One of the most exciting openings of the year lands in the AlUla desert…

For thousands of years, AlUla has served as a crossroads of ancient civilisations. And it’s this storied past and cultural significance that has inspired the historic region’s latest address, the hotly anticipated Banyan Tree AlUla. With the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage of AlUla as its backdrop, this spectacular desert resort uses the locale as its central influence to create a stay where guests can switch off and really bask in the natural beauty of the surrounds, enhanced with a few five star luxuries to make it truly standout.

In a neat enclave in Ashar Valley you’ll find Banyan Tree AlUla, located a 45-minute drive from AlUla Airport. The renowned Thai-born wellness group have given the existing Ashar Resort a welcome makeover, still maintaining that Bedouin-inspired luxury. The sprawling 300-hectare site means the resort requires a north and south side, although it’s easy enough to get scenic buggy rides from one side to the other. The spaciousness is instantly felt, and the generous layout not only ensures a feeling of remoteness, but really highlights the vastness of these golden sands. Despite this welcome feeling of seclusion, AlUla’s top treasures are all relatively nearby, with Maraya Hall visible from the resort, and Hegra only a 15-minute drive away.

The look and feel

The warm and genuine welcoming approach from the entire team allows guests to feel instantly at home, and the service – despite a handful of opening week snags – is truly excellent. The earthy feel extends across two restaurants, all of the guest villas and the welcome pavilions, where locally made and sourced decor offers something interesting to look at and admire from every turn.

The whole resort is built on three principles: in-villa, in-valley and en-voyage, allowing guests to enjoy not just the resort, but the world of wonders that await in wider AlUla. The in-villa experience ensures all the five-star luxuries are provided to guests in their private quarters, while in-valley encourages visitors to enjoy the resort and all of its splendours. The en-voyage element is all about guiding guests to immerse themselves with local talents and the region, unlocking new layers of AlUla’s vast heritage as they go.

The rooms

All resort rooms are villas, ranging in size from the 77 square metre one-bedroom villa, up to a regal 240 square metre, three-bedroom villa that sleeps six. All villas have the same earthy palette of warm creams, terracotta and sand reflective of the surrounds, with rolling desert vistas enjoyed from floor-to-ceiling windows. The sustainability focus, a key pillar of the Banyan Tree brand, despite obvious challenges is only to be applauded, and you won’t find a drop of plastic in the villa – even the toiletries are all made of wood and packaged in cardboard.

The outdoor space is really where these villas shine, with a fire pit that can be lit after sunset for guests to cosy up and bask in the beauty of their surrounds under the stars, and a plush seating area on the terrace with ample space. Many rooms also have their own private pool, so guests can simply indulge in the privacy of their own digs should they wish – although a dip in the jaw-dropping Rock Pool, nestled between the rugged rocks – is an unmissable part of this resort.

Facilities and activities

While it would be easy to simply switch off and relax at Banyan Tree AlUla, there’s plenty to do for those looking to experience the wealth of activities on offer. The guest experience team are on-hand to recommend adventure experiences like a bucket list helicopter flight to see the sights of AlUla from a unique perspective, or exhilarating experiences like ziplining and rock climbing. If you prefer to keep you feet firmly on the ground, guided hikes, trips to Old Town and tours of sights like Hegra, Elephant Rock and Jabal Ikmah can all be arranged, all devised to firmly root guests in the local culture and rich history.

Back on-property, the resort has also bolstered an impressive programme of things to do, like star gazing and horse riding with local guides. As is customary with Banyan Tree, there’s a big focus on wellness – but even the spa has been designed to blend into its surroundings. The aforementioned Rock Pool – snuggled between the rock formation in the heart of the resort – is lined with a collection of plush loungers and is best enjoyed at sunrise and sunset when the rays soak into the temperature-controlled water. The spa itself boasts a collection of treatment rooms, including a couples’ treatment room, where currently only massages are offered. But an extended menu will soon be on offer to guests, including wraps, scrubs and facials.

Food

Guests can enjoy two restaurants on-site at Banyan Tree AlUla, but for longer guest stays are encouraged to visit nearby restaurants including Jason Atherton’s Maraya Social or journey a little further afield for Greek food with a view at Okto, perched atop Harrat viewing point. Although not in use on our visit, Saffron Restaurant is a Banyan Tree signature Thai restaurant that benefits from stunning views at Banyan Tree AlUla’s north pavilion. All-day dining is given an AlUla upgrade with locally-inspired breakfast dishes, expansive desert views, and a lunch menu that includes an array of healthy juices and mocktails.

Room rates

Opening room rates for a Dune One Bedroom Villa inclusive of breakfast start from Dhs5,386 excluding taxes and fees, while the same villa with private pool is priced from Dhs7,384.

The verdict:

Banyan Tree AlUla is a true sanctuary for the senses, with each part of the guest journey expertly curated to ensure there’s unmissable moments at every turn. It’s a wonderful, luxurious base to make the most of the myriad activities on offer across the AlUla landscape, and an instantly-relaxing spot to retreat to after a day of adventure.

Banyan Tree AlUla, Ashar Valley, AlUla, Saudi Arabia. Tel: (966) 14 512 0000, banyantree.com