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Entrepreneur Escapes: Banyan Tree AlUla, Saudi Arabia At the risk of sounding like hyperbole, this desert sanctuary is like no other.

By Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Banyan Tree AlUla

For a Singapore-headquartered luxury hospitality brand whose hotels and resorts are seen in some of the world's most beautiful and sought-after destinations, Banyan Tree does not look out of place in its newest location in the picturesque desert landscape of AlUla in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the 47 luxury villas spread across the 10,000 sq. m. of the Banyan Tree AlUla resort have been so fantastically designed that they seem to almost blend into their stunning surroundings, especially with their references to the Bedouin tents that were, once upon a time, characteristic of such environments.

Note here that almost every villa in this property has a pool and outdoor terrace of its own, which means that guests here stand the chance to get to personally (and privately) commune with the scenic settings they find themselves in while in AlUla- a location that, by the way, is also home to 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. "We believe that Banyan Tree AlUla offers guests a truly unique and unforgettable experience, combining world-class luxury and hospitality with the natural beauty and cultural richness of this incredible destination," says Banyan Tree AlUla General Manager Antony Treston. "We are confident that anyone who stays with us will leave feeling inspired, refreshed, and enriched by their time spent in AlUla."

Banyan Tree AlUla General Manager Antony Treston. Image courtesy Banyan Tree AlUla.

In April this year, I traveled from Dubai to AlUla on a direct, three-hour-long flight on flydubai, following which it took about 40 minutes for me to be driven from the airport to the expansive locales of the Banyan Tree AlUla. The resort, which is situated in the magnificent Ashar Valley of AlUla, currently offers four kinds of villas- these comprise of one-bedroom villas, alongside one-, two- and three-bedroom pool villas. "The one-bedroom villas, the majority with private pools, are beautifully appointed with both traditional and contemporary Arabian décor, and they are perfect for couples or solo travelers looking for a luxurious and relaxing escape," Treston shares.

"The two-bedroom villas offer guests a larger overall living space, a private pool, a separate bedroom, and a living area. These villas feature stunning views of the surrounding landscape, and they are perfect for small families or groups of friends looking for a more spacious and luxurious accommodation. As for my personal favorite, I would have to say that the three-bedroom villas are truly exceptional. They offer the perfect combination of space, luxury, and privacy, and they are ideal for families or groups of friends who want to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the Ashar Valley together. The villas also feature private indoor and outdoor dining areas, where our guests can enjoy a customized menu prepared by our talented chefs, making it the perfect setting for a special occasion or celebration."

A three-bedroom villa at Banyan Tree AlUla. Image courtesy Banyan Tree AlUla.

Here, Treston tells me that Banyan Tree AlUla will be unveiling a fifth category of villas later this year- these will be the resort's "royal" villas, and if its existing offering is any indication, then this addition seems set to be a wondrous treat. That said, there's more to this resort than its beautiful villas- the highlight, in my opinion at least, would be Banyan Tree AlUla's Rock Pool, an Instagram-worthy spot sandwiched between two sandstone mountains. Its dining options are exemplary as well- Harrat serves scrumptious Middle Eastern fare, while Saffron bills itself as the first authentic Thai restaurant in Saudi Arabia. Add to all of this an incredibly attentive staff, and you are guaranteed a restful and resplendent experience while staying at Banyan Tree AlUla.

"What sets our property, apart from the impeccable service, is its stunning natural settings, surrounded by the towering sandstone cliffs, and serene desert landscapes," Treston adds. "We offer a wide range of activities and experiences that allow guests to immerse themselves in the local culture and history of AlUla, from horse-riding, to cultural tours, and stargazing." Now, while all of these activities are great in their own right, one of them needs to be especially mentioned- and that's because it has the added advantage of having the very amiable Treston to be a part of it as well. "Having been a horseman all my life, at the resort, I would have to admit that horse-riding with guests through the valley is always a special moment- and a perfect excuse for me to escape the office!" he laughs. "I get to connect in a very unique way with many of our guests, and I also get to showcase how stunning our resort and valley are, all while enjoying my favorite past-time."

The Rock Pool at Banyan Tree AlUla. Image courtesy Banyan Tree AlUla.

Banyan Tree AlUla is clearly the place for anyone who wishes to take a break from the hustle and bustle of their day-to-day lives- but that doesn't mean that it has to be a complete disconnect either. "We offer a wide range of amenities and facilities designed to cater to the needs of all our guests, whether they are here for vacation or business purposes," Treston says. "Overall, we strive to provide our guests with everything they need for a comfortable and enjoyable stay, whether they are here for work, or leisure. We understand that many of our guests may need to stay connected and productive while they are away from home, and we are committed to providing them with the tools and resources they need to do so."

On this note, Treston points out that Banyan Tree AlUla can also be an ideal location for business travelers keen for a unique setting for their next corporate event, meeting, or retreat. "The stunning natural beauty and cultural richness of the AlUla region provide a unique and inspiring backdrop for corporate events and meetings, allowing attendees to connect with the natural environment, and gain fresh perspectives on their work," he says. "We offer customized programs and packages that are tailored to suit the individual needs and requirements of our corporate clients, whether they are looking to host a large conference, a team-building retreat, or a small business meeting. Adding to this, the limitless opportunities for outdoor activities which provide unique opportunities for team building and networking in a relaxed and informal setting, ensuring that their experience with us is both productive and memorable. And we are, of course, within eyesight of the stunning Maraya hall, the world's largest mirrored building, and an award-winning venue for meetings and events." Banyan Tree AlUla is thus a destination for both work and play- and with Treston and his team on hand at the resort, you can rest assured of a fulfilling experience in either case.

The back deck of a one-bedroom villa at Banyan Tree AlUla. Image courtesy Banyan Tree AlUla.

Recommended by the GM: Banyan Tree AlUla General Manager Antony Treston gives the low-down on the resort he leads

FOOD: "Our dining options are all designed to showcase the flavors and culinary traditions of the region, while providing a world-class dining experience. For one, there's Harrat, which offers guests a unique culinary journey through the flavors and spices of the Middle East, showcasing local ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. The restaurant features both indoor and outdoor seating, with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. We also have the first authentic Thai restaurant in Saudi Arabia, Saffron. This restaurant offers guests the quintessential taste of contemporary Thai cuisine prepared by Thai chefs; the first of its kind in Saudi.

As for my personal favorite, I would have to say that our signature mandi experience is a must-try for anyone visiting the resort. This dish is a local specialty, featuring slow-cooked lamb, cooked underground in a traditional sandpit, and seasoned with traditional Arabian spices. It's a truly delicious and authentic dish that captures the essence of Saudi Arabia culinary traditions, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the flavors of the region."

Harrat at Banyan Tree AlUla. Image courtesy Banyan Tree AlUla.

LEISURE: "Banyan Tree AlUla is located in one of the world's most breathtaking and historic destinations, and there are many sights and leisure activities that guests can enjoy during their stay, including a number at the resort. Our luxurious spa offers a range of treatments and therapies that are inspired by local traditions and ingredients. Guests can relax and rejuvenate in the tranquil surroundings of our spa, and enjoy the healing properties of local ingredients such as citrus, moringa, dates, argan oil, and rose water. We also offer stargazing, which is an experience unlike any other, and a welcome sight for those living in big cities. Our guests will be taken to a unique location in the Ashar Valley, while a local guide guides them in discovering the constellations and their stories. We provide our guests with state-of-the-art telescopes and stargazing applications, and they can warm by the fire with refreshments.

In terms of sights, Hegra would probably be first on the list. Hegra is an ancient city that dates back to the Nabataean civilization, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests can explore the impressive tombs, temples, and rock-cut facades, and learn about the history and culture of this fascinating civilization. Also, located just a short distance from the resort, AlUla Old Town is a historic and cultural hub that showcases the rich heritage and architecture of the region. Guests can explore the ancient mud-brick buildings and narrow alleys, visit the local souk, and learn about the history and traditions of the local people. Plus, our outdoor activities such as hiking, stargazing, and horseback riding are able to provide guests with an immersive and authentic experience of the AlUla region. These activities allow guests to disconnect from the stress of daily life, and reconnect with themselves and nature."

The Rock Pool at Banyan Tree AlUla. Image courtesy Banyan Tree AlUla.

SELF-CARE: "Wellbeing is a key focus at Banyan Tree AlUla, and we believe that our guests should leave our resort feeling reconnected and inspired. Our wellbeing offerings are designed to provide a holistic and immersive experience that helps our guests connect with nature and themselves. Our expert instructors offer a range of yoga and meditation classes, that are tailored to suit the needs and preferences of our guests. Our classes are held in tranquil outdoor settings, allowing guests to connect with the natural beauty of the Ashar Valley, while practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Meanwhile, all our spa treatments are inspired by local traditions and ingredients, and they are designed to provide a deeply relaxing and rejuvenating experience. We offer a range of therapies, including massages, body scrubs, and wraps, all using natural and organic ingredients."

Related: Bringing The World To Saudi: A New Entrepreneur Middle East Report Looks Into Saudi Arabia's US$1 Trillion Investment In The Tourism Industry

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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