Saturday May 18th, 2024
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Saudi’s Sharaan Resort is a Veiled Oasis Amidst the AlUla Desert

With a flurry of ragged rocks, sustainable suites and luxurious lodgings, Sharaan Resort is the desert’s secret Shangri-la.

Layan Adham Ismail

Saudi’s Sharaan Resort is a Veiled Oasis Amidst the AlUla Desert

As the first ruggedly edged rock crumbles under the magnificent might of modernity (otherwise known as a drilling machine) and tumbles down the harsh desert mountain terrain, a familiar thrilling sensation bubbles and spills over, infecting the sandy plateaus in its wake – the elated excitement of new beginnings.

You see, this once untouched pristine patch of nature, the Sharaan Nature Reserve, is being graciously, sustainably and quite ambitiously refurbished into a mega-luxury resort that effortlessly evokes the sense of a modern utopia by harmonising with the mesmerising natural surroundings.

The brainchild of renowned architect Jean Nouvel, the 38-key Sharaan Resort was designed by infusing a dash of contemporary flare into the millennia-old Nabataean practice of carving out imaginative and intricate dwellings from jagged boulders – an architectural artform with towering testaments in distant Petra and neighbouring Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and Nouvel’s monumental muse.

By breathing life into this time-honoured tradition for the first time in over two thousand years, Nouvel – whose name means “new” but whose vision harkens back to the olden days of philosophy, poetry and edifice design – makes the area’s sandstone rock the star of the sustainability show.

You can almost feel the enveloping dunescape inside the seemingly naturally-formed structure, which juts out from within the rock itself, as if organically emerging over millions of years of sedimentary evolution. The textures of the stone surfaces within this camouflaged oasis emulate the ripples etched by shifting and swirling sands, their intricate lines tracing the path of the wind across the rocky floors, ceilings, walls – a valiant attempt at memorialising and immortalising the ephemeral beauty of nature’s handiwork.

Bits of the overarching stone canopy feature irregularly-shaped cutouts, allowing sunlight to stream in as if through thick foliage, casting kaleidoscopic shadows across the sheltered space and immersing the interiors in a perpetual and poetic dance of natural whimsy, where every shadow becomes an entrancing performer twirling gracefully amidst the Kingdom’s natural splendours.

In lieu of arduous mountaineering and gruelling trekking, Sharaan Resort imagines a more picturesque mode of elevation up the craggy mountain facade – a scenic ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ express lift with Arabesque motifs adorning the jagged ancient walls, radiant multi-hued lights flickering across the rapidly accelerating contraption and glass walls reaching upward towards a bright opening in the clear sky and the very pinnacle of the resort – the courtyard.

A functional and ventilating lightwell in the shape of a hollow sphere, the meticulously crafted courtyard with its elaborately engraved crop-circle-reminiscent moon cycle gives one the sense of being in the eye of a sandstorm – serene and secluded from the stressors that fall outside the limits of this idyllic epicentre of sustainable luxury tourism.

Although a rapidly growing number of ventures – especially in today’s innovation-driven and creatively streamlined tourism game – make bold and brazen claims of striving to work alongside nature instead of in opposition to it, very few actually ascribe to these preservation-focused ideals. Yet, Sharaan Resort, with its thoughtful integration into the enveloping nature and its impressively inventive celebration of the area’s rich underlying history, seems to be moving against the hospitality grain.

And so, just like Aphrodite was born to land from seafoam, Sharaan Resort appears to have been born to the desert from the very essence of its rugged landscape – a fact that is evidenced by the resort’s aesthetically enthralling and strikingly sustainable veneer.


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