Much as I love Dubai, it's great to get away at the weekend and one of my favourite places for a retreat is the beautiful city of Al Ain. I've blogged about this before: it's a wonderful place and if you haven't been, you really should. We try to go once a month. It's always a great contrast to the hustle and bustle and grind of Dubai - life is slower, more authentic, more real, and never moreso than during Ramadan.
Whereas in Dubai you can gaily continue to eat and drink within hotels and on their beaches, in Al Ain, hotel pool bars are closed. There's no music blaring out, just a stillness in the air punctuated by childrens' laughter and the low chatter of the lone person on another sunbed by the pool. Bliss.
In the spirit of adhering to the customs of the Holy Month, two different things happened last weekend: one, not a drop of alcohol passed my lips during the break and two, we went out to Iftar at the most wonderful place you've ever seen.
The Heritage Village is hidden away inside one of the oases and contains amongst other things a charming cavernous restaurant, with tables as far as the eye can see. Forget your Atmosphere in Burj Khalifa with glittering chrome and glass, this is wood panelled, with a rustic feel - amazing framed photos of falcons all over the place - no, really. We'd been there for lunch before, and suspected that they'd be doing something special for Ramadan. (A rather fruitless phone call hadn't really confirmed anything, which made it all more of an adventure.)! We set out through the dark streets of Al Ain (a treat in itself to explore at night!) and made our way there.
And what a magical sight it was....it's tradition to light up houses and buildings during Ramadan and the twinkling gorgeousness of the village really can't be explained - I wish I'd had a camera.Once inside the restaurant we were immediately fully immersed into local culture - we were the only Westerners in there (another reason why I love Al Ain) with groups of families, children and friends all meeting to share Shisha and food. It was a truly fabulous evening and I can't wait to go back. Ok, I'm never going to turn my back on the swish eateries of Dubai (hello, Ivy!) but this place has a very special place in my heart. I'll say it once last time: if you haven't been to Al Ain: GO!