Staycation review: Inside Habitas AlUla, an otherworldly desert resort
There are few places where you can still feel like a true explorer charting the unknown. AlUla, deep in the desert in the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, is one of those places. It is anything but ordinary.
With its endless dunes, surreal rock formations and otherworldly landscapes, AlUla has its own story waiting to be told. So, when we’re given an opportunity to escape our daily lives to AlUla – if only for the weekend – and all necessities are taken care of, we’d agree to do it in a heartbeat.
And what better way to unplug and still enjoy all the trimmings of a resort than at Habitas AlUla? If you’re searching for a getaway that’s as luxe as it is eco-friendly, Habitas AlUla should be firmly on the must-visit list. It is far enough away to feel a little remote, but at the same time, guests will not be cocooned away from the life of the city.
We explore the resort and give you the inside scoop on Habitas AlUla…
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AlUla is easy to reach for residents in Saudi Arabia, and it’s only about an hour and 40 minutes flight from Riyadh. Zip just 45 minutes by car from AlUla International Airport to the stunning gem that is Habitas AlUla. The desert canyons of the Ashar Valley are the setting for this luxury resort, built using sustainable materials and surrounded by sandstone cliffs and palm groves.
A short drive away from several tourist attractions, including AlUla’s Old Town and Maraya, this easily accessible getaway balances stylish luxury, polished comforts, quirky fun, adventure, and genuine service.
Habitas AlUla is a true desert sanctuary for those seeking rest and relaxation. Fused with Arabian aesthetics, its modern architecture inspired by the natural desert environs captivates, as do stunning sweeping views of the sandstone cliffs.
Habitas AlUla brings light to one of AlUla’s gems, allowing guests to embark on a haven of nature, discovery and tranquillity. There is so much culture enveloping the resort, and just like the region itself, Habitas AlUla is akin to a living museum, where every experience here is rooted in tradition.
Stepping into the reception area is like entering inside a Bedouin tent with plush furnishings. We are given a bracelet embedded with the brand’s signature wooden compass during check-in. We are then encouraged to scatter aromatic mastika stones onto a burning incense and take a moment to set our intention for what lies ahead in our wellness journey.
The widespread resort stretches generously across the property; each villa is well spaced out for you to enjoy your own privacy, yet you’re not totally isolated.
Pitched on elevated wooden platforms, the freestanding villas are absolutely contemporary and feature floor-to-ceiling glass for that living-in-the-desert feel. Beautifully spacious inside, the mix of local textiles and natural, earth-toned furnishings embrace the sense and allure of the stunning desert surroundings.
All 96 villas in the resort offer private outdoor lounge decks and king-sized beds positioned to take advantage of the picturesque canyon views. They also come with an electronic bike, so you’ll have the chance to explore the property – but if you prefer, there’s always a buggy to ferry you around.
The serene resort spans three tiers: Celestial Villas, Alcove Villas, and Canyon Villas. We stayed in the premium Celestial Villa, which is outfitted with a sofa, a variety of pouffes, a telescope, beautiful rugs, and other mid-century modern furniture. From the villa’s large deck adorned with ornate lanterns and a table, the first thing we notice is the unnerving stillness, and it’s easy to get lost in the sweeping, unobstructed views.
The best part about this resort is that guests can truly unwind, find peace, disconnect, and reconnect with themselves and nature, which is why you’ll also find that there are no televisions in any of the rooms. A standout is the bathroom, with a glass door next to the double vanity that leads to an outdoor shower enclosed in thatch palm so you can soak in the landscape.
Facilities and activities
Discover desert living at your own pace at Habitas AlUla. And as with all Habitas hotels, wellness, adventure, music, food (more on that next…), culture and learning are woven into the fabric of everything you do here.
The Thuraya Wellness Centre is where one goes to restore and relax. It offers a peaceful lounge space with an alchemy bar, spa treatment rooms, a fitness centre, a yoga studio, and an outdoor wellness agora. The latter is an open-air gathering space where our wellness experts facilitate the integration of sensory stimulation, which includes a fire ceremony and sound healing meditation that inspire us to wander within ourselves in the most beautiful ways.
There’s also the Desert Arts Club (the pavilion with an open roof), where we started our day with sunrise yoga and ended our last night in Habitas AlUla with an evening of moongazing. In addition, five immersive art installations, originally commissioned for Desert X AlUla, lie around the resort waiting to be discovered.
Notably, the piece by Superflex, entitled “One, Two, Three, Swing!” comprises several sets of three-seated swings conjoined by zig-zagging orange support. As the installation is hidden in a shaded area amidst the canyons, you’ll enjoy the cool breeze on your face and the scenic vistas while sitting on the swing.
Not forgetting, the gorgeous swimming pool adds to the allure of this surprising oasis in the desert. Guests take turns between refreshing dips in the infinity pool and long moments of silence on the sun beds, gazing at “Najma” – Lita Albuquerque’s electric blue sculpture of a woman seated in a meditative position atop a huge anamorphous rock near the pool.
The region beckons to be explored, so take advantage of the available guided excursions. Activities are centred on AlUla’s heritage sites, including exploring the wonders of Hegra, hiking through the Hidden Valley, wandering around AlUla’s Old Town, and visiting Maraya, the largest mirrored building in the world.
Food and drinks
Overlooking the infinity swimming pool, Tama is Habitas AlUla’s main restaurant. It is open all day and offers a good range of food and drinks that infuse global and middle eastern cuisines. The restaurant uses sustainable agricultural methods to highlight AlUla’s produce, bringing seasonal, fresh flavours to the table.
You’ll be spoilt for choice with the array of breakfast options – from ginger yoghurt and vegan toast to Levantine eggs and shakshouka – along with shawarmas and quinoa with grilled portobello for lunch and delicious mixed grill and vegetable mandi for dinner.
Each meal is a work of art, lovingly prepared by Chef Jack and his team. Among our favourites are the coconut chia pudding (SAR52), brioche with caramelised bananas and toasted hazelnuts (SAR70), roasted fish (SAR180), and shrimp saffron (SAR160).
Do note that there is no in-room dining service, so you’ll have to ride (or buggy over) to Tama during its opening hours for a meal.
In the evening, the Ashar Deck (the outdoor bar in front of Tama’s entrance) sets the pace, soaking up the rays as the warm sun glows amber at sunset, the perfect place for a glass of fresh-pressed juice.
Meanwhile, you’ll find Moon Shell at the Desert Arts Club, which serves vegan fare and healthy drinks. However, it remains close during summer.
Valid until September 30, Habitas AlUla’s Summer Rhythm package starts from SAR2,070 per night in the Canyon Villa, while the Celestial Villa is priced from SAR2,850.
Habitas AlUla has also launched the Summer Wellness Workshop, a new three-day wellness programme for those who would like to embrace the summer heat. The eco-hotel collaborates with wellness practitioners to develop packages, including power yoga and HIIT fitness training, sunrise trail hikes and sound healing meditation under the stars. Taking place weekly from Thursday to Sunday, the programme also allows time to visit local sites, such as Hegra and the Old Town, or guests can stay put and relax at the resort’s infinity pool.
The Summer Wellness Workshop includes a three-night villa stay at Habitas AlUla, taxes, daily meals at Tama restaurant, an exclusive three-day wellness program and a sunrise-guided canyon hike experience. Workshops are bookable individually, in couples or groups, with prices starting at SAR3,600 per person or SAR4,500 per couple.
Verdict: We were up in pitch darkness the three mornings of our visit in order to absorb stupendous sunrises. But that sprawling view of AlUla’s stunning natural rock formations and canyons, when you do get the chance to enjoy it properly, is a real bonus of any visit to this definitive Saudi Arabian destination. Habitas AlUla is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before – heaven on earth may very well be right here…
Habitas AlUla, Ashar Valley, AlUla 43511, Saudi Arabia. Tel: +966 14 821 3900. @habitasalula