(CNN) – There is not much on Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia. A few sunny outposts and miles and miles of vast empty desert in all directions.
Then, earlier this year, something very different emerged in the middle of that nowhere: a gleaming luxury hotel complex, complete with its own theme park.
Obviously, the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas is no ordinary hotel.
Viewed from the air, it is like an entire coastal city. pristine twin beaches flake away from the central harbour. Above the sands, crisp white villas and buildings cluster around blue swimming pools. Behind them, a green oasis. It is one of the largest resorts in the Middle East.
So what happens, when a huge luxury hotel appears miles away from anywhere just as the pandemic freezes global travel?
The complex is one of the largest resorts in the Middle East.
It’s really busy, according to Etienne Charles Gillies, the resort’s general manager. When it opened its doors in February, it became a successful lodging establishment with locals, he says. In recent times, it has been a popular destination for visitors and business travelers from the wider region.
There is plenty of room. The Hilton Salwa Beach has 84 villas, ranging from two to four bedrooms, with private pools and direct access to the white sand beach (rates from $1,500 per night). There are 31 Arab village style apartments and villas, while the main hotel has 246 rooms and suites.
The massive grounds also contain more than 20 food and beverage outlets, including seven dining options, an upscale spa with VIP suites, sports fields, swimming pools surrounded by landscaped gardens, corporate facilities and a marina.
Moreover, Qatar’s largest theme park is home to dozens of attractions, including the “King Cobra”, an exciting double-deck subway ride that sends riders into the mouth of a gigantic snake-like structure.
Health and safety
The resort has its own water park.
The luxury complex is built on 320 hectares of sandy land 100 kilometers southwest of Doha, in a strategic location to welcome visitors from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Construction began in 2015 and the final phase before opening focused on adapting it with enhanced health and safety measures in line with Qatar’s mobility rules and hygiene protocols.
“Due to the impact of Covid-19, we had to expedite the requirements for the opening of the resort and identify new unique selling points that focused on stays,” Gillies told CNN.
This was good news for Sama Jamali, a 21-year-old resident of Doha, and her friends. “Because it was unsafe and difficult to travel, we decided to stay at the resort,” she told CNN. “The room was beautiful, very spacious and comfortable – with advanced technology and the Covid-19 virus very safe and clean.”
The villas and rooms are just steps away from the beach.
Gillies said the introduction of travel guidelines and restrictions has led to the adoption of a phased opening approach, with a number of outlets and facilities such as a diving center and state-of-the-art sports academy expected to operate in the coming months.
“We are a new resort and more than just rooms,” Gillies said. “We have villas and a water park which makes our structure completely unique.”
Besides efforts to incorporate new contactless technology, Gillies identified logistics and staffing as key considerations. “On peak days, throughout the resort we welcome up to 2,500 guests, with a workforce of around 1,200 team members,” he said.
Work and adrenaline
The interiors are influenced by traditional arabesque designs.
Those guests, when not relaxing or rambling on the soft, cottony sands along the resort’s 3.5 km long beach, can get busy choosing from a long list of fun-filled activities.
At the heart of it all is Desert Falls Water and Adventure Park.
The adrenaline-filled attraction features several swimming pools and water playgrounds for kids, as well as nearly 30 rides and slides, including a roller coaster ride at its starting point – at the top of the park’s 32-meter-high mountain – that offer panoramic views of the entire resort.
Here, mat-racing guests can also zoom tubes – head on and side by side – in a quick splash, or try out a surfing simulator.
Guests can race on water slides.
The park is also home to what has been described as the first man-made rowing structure in the Middle East. There is an outdoor go-kart racetrack – fully equipped with stands for spectators – and an indoor laser tag course.
Inevitably, given its size, the hotel boasts a range of dining options, including Middle Eastern, Italian and Chinese cuisine.
Levantine serves up signature Arabic dishes with a twist, including The Qattinah, a delicious mocktail consisting of botanical spice syrup, citrus kaleidoscope and 24-karat gold flakes. Main course and dessert highlights include the spicy kebab with smoked (smoked chickpeas, roasted garlic puree) followed by konafa nabulsi (pistachio cream).
Golden Drinks and Foosball
The resort’s Miss Wong restaurant serves an Orange Sunset mocktail.
At Miss Wong, the sound of a bell guides guests to a special Chinese dining experience that begins with an elaborate tea ceremony. Recommendations include chicken and vegetable soup (Enoki mushrooms, dried shiitake mushrooms, vegetables, chicken and turmeric wonton), assorted choices of dumplings and crispy Peking duck. The refreshing orange sunset cocktail (fresh orange / fresh watermelon / fresh lemon / grenadine / oolong tea / egg white) stands out on the drinks menu.
The resort’s Dante Cucina Italiana restaurant serves Tuscan wine and pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. Another, The League, is a sports and entertainment bar where guests can watch soccer matches and play pool and soccer games. Cocktail pitches and buckets of beer are available here, along with a gastropub menu featuring a selection of burgers, steaks, and smoked ribs.
Of course, there is no shortage of luxury resort options in Qatar, especially as the country prepares to receive visitors to the FIFA World Cup Finals at the end of 2022.
The already crowded collection includes the W Doha, the Mandarin Doha and the Ritz-Carlton Sharq Village Resort, as well as the Banana Island seaside resort in Antara, all of which are more convenient to the city center and airport.
Is the trip to the desert worth it?
“We enjoyed the selection of restaurants, especially the continental buffet. First class food with excellent presentation,” said Jamali, who was looking forward to another stay.
“It was a great experience and there was never a dull moment due to the various fun and activities available