With the opening of the Al Bait Sharjah in December, this port town on the Arabian Gulf has stepped up its game on the hospitality front. The 53-key resort has forged a new anchor for the Heart of Sharjah, a redevelopment project that seeks to preserve a great swath of the city as it was in the 1950s. While Sharjah has for some time been able to offer accommodation in international chain hotels, it has not until now been able to offer an upscale boutique opportunity that celebrates the heart and soul of this city.
Here are the five things you need to know about the new Al Bait Sharjah.
The resort has its own museum. Plenty of hotels have museum-worthy exhibits and some are so enamored of their heritage, they liken the entire premises to a museum. But the Al Bait has actually opened its own, purpose-built museum. In two generous galleries, the museum tells the story of Ibrahim Bin Mohammed Al Midfa, who lived in one of the four old homes that form the foundation of the new resort. Images picture Al Midfa and his family and tell how they accrued wealth from the pearl trade and rose to prominence in the government. Glass display cases exhibit artifacts from his life, from a replica of the dagger he wore at ceremonies to the pens he used to compose poetry to books from his library. Another exhibit memorialises the location of the post office that stood on this site. In another room, the door to Al Midfa’s original home stands against a far wall, no longer providing egress to any actual place but to an imagination of the past.
The staff-guest ratio is extremely high. One of the most significant factors in a guest’s experience at a resort is related to the number of staff per room. In Asia, where the ratios are highest in the world, you typically have two staff for every room at the most distinguished resorts. At Al Bait, there will be 3.4 staff for every room. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, of course, but what this does mean is that a stay at Al Bait, which means home, is going to be a lot like a stay at home – a home, that is, if you’re used to having three or four different people waiting on you every day. The team is led by General Manager Patrick Moukarzel who’s opened seven different luxury hotels in a career that’s volleyed between the Arabian peninsula and Egypt, with stops in China, Malaysia and Thailand for good measure.
Families are going to love the resort. While the bright lights and big city of Dubai continue to lure the glamorous jet-set, Sharjah is cultivating a quieter crowd, and setting up as a particularly attractive destination for families. It’s a dry destination, for starters, which means happy hour can be all about time with the kids. There are a number of museums within walking distance, and a number of museums that would likely rate a spot on any kid’s bucket list of things to do in Sharjah. To wit, the Al Montazah Water Park, where there’s a whole host of pools and rides for a range of ages. Kids can explore the emirate’s aquatic life, animals, fauna, and flora at the Sharjah Natural History and Botanical Museum. They can learn about art at the Children’s Art Park, and about the emirate’s biodiversity at the Islamic Botanic Garden. At an archaeological site in the desert outside town, dune buggies will ferry families to Camel Rock, the Faya Dunes and the Mleiha Desert.
It’s an easy place for groups to sequester. Now that ‘togethering’ is a thing for families who like to gather two or three generations for holidays, for groups of friends on celebration vacations, and for business people who’d just as soon carve out their own space for work and play, some hotels are better than others in answering the demand. At the Al Bait, the heritage home is world apart within the larger resort, with four bedrooms and two suites that can accommodate twelve people. No other guests will have access to this part of the resort, or to the comfortable common areas of its majlis or salon.
Al Fikker Square is the best place for a selfie. Like it or not, every hotel has a sweet spot where guests, guided by some invisible hand, are apt to migrate for a selfie or the most Instagrammable angle. At the Al Bait, this one’s easy, thanks to the resort’s windtower, an architectural structure that is to Sharjah what the lighthouse is to New England and the obelisk is to Egypt. Just outside the resort’s Arabic restaurant there is a sitting area in Al Fikker Square. The windtower looms in the background, like something out of the Middle Ages. Once upon a time, the wind tower, or barjeel, was depended upon to ventilate living quarters. These days, air conditioning has supplanted the wind tower as a more effective way to stay cool, but technology has its place. No one’s ever going to stand up against an air conditioner for a selfie.