Welcome, or welcome back, to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, as the case may be!

The “Challenge” celebrates its 21st Anniversary this year and looks forward to welcoming old “friends”, the “die hard” aficionados of Cross Country rallying and the testing desert terrain that the western region of Abu Dhabi presents to the competitors and their teams; those with sand in their veins! We also welcome the new comers to the event who, we are confident, will be subject to a transfusion and will enjoy an experience of a lifetime.

The format of the event is unique in the World series, in that it is based at a single bivouac location for the duration of the rally, making for simple logistics and making life easier for those who suffer physical or mechanical difficulties during any of the legs and who can easily rejoin the event, having taken “time out” for repairs or recuperation.

To mark this milestone anniversary, under the direction of Mr Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the Chairman of the Organisation and the founder of the event, the nucleus of the event, the bivouac, has been relocated to the locale of Qasr al Sarab (Mirage Palace), a 5+ Star desert resort, located in the Empty Quarter on the edge of the Liwa Oasis.

While maintaining the spirit of the bivouac, the nearby resort offers the event, for those involved, in a sophisticated facility, with a choice of rooms and villas spread over 2KM which is distinctively the only resort in the Cross Country discipline that can host such a wide audience of guests and cater every single one of them to their smallest needs, from fans, family, friends, sponsors, corporate guests and similar, who may not be disposed to the rigours of bivouac life, however the breathtaking scenery of the desert and the luxurious Arabian architecture and hospitality are also part of the very core of the action.

To maximise this opportunity, the third Leg of the rally (Tuesday, 5th April) has been designed to focus on the resort and cater for this “guest element”. The Leg will be divided into two stages, the first of which finishes at the bivouac at 09:20, whereupon the competitors will refuel and regroup for an hour, presenting a great opportunity to mingle with the competitors, before they are flagged off from the entrance of the hotel to tackle the second of the day’s stages, which restarts from the resort at 10:30. The stage presents the competitors with a further 170 kms of desert and will lead them back to the bivouac finish at midday.

Mean while the guest can enjoy a leisurely lunch in the choice of 4 outlets at the resort while the family relax by the pool, prior to going to the stage finish to welcome the competitors back to the bivouac.

Route Director, Jum Ali Khan, commented, “Contrary to our expectations, the route has been enhanced now that Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort became an anchor point in the desert, we find ourselves with more stage and significantly less liaison kilometres!”

In recognition of the global status of the event and its 21 year heritage, the government of Abu Dhabi is offering unprecedented support, which will initiate a new era and a new concept to the rally.

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Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

Perched on the shoulder of a dune on the edge of the world’s largest sand desert - the Empty Quarter (Rub al Khali) - Qasr Al Sarab meaning "mirage palace" is located at the heart of the Liwa Desert. Qasr Al SarabDesert Resort by Anantara is a five-star luxurious leisure resort inspired by the indigenous desert culture and reflects true Emirati lifestyle. It is composed of connecting sand-colour castle towers, burj, and other Arabian style architecture, in which visitors will find the traditional Emirati ambiance along with all the comforts of a first class hotel and third millennium technology.

You too can spend time in the desert and feel like Lawrence of Arabia. Relax in any of their 70 rooms, over 40 deluxe-with-balcony rooms, 28 rooms with a terrace, 14 suites with king-sized beds, oversize bathtubs, rain showers and complimentary WI-FI. The 42 villas which resemble small private palaces offer their own delights: they come in 1-2-3 bedrooms, spacious living and dining areas, maximum privacy is assured with private sun decks, private pools, oversized bathtubs and private butler service. The resort's 500 employees from 28 different nationalities will cater to guests' wishes and offer quality Spa pampering.

The resort's four restaurants offer world-class cuisine. Al Waha is where guests can wake up to a morning breakfast buffet, Suhail is a rooftop bar and grill where you can enjoy seafood flown from all over the world and wine tasting at their walk-in wine cave. Ghadeer is a poolside bar restaurant that offers grilled sandwiches and light meals and Al Liwan is an all day lobby lounge that serves refreshments and quick bite sandwiches. This beautiful island setting has bridges from the main guest area that are lit up with flame torches. From traditional Middle Eastern cuisine including hummus and ganoush, to nouvelle cuisine and Mediterranean cuisine with Italian, Spanish and Greek influences, guests will enjoy a unique desert dining experience. The resort's culinary experience includes a choice of fine wines like Chablis and the prestigious Chateau Latour Paulliac 2001.

Antanara Spa

Anantara Spa boasts a sensational design that reflects the true heritage and tradition of the time-honoured Hammam, a cleansing bath using special natural based oils and soaps that is an age old custom in Middle East. The Spa’s interior showcases an area of complete desert relaxation, from saunas and jacuzzis to steam rooms, ice room and Arabian exotic wraps; its beautiful surroundings and incorporates natural elements such as water, wood and stone, complemented by rich earthy colours which combined creates an ambience reminiscent of timeless hospitality and warmth. This is where guests will find physical and emotional serenity and well being. Rare and uncommon ingredients are used for Anantara signature massages and scrubs, guests are invited to indulge at Qasr Al Sarab's special Spa packages or a la carte treatments.

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The Spa's signature treatments include a three-day Anantara recovery treatment, a Thailand-inspired healing philosophy treatment that includes a soothing milk bath, a floral foot bath and a facial treatment. If aromatherapy is your thing then you can enjoy a bath with delicate flower petals floating in your Spa tub. The massage room is where Anantara Spa signature treatment takes place, a fatigue-shedding massage with gold powder and date pulp while enjoying a superb view of the desert.

What to Do and See at the Qasr Al Sarab Resort by Anantara

What can you possibly do in a deserted...desert..? Plenty! You'll feel like you're at the world's end by watching the Arabian sunset turn into a chromatic palette of purple, orange and pink. Go for romantic walks at dawn while the shamal, the northerly wind, blows on sand dunes that stretch out as far as the eye can see. Venture out into the desert and go camel-trekking through the dunes at dusk while the sun sets over the desert.

The resort comprises a desert experience centre designed to educate visitors on the surrounding environment and to offer activities relevant to the region including.

Desert wildlife watching could mean close encounter with indigenous animals to the area such as the Arabian oryx, sand gazelle and Arabian hare, but also scorpions, snakes, lizards and other small desert creatures. If camel back rides aren't your cup of tea you can work on your tan by relaxing on any of the sundecks or by the pool with a refreshing drink. A state-of-the-art fitness room allows guests to continue their fitness routine or even begin one. There is also a yoga room for calm meditation or for the more passionate you can join the calligraphy workshop taking place towards the last days of the challenge. Invite a friend for a tennis match at the resort's courts and if the daytime heat is too much for you, well-lit tennis courts are open for evening tennis under the stars.

Bookworms who forgot to bring their favorite novel may just find something at the resort's well-stocked library. Families with children can keep kids busy at the "Kids' Club" with games, activities, computer games, a flat-screen TV and a selection of age-appropriate movies and books.

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