The weekender's guide to Fujairah

Beyond the skyscrapers and glitz of Dubai lies a UAE that's altogether different

The weekender's guide to Fujairah
By Jamie Goodwin

Between the Omani territories of Musandam and Muscat lies the emirate of Fujairah, which – unlike its six desert sisters – is almost entirely mountainous. The region is of historical and archeological importance, with sites of interest including castles, forts, watchtowers and mosques. In fact, Fujairah is home to the UAE’s oldest mosque – Al Bidyah has been around for more than 500 years.

But that’s not to detract from the city’s modern advancements: its first shopping mall, Fujairah City Centre, opened recently, so those seeking retail therapy have options beyond Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Diving and watersports are another draw, with the Gulf of Oman offering more diverse sea life than the Arabian Gulf.

Hatta in the Hajar Mountains is another popular attraction. An enclave of Dubai, the educational Hatta Heritage Village features two watchtowers and the Hatta Fort, giving you a taste of the region’s Bedouin roots.

Snoopy Island

Snoopy Island (yes, named after the cartoon dog it resembles) juts proudly out of the Indian Ocean just a few hundred metres from the shore. You’re more likely to come face to face with a shark at Snoopy Island than at Shark Island, some 25 km down the coast – or so I’m told. That seemed like interesting news at the time... right up until the moment I pull on my snorkel, mask and flippers, ready to swim out to the strangely shaped isle. For some reason, I can’t seem to get the Jaws theme tune out of my head.

In reality, I’d be tremendously lucky to spot even a small reef shark during my snorkelling trip – anything more dangerous would have taken a serious wrong turn. The reef that surrounds the island is an occasional visiting spot for rays and turtles, too, though it’s a while before I can make out any sea life thanks to poor visibility due to an oil slick covering the surface of the water – an occasional hazard caused by the nearby port.

Yet as soon as the sandy sea bed beneath me is replaced by reef, I’m encircled by dozens of colourful, fearless fish bouncing around in waters that can get quite choppy. During my hour-long swim I also spot spiny urchins, which I’m careful not to step on, and even a large cuttlefish, but my finned friends prove elusive.

Keen snorkellers (guests and non-guests) can hire equipment from Sandy Beach Hotel (see 'Stay', below) for £10 per day, while those who don’t fancy swimming out to the island can hire a two-person kayak (£12 for 45 minutes) and paddle out to the beach side of the island, before taking turns to hop on and off for a peek into the blue.

Things to do

Kayak the Kalba

Fujairah’s south coast is fringed by a network of waterways surrounded by mangroves that can be explored by canoe. A peaceful and serene environment, it’s the perfect spot to reconnect with the natural world and catch a glimpse of crabs clinging to trees, rare white-collared kingfishers, herons and turtles. With the ancient rainforest canopy protecting you from the blaze of the sun, it’s a great relaxing excursion. And if you tire of the paddling, you can always run aground on one of the secluded beaches and go for a rejuvenating dip in the sea. Desert Rangers (04 357 2233) can supply guides and all the equipment you’ll need.

Break out the irons

If you’re one of those people who like hitting small balls across vast landscaped lawns, you’ll be pleased to know that Hatta Fort Hotel (04 809 9333) has golfers covered with a fantastic driving range. It’s set against the backdrop of the magnificent Hajar Mountains, so you’ll even have a nice vista when you’re teeing off.

Shoot the fort

Thought to have been built in 1640, the mud-brick Fujairah Fort sits on the hill above the city, surrounded by date orchards and the remains of old buildings. Although the British damaged the fort in the early 1900s, it has now been restored and is definitely worth visiting to experience an original UAE landmark. If you want to step inside for a closer look, entry is free.

Hatta Heritage Village

With a settlement on the site between 20 and 30 centuries old, Hatta Heritage Village is considered one of the oldest sites of human habitation in the UAE. Around 30 mud and barasti-roofed buildings have been carefully restored: you’ll get to see a majlis, a kitchen and bedrooms, offering a glimpse into the social routines of the Bedouin. There’s even an opportunity for you to don traditional clothing and sample authentic food at the café. Open Sat-Thu 8am-8pm; Fri 2pm-8pm. Right at the Hatta Fort roundabout (04 852 1374).

Visit the Friday market

With high-quality Iranian silk carpets on offer for anything up to three times cheaper than the equivalent Dubai offering, this is a great opportunity to save some pennies. Located on the Dubai side of Masafi on the road to Fujairah, it’s a good idea to haggle, as prices are often inflated for tourists. Located between the Hajar Mountains and a nearby wadi, it’s a welcome contrast to the clinical, air-conditioned malls. Other goods on offer include fruit and vegetables, cheap souvenirs and locally crafted pottery and earthenware.

Stay

Sandy Beach Hotel (09 244 5555) on the Dibba-Khor Fakkan road has the feel of a cheap-and-cheerful beachside hotel, though in reality, a stay here is not as inexpensive as you might expect for an older property (in fact, it costs slightly more than the much newer Le Méridien hotel just half a kilometre up the road). But Sandy Beach has plenty of character, representing a lost generation of UAE/Omani hospitality, built much before monstrous towers of glass and steel rose from the sand.

Accommodation at the hotel comes in the form of motel-style chalets flanking the beach and pool. Rooms are clean and simple, matching the basic facilities of the hotel. Restaurants are functional, rather than atmospheric, and food can be hit-and-miss. Stick with the great à la carte seafood (try the lobster if you are feeling flush, or the grilled prawns if you're not) and fill up on fluffy bread rather than the soggy, anaemic fries that accompany almost every meal. The poolside bar is great for a quiet (and cheap!) drink as the sun sets in the cooler months.

Go

Royal Brunei Air operates flights between London Heathrow and Dubai, with return fares priced around £363. From here, it's a two-hour bus ride, with buses leaving Dubai's main bus terminal every hour or so.

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