Somewhere far along the southern side of the island, join FACT’s Sara Waddah as she unwinds and treats herself to an all-round royal-style staycation.

Driving through the long, curved roads that lead to Al Areen Palace & Spa by Accor, the excitement begins to boil up inside as you enter this luxurious and serene place. Spanning over 131,000sq/m, the retreat has strategically placed golf carts in different spots to help move guests from one place to the other with ease, letting us just sit back, relax and enjoy the authentic atmosphere of tranquillity and nature of the hotel.

I arrived at the lobby, where I immediately felt the aura of magic seeping through as I was greeted delightfully by their staff – surprising me with an upgrade to a three-room luxury villa, right by the picturesque lake at the top of the resort. I was taken aback by the customer service I encountered on arrival.

As I completed the check-in process and waited for the staff to prepare and sanitise the villa for my safety, I was taken on a buggy and driven to Keizo, where I opted to sit outside so I could enjoy a light snack with views of the lake and its beautiful environment in bright daylight Not only was I super ecstatic about the experience and getting ready to see the villa for the first time, but now I knew, this was an experience I had to share with a few of my friends! (Did someone say pool party? Socially distanced of course!)

Serving up a variety of Khaleeji, Indian, Asian and international cuisine at the exquisitely designed restaurant, Keizo’s dishes were not only authentic, but the presentation was something we couldn’t help but marvel over. Indulging in a few of the special appetisers and mixed drinks, one thing that caught my attention was the Peking Duck, which was served with authentic Chinese pancakes, freshly sliced cucumber, spring onions and, most importantly, Hoisin sauce.

Delightfully setting the tone for the rest of our day, I met up with a few of my friends who were joining, and we decided to stroll over to our villa, which was just a breezy five-minute walk around the lake.

Greeted by our special butler, we walked into a space of tranquillity and contemporary decor, with a gorgeous, lush garden and pool right in front of us I already knew that this retreat had more to surprise me with as I attempted to explore the 7,500+ square foot Arabian-accented, threebedroom villa all at once.

Feeling like royalty – I asked everyone to address me as Empress Sara for the rest of the stay – I couldn’t get over the different facilities and amenities of the private villa! From two different outdoor showers to incredibly luxurious bathtubs, the interior of the villa itself helped foster an environment that was mesmerising as well as unique to anything else that we’ve experienced in the Kingdom.

Getting lost around this piece of property is a given – with three different bedrooms that included their bathrooms, a private majlis that accommodates up to 10 guests, steam rooms, a dining room as well as two different Jacuzzies at either end of the property, Empress Sara was ready to indulge in a beautiful afternoon nap in her luxurious kingsized bed, whilst overlooking the private pool in complete and utter bliss.

I felt it only fair that I maximise the time spent in the villa and, even though the nap was beyond spectacular, I happily woke up to music being played from the villa’s surround sound system and knew it was time to get into the water. Spending the rest of the evening pretending to be a mermaid, it was incredible to see the different emotions (and characters) that this experience was able to create for us. The environment helped bring out the best in me, as well as all those around!

With sufficient room for everyone to enjoy themselves in different ways, all the various moments we experienced were ones that none of us will ever be able to forget. Waking up from my deep slumber the following morning, I received a call from the front desk – they had phoned to reassure me that I could enjoy the morning and make the most of the sunshine by opting for a late checkout. Excited to see how I could spend this day differently than the previous, I changed into my bathing suit and went for a plunge.

Not only did this dip in the pool give me the crispy golden tan I was waiting for, but in came another beautiful touch – their incredible floating breakfast. This is when I transformed into my final form, the ultimate Bali Island Girl vibe. The continental breakfast had almost everything that you could think of, from different bakery items to differently styled eggs and refreshments, you could immediately tell that not only was everything freshly prepared but also made with love and our best interests at heart for a healthy, well-balanced meal.

There’s just something about eating bacon and sipping on orange juice in a pool that had me feeling as if I had not a single worry in this world! Nearing the time of our departure, I was heartbroken to leave this little paradise. With an easy check-out process that didn’t require me having to visit the lobby again, the staff escorted us on a buggy straight out of the villa and into the parking lot, where I said my final goodbyes and departed. Following #ALLSafe safety protocols at Al Areen Palace and Spa by Accor, every moment spent within this property is a moment worth capturing. With various offers, temperaturecontrolled private pools and numerous food and beverage options for you to indulge in, this opulent regional escape is one that you’ll never regret taking. ✤