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. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Smullö that will be published in spring 2020.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London 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