High tea amid desert dunes
We had planned tea at the Qasr al Sarab. Happily the Swiss contingent was in charge of most of it, we just had to make a chocolate cake
The rendezvous was at 11am outside the Grand Mosque. “At the VIP entrance,” said our Swiss friend. Not being a VIP, I had no idea where the VIP entrance was, and predictably ended up lost. “I told you we’d be late,” said Olivia, lead feral. All morning I had been fussing about getting everything done so we would be on time. One just cannot keep the Swiss waiting; they don’t live on Abu Dhabi time. However long they live here, their watches keep ticking, perfectly synchronised. We had planned tea at the Qasr al Sarab. Happily the Swiss contingent was in charge of most of it, we just had to make a chocolate cake. But it is amazing how time can get away from you when the gas runs out midway through baking and you cannot decide what to pack for a resort that looks more luxurious than Claridge’s, only in the middle of the desert. At 11.08 we found the VIP entrance. “We will travel in convoy,” said our Swiss friend. “The black Audi first, then us, then you.” “Are we there yet?” asked Olivia as we drove over Maqta Bridge, a question that was repeated at least 300 times between the three ferals during the two-and-a-half-hour journey. Finally, though, we were able to answer “nearly” as we drove up the final 10-kilometre dirt road towards the hotel. The children all took turns gazing at the dunes through the sun-roof. Suddenly the hotel appeared over the horizon, looking like an ancient Arab fort, but happily much more comfortable. “This place is amazing,” they cried in unison as we were led in and given fresh juice and cool towels. We were shown to our rooms by smiling staff and had a sleep before heading to the pool. The ferals quickly decided the kids’ club was too babyish and opted instead for the main pool with its umbrella shaped fountain; a perfect battleground. Rupert and I lounged on a double sun bed with a view of the endless desert around us. Everyone told us one of the most wonderful things to do at the Qasr al Sarab was to walk up to the top of the highest dune near the hotel and admire the view of the desert, but this had to be done at 6.30am, before it got too hot. Now, though, we had a 6.30pm rendezvous at our Swiss friends’ villa for tea. The ferals dived into the private pool and played happily while we ate and chatted. At 9pm we were driven back to our rooms in a golf cart, having made plans to meet our friends on the top of the dune early next morning. “Wow, I love this place, it’s the best place in the whole wide world,” said Leo before falling asleep on my shoulder. The next morning I woke at 6.15am, ready for my walk to the top of the dune. The next thing I knew it was 8 o’clock. “Where were you, mummy?” asked Bea. “We went all the way up to the top of the dune.” “It was amazing,” said Olivia. “The most beautiful view in the world.” I sank back against my goose-down pillow, relieved that at least the ferals had been on Swiss time, even if their parents were not.
A deluxe balcony room at Qasr al Sarab (www.qasralsarab.anantara.com; 02 886 2088) costs from US$553 (Dh2,030) including taxes.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019