Welcome to Middle East’s super luxurious resort – Banyan Tree AlUla, Saudi Arabia

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Sumita Chakraborty was whisked away on invitation to the enchanting, super luxe Banyan Tree AlUla, Saudi Arabia, for its scintillating grand launch, and the experience was truly awesome. Read all about Sumita’s exciting travelscape on the gorgeous Banyan Tree AlUla and of course, amazing AlUla.

Banyan Tree AlUla resort: The tent villa


It’s the month of love. …‘Tis the time to spread your wings and explore new horizons and avenues, places that are less traversed yet are extraordinarily fabulous. One such place that I recommend is the picturesque land of AlUla in Saudi Arabia called the world’s largest living museum that holds 200,000 years of unexplored human history. I travelled to the luxurious Banyan Tree AlULa for its grand launch extravaganza and it was indeed an experience to behold. Here’s presenting my magnificent AlUla experiential where time and space stood still and I was transported to an extraordinary land replete with rich history and heritage.


The Grand Launch
Said to be one of the oldest cities in the world dating way back to the 6th century to the times of the amazing ‘Silk Route’, the ruggedly beautiful oasis city of AlUla in Saudi Arabia was always high up on my bucket list. But call it destiny or just plain old fashioned ‘jinx’, somehow or the other, my trip to this amazingly picturesque place was thwarted twice – once for the pandemic and the second time ‘round for some unforeseen technical issue. There is, thankfully, a saying, ‘third time lucky’ and for me, that came true when the premium Accor Hotels invited me for the opening launch of their super luxurious resort Banyan Tree AlUla in picture-perfect Ashar Valley, AlUla, Saudi Arabia. It would be a curated experience, they promised, one I’d never forget! …And it definitely was that and much more.
I was flown in the Emirates Dreamliner Business Class to Dubai and then adroitly transferred to an amazingly plush chartered flight to AlUla along with a group of international media personnel. The trip was a happy one, to say the least as the gregarious air hostesses catered to all our whims of having authentic Arabic food and dates.
AlUla Behold!
A few hours later, the pilot announced that we were landing at AlUla airport. My first glimpse of AlUla was a bird’s eye view from the window of the plane. All I could see was vast expanses of stark rugged land replete with craggy sandstone mountains surrounded by powdery shifting silky sand dunes. It was almost as if I was transported into another land. But the aura of this bare land was so serenely poetic that I could feel a sense of calm and peace prevail over me. Indeed, I was far away from the hustle bustle noisiness of city life.
The plane landed at the small but swish airport of AlUla, and I was whisked into the airport’s luxurious lobby, with all the formalities done in record time. The officials at the airport were extremely courteous and incredibly efficient.
From the airport, I was transferred into a Landrover which sped through the polished tarmac into a well-maintained road that crisscrossed the surrounding sand dunes and rock structures. It was already evening and the setting sun, dipping in the clear skies twinkling with tiny stars, silhouetted against the exquisite pristine surroundings. There was vast barrenness all around yet in the suspended emptiness and timelessness, lay a serene calm that was almost magical.
Through the sand dunes and craggy sandstone outcrops, passing the mirrored, manmade wonder Maraya, I reached the luxe Banyan Tree AlUlA resort… and it was breathtakingly beautiful. This luxe resort is situated in an eco-tourism region and comprises of beautiful tented villas dotted around vast expanses of a sandy desert. There were no demarcations or walls to confine this wonderful abode nestled in nature’s lap.
Supposedly, this sprawling all-villa tented resort is inspired by Nabataean architecture and what was remarkably striking was that the resort was wonderfully in sync with the beautiful natural surroundings of the Ashar Valley.


The Villa Tents
The villas were spacious and super luxurious and comprised of Dune one-bedroom villa, Dune one-bedroom pool villa, Dune two-bedroom pool villa and Dune three-bedroom pool villa – all super spacious and beautifully done up with authentic handicraft artifacts.
So after being greeted warmly by the staff who offered us Arabian tea and amazing dates, we (the other media personnel and me) were taken in golf carts to our individual luxe villas. It took us almost 15 minutes to reach my two-bedroom pool villa which comprised a plush living room, two huge bedrooms, two powder rooms and spacious bathrooms with huge bath tubs. The bedroom and living room doors opened to a cute open patio where one could sit and admire the sandy dunes and clear skies. There is a fire pit that can be fired up on request. There was also a stunning plunge pool. And the view was of the magical desert with sand dunes and rock structures wedged in between.
The Magical Rock Pool
But what got me super excited was the rock pool and I grabbed one of the golf carts and got the driver to take me there. After 15 minutes of crisscrossing the vast property, I reached. Clambering up the numerous steps, I was at the azure blue rock pool wedged between the mountains and it was truly out of the world. Beside the rock pool, was a spa, unfortunately, because of my hectic schedule I didn’t have time to check it out but I did hear from others, it was very good. Anyway, after a rejuvenating rock pool’ dekko, I rushed back to my villa to enjoy some secluded peace and quiet. The AC bedroom had curtains that were electronically pulled back ‘n’ forth and indeed, the villa resort was a great mix of super luxe modernity mingled with timeless age-old past.
The next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast at the all-day dining restaurant Harrat which, had a mezze platter and of course, continental food, I decided to explore the magnificent city of AlUla. My driver knew no English but he was friendly and grinned from ear to ear each time we complimented the amazing roads at AlUla. The view all around too was stark yet magnificent. There were expanses of vast desert land all around but in some clusters, it was dotted by homes and shops.


Magnificent AlUla
The first place I was driven to was the striking Jabal Ikmah and Jabal Alfil or the Elephant rock. I spotted a camel decked up with traditional handicrafts and the rider insisted that I ride the camel. After some affable negotiations and the exchange of money, I gingerly sat on the camel – it was a little daunting at first more so when the magnificent animal got up to his lofty height – but the camel was gentle and sashayed calmly past the sandy trail closer to the Elephant Rock. Short ride but a fab experience!
The mystical city of AlUla is one of the world’s biggest wonders as it has so many fab heritage sites and one of them is AlUla Old Town. In the 12th century, AlUla Old Town was an essential hub in the pilgrimage route between Damascus and Makkah. The houses here were unique as they were attached to each other like a fort. Today, with nearly 900 houses, 400 shops and 5 town squares, AlUla Old Town with its original stone and mud-brick houses look remains untouched by the hands of modernity. I spotted rows of quaint traditional shops with handicrafts. Needless to say, I was ready to shop till I dropped! But our guide was extremely resilient and made sure I reached the spectacular Harrat viewpoint to have a dekko at the fab view.
But it was already lunch time and I rushed back to Harrat to have a wonderful meal – this multi-cuisine all-day restaurant has amazing food and a wonderfully varied menu.
Adventures & Experiences
My helicopter ride over fab AlULa was next on the cards and that was indeed a surreal experience – I could see AlULa’s glorious heritage sights from the skies. There was horse riding and trekking too but I gave it a miss as I had to get ready for the evening festivity.


The Extravaganza
The Banyan Tree AlUla’s launch was nothing less than an extravaganza. Proudly dressed up in my Indian clothes, I mingled with guests from all across the world at the amazing Maraya. ‘Maraya’, covered with 9,740 mirrored panels, means ‘mirrors’ and is a proud addition to AlULa as it is the world’s biggest mirrored building which reflects all of Alula’s beauty. The iconic Mariah Carey was performing live there and I was given the very front seat to get a first-hand feel of her amazing songs and energy. It was truly unreal and an amazing experience.
After an hour-long amazing concert, dinner was at the Maraya Social where the chef whipped up all the flavours of the AlUla Oasis. The food was a melting pot of Arabian, Mediterranean and British and was mouth-wateringly delicious. It had both veg and non veg delicacies. It was extremely entertaining meeting so many Saudi dignitaries and the media from various parts of the world.
Revelries ended by midnight and I was escorted to my golf cart and whisked away to my villa. The desert air guaranteed a good night’s sleep and I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Hegra Calls
My sightseeing stint started almost immediately. I was heading to Hegra and I must say that the drive was truly amazing – a picture-perfect scenic desert land resonating perfectly with the driver singing melodiously in Arabic.
Hegra, a UNESCO world heritage site was the principal southern city of the Nabataen kingdom, today; it’s known for its labyrinth of monumental tombs. Walking towards it, I could feel the rapid fluttering of the pages of time showcasing thousands of years of undiluted history – it was indeed spectacular. I wanted to linger on for some more time but the Banyan Tree AlULa’s grand launch was in the evening and this I knew would unfold an exciting and scintillating show not to be missed.
The Grand Evening!
The grand launch of Banyan Tree AlULa was an evening replete with sheer magic and excitement. Celebrities and media personnel from different corners of the world gathered here were dressed in their best finery and as we all gamboled to the venue plumb in the middle of the expansive desert, fireworks lit up the clear midnight blue skies. The evening started with an amazing show by horsemen who showed off their skill and adroitness while riding and it was truly a wonderful spectacle. Eddy See, President and CEO, Banyan Tree Group then took to the dais to greet everybody. He said, “We are thrilled to launch Banyan Tree in the beautiful valley of AlUla in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Founded in 6th century BC, AlUla is filled with so much history and we are honored to be part of its heritage efforts.” I caught up with him for a brief conversation where the charming Eddy See told me how he launched the Banyan Tree in AlUla in perfect sync with the environment.
The amazing show was followed by a grand banquet dinner replete with mouth-watering Arabian flavours. With loads of fun, conversation and amazing food, the grand launch was a big success… and as we returned to our villas, we couldn’t help but think, yes, Banyan Tree AlUla is indeed an architectural marvel that has been done in total sync with the ruggedness of nature and AlUla’s rich heritage and injected with luxurious modernity. Definitely, a feat!
Trippin’ Around
The next morning, I decided to check my beautiful surroundings and after breakfast, strolled around a bit around my tented villa and then sat down on the patio to read a book. I loved the calm of the desert and it made me feel at peace. Lunch was again at Harrat after which, I spent the entire afternoon, going to the rock pool and then exploring my villa.

Rock Pool


Though we could have dinner at Banyan Tree’s signature Thai restaurant Saffron, I opted to go to ‘Somewhere’ restaurant. It was dark and I was alone but I felt very safe and calm. ‘Somewhere’ was a wonderful restaurant that served Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine and was indeed a hidden gem as the food was absolutely fab.
I returned back to the villa and I was tired, so off to sleep I went. The next morning, it was time to leave this heavenly abode. With a heavy heart, I left Banyan Tree AlUla and the magnificent city of AlUla saying au revoir for I knew I will return someday soon.
The food, hospitality and service at Banyan Tree were truly impressive. As for the Banyan Tree AlUla, it is indeed divine and definitely recommended more so for romantic getaways. Go ahead, check out fabulous AlUla and the luxurious Banyan Tree, put that on your bucket list, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

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