Tuesday June 28, 2022

Review: The Perfect Evening, a desert safari by Arabian Adventures

You waft the yardstick of quality courageously high when you self-proclaim a product to be ‘The Perfect Evening’. Especially in Dubai, where there’s no shortage of competition from other evenings with six-star dining, cinematic backdrops and 24 karat opulence.But when it’s a desert experience coming from a source as credible as Arabian Adventures, one of the UAE’s most experienced dune-summiting safari providers, it’s worth taking seriously.Which is why we felt compelled to off-road test the experience and investigate just how perfect it is.Your carriage awaitsThis may be a sophisticated soiree, but the journey towards it tackles some frontier geography, and on that basis, the horse-drawn carriage is out. We need a camel, ‘or a petrol camel’ as our charismatic guide Faisal suggests, opening the doors of the cherry red Jeep Wrangler, allowing us to gracelessly clamber in. Plus, we have a strict deadline — a date on the crest of a dune before sundown, and the golden hour waits for no one.On the journey towards the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), a private gated expanse of sand and shrub that occupies just shy of 5 per cent of the total land area of Dubai, Faisal shares pearls of local wisdom strung together over a long career of intrepid questing.Sand, safari and sundownersWith the light slowly leaking from the sky, we deflate our tyres and enter the private reserve. Within a few minutes winding down the windswept track, we have our first safari encounter. A group of wild oryx stand, unflinching, at the trackside, pale as sun-bleached bone. And Faisal is happy to play David Attenborough, dispensing fascinating nuggets of zoological trivia.We pass by more oryx, handbag-sized mountain gazelle, and a couple of bashful sandfish. Our route through the DDCR cuts alongside ancient oases, and a surprising palette of nomad green — boutique samur forests, ghaf trees, and the occasional poisonous bloom of sodom apple.Our mechanical camel plods on, past playful groups of sand gazelle and circling falcons, until we reach our first designated checkpoint. We’re at the base of a broad dune, with nothing but undulating gold and flecks of emerald vegetation for miles in every direction.Waiting for us, our waitress pours a tall cool flute of sparkling date juice (sparkling wine is available outside of Ramadan), and we’re led to a viewing encampment on the dune’s peak. Then we’re left, seated on Arabian style plush cushions with the orchestral sounds of silence, a warm desert breeze and a watercolour sunset, Monet himself would feel proud to claim.Practicality makes perfectThe next stop, just a short drive away, is our camp for the evening. We exit the Jeep barefoot, to earth ourselves in the experience, and walk between the two columns of tiki torches guiding the way to our secluded roofless restaurant.The Perfect Evening is entirely private, the guest list comprises of just you and your date. Our guide Faisal sets up the camp’s telescope for casual moon gazing, snaps a few photographic souvenirs on our phones, then bids us farewell.Our waitress and bottomless bar (optional) lady notes down a drinks order, and leaves us to explore base camp. The central structure is a narrow wooden cabana, adorned with romantic lighting and billowing curtains, arching over a table laid out in established fine dining form.We take up residence on the swing chairs next to a merrily-crackling fire pit and contemplate the harmony of contrasts in this space. It’s both utterly luxurious, and wholesomely natural, exciting yet calming. And it’s beginning to feel like that might be part of the recipe for ‘perfect’.Just desertsThere’s a range of three-course in-desert dining available, and we’ve selected fillet steak for the main course. Our package includes the serenading sounds of an oud player, and we can’t help but smile at the warm, gleeful audacity of it all.Toque’s off to our chef for creating a meal that could stand toe-to-toe with much of Dubai TripAdvisor’s trending top 20, all from the humble hub of a bedouin kitchen. Before we climb back into the Wrangler for the journey home, we offer one final salute to this most memorable occasion by clearing a four-man serving of sticky date pudding.The verdictWith a price tag of Dh3,999 for two (Dhs4,499 with unlimited alcohol), for most — this won’t become a regular Friday thing. But that’s also, kind of the point. Perfect can’t happen every day. And this evening really does come close to being the perfect set-up for a special occasion,Available daily, year-round, with pick-ups anywhere in Dubai from around 4.30 to 5pm, priced from Dhs3,999 for two perople. Book direct on arabian-adventures.com website, and we highly recommend you ask for Faisal to be your guide.

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