree AlUla are willing to please, acknowledging every guest with a hand on their heart even while zooming past each other on the resort's winding pathways during the many buggy rides guests are bound to take.
As the villas are spread across the property, access to other amenities, including restaurants and the spa and pool, are all via buggy. But they generally arrive swiftly with one call to guest services.
Banyan Tree properties are known for their well-being-focused facilities, making the spa one of their main highlights. At the spa in AlUla, there's plenty for guests to do, from massages in secluded caves and soothing sound baths under the stars to a dip in the Insta-worthy rock pool, located between two sandstone mountains, with views of the valley.
For those looking for a little bit of an adventure, visitors can try a vintage plane or helicopter ride, flying over AlUla's historical sites, with the possibility to extend the journey as far as the Red Sea. Guests can also request picnics in the sky aboard a floating hot air balloon.
The resort features two dining venues: Saffron, Banyan Tree’s famed Thai restaurant, and Harrat, the all-day dining restaurant that serves international cuisine.
The insider tip
Go soon before everyone else discovers it.
The setting and landscape alone are worth the trip. But villas are quite secluded and there are minimal opportunities for interaction with other guests, so if you're likely to get bored of your own company, take someone with you.
The bottom line
A one-night stay in a one-bedroom villa at Banyan Tree AlUla starts at Dh5,836, inclusive of breakfast; banyantree.com/saudi-arabia/alula
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