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A taste of splendid isolation.

Byline: Emma Procter

If in the past Valentine's Day has involved a panic-stricken visit to a petrol station for a bunch of brown-tinged flowers, or a pleading phone call to a restaurant reservation hotline, maybe it's time to think about doing things with a touch of style this time. And if you're thinking of popping the question or are about to celebrate a milestone with someone important then a new "dinner in the desert" package from Arabian Adventures may well do the trick.

Last weekend, I was invited to try out the tour company's new Just for You, The Enchantment of the Desert, excursion and it was a delight from start to finish. My fianc and I were picked up from Dubai Marina at around 3pm in a branded 4x4 by our cheerful driver Yamen and driven out to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for our "surprise". I knew roughly that we were going to be enjoying a camel ride through the dunes followed by dinner, but I got the feeling Yamen enjoyed playing with our expectations. It's nice being whisked away to the desert and every time I enter the mysterious, vast orange sands I curse myself for not spending more of my time in the UAE enjoying its beauty.

Unusual route to dinner

After passing through the reserve's security gate, Yamen deflated the tyres on the car a little so we could enjoy some dune bashing. It's a lot of fun and if you haven't tried it, it basically involves hurtling up and down sand dunes at knuckle-whitening angles. We saw a couple of bemused-looking gazelles on one dune and by the time Yemen decided we'd had enough we were in fits of giggles. And oddly hungry! All part of the master plan, clearly.

After rejoining a main track in the desert, we continued at a slower pace for about ten minutes. We were running a little behind schedule or we would have met up with the rest of the Arabian Adventures convoy of guests u but were in safe hands on our own vehicle.

Eventually our next mode of transport came into view, two beautiful camels sat nonchalantly on the ground in front of us with their guide. I love camel rides and jumped on mine before my fianc was properly out of the car in a Mae West style (note to self: Be more ladylike). We trekked gently through the dunes for around ten minutes, with our guide stopping at intervals to take photographs of us. After a serene, romantic amble around the dunes, our final destination came into view...

Dine under the starsin Hollywood style

My fianc was the one to see the setting for our desert dining experience first and his expression was one of shock mixed with glee. I soon saw why. Laid out in front of us was a beautiful, extremely luxurious Arabian-style dining area u complete with a nearby cushioned seating area, gorgeously ornate table for two and barbecue cooking area with chef.

We were greeted with a couple of glasses of fizz and strawberries and invited to go and relax on a nearby dune and watch the sunset. Which we did and was extremely romantic. We were torn between actually watching the sunset and peering behind us to take in the splendour of our outdoor "restaurant". Just for us? Surely not.

As night fell, we made our way to the dinner table and for the next two hours were served endless plates of Arabic mezze, grilled meats, salads and accompaniments. The food was excellent, the service keen but not invasive, and the setting unforgettable. The stars above us were out in full force and I couldn't help thinking any woman would be hard-pressed to say no to a marriage proposal in this setting u it would most unfairly weighted in the man's favour!

Drinks are free-flowing and after eating rather too much we reclined on the nearby low sofa area with some sheesha. My two top tips if you go on the Just for You excursion are: wrap up warm, it can get a little nippy, and be prepared for the fact that if you need to visit the bathroom, it will be "au natural" behind a nearby dune. But the staff are savvy regarding this and will point you in the right direction.

We managed to prise out of one our guides that the package had already proved a hit with their celebrity clientele including a few footballers, a rather headstrong supermodel and some Hollywood big shots. And I have to say if you want an evening of feeling like a hot celebrity couple on a night out, this ought to do it. Whether it's for Valentine's Day or just because you want to make someone feel incredibly special, this is a night out you can't miss.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jan 30, 2010
Words:824
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