Often the journey is part of the experience when going for a weekend escape, I expected this would be the case when I agreed to take the new Maserati Levante for a spin. As the first sport utility vehicle in the prestigious sports car brand’s 100-year history, I was a little more than curious to see what it could do. But, you don’t take a Maserati just anywhere. I wanted to find a place that had the same kind of exclusive feel, but with a few twists and turns along the way. With that in mind, my husband and I settled on the Dunes by Al Nahda Resort in Wadi Al Abiyad outside of Barka.
The remote resort is actually only about an hour from Muscat, but set among the dunes past a stretch of unfinished freeway, it could be considered remote.
The Levante was built with the mission of being “100% Maserati, 100% SUV”. To this end, the vehicle was designed with four corner air springs providing five dynamic ride levels — two sport, two off-road, and normal. To be clear, these modes are not merely torque distribution or a change in sound, the entire suspension is raised or lowered when in these modes to offer either higher ground clearance off-road, or low-profile, aerodynamic height for sport mode. It was an absolute trip feeling the entire height of the vehicle adjust for the terrain. As we set-off on the expressway towards Barka, I was eager to see how sporty this SUV could be. The moment I switched to sport mode, the exhaust system opened with a ferocious growl. With a beastly road, we rocketed down the road with that thrown-back-in-your-seat feeling one would only expect from a true sports car. The handling was tight, offering perfect control, even at hair-raising speeds. At no time did I feel like I was driving an SUV, it was 100% Maserati, indeed.
However, it is important to note that driving a car like this one is not all about performance, it is about the prestige. Running your hand across the supple white leather of the steering wheel, the iconic Maserati logo glinting in the sunlight streaming through your panoramic sunroof, I assure you that you will feel like a boss. The smooth lines of the dash and the premium wood trim finishes are simply beautiful to look at. They tell you, “Yeah, you’ve made it.” I think that feeling of owning something special is as big a part of buying a Maserati as the incredible fun of driving it.
So, on-road, this sleek and spacious machine was living up to its name. But, we were about to run into some adventure. The resort offers to pick guests up or lead them from their sister property, the easy to find Al Nahda Resort in Barka, and they also very generously offer free pick-up from the airport or from anywhere in Muscat. But we were determined to find the place ourselves. The route to the Dunes Resort is not what you might call intuitive. The map on the website indicates that after the Lulu in Barka, you should make a U-turn, and then a quick right onto a smaller service road. In a small village, passed a green mosque, you turn right again, then follow the gravel path to the resort. All is as described, but as the off-road portion of the journey begins, you will find that there are highway construction sites, goat paths, and wadis that make the trek a bit more of a guessing game.
We switched into off-road mode and made our way through the gravel and stone, making several wrong turns before spotting the resort atop some golden sand dunes and turning down the correct dirt path. On these uneven roads, I didn’t even flinch. In any other sports car, I would have been sweating bullets over the clearance, but once off the asphalt, I almost forgot that I was driving a Maserati. The vehicle felt capable, and it was. That said, despite the fact that I was assured that the Levante has full off-road capabilities, I absolutely didn’t have the heart to take this picture-perfect Maserati through the sand dunes (especially as it wasn’t my Maserati), though the idea of pulling up among the other dune bashers in such a vehicle was a thrilling idea. By passing the sandy back entrance, we crawled up the rock incline towards the entrance to the resort.
The relative difficulty of reaching the place was actually part of the fun as it made it feel like an adventure (once there we found that a third of the vehicles parked in front were sedans, so in the end, it is perfectly accessible). We pulled up to the open air reception desk and were given the key to our luxury tent, just on the crest of the adjacent hill.
The “tent” structures are circular outbuildings that are adorned with old-school Arabesque touches, starting with the entryways. Wooden doors are locked with artful padlocks from the outside and bolted with wood from the inside. Inside the pointed ceiling is draped with soft fabric, and from the centre hangs a lovely old lantern. The bathroom, accessed through another set of carved wooden doors features a cave motif with a sunken tub. Through our small window we had a clear view of one of the towering dunes, and the wild antics of the local 4x4 enthusiasts who were engaged in a battle of engine versus sand.
After inspecting our room, we walked back up the hill to the open air restaurant to have a meal. The lunch was a set five-course menu, but upon special request they made us sandwiches instead. Nibbling on our lunch and sipping mocktails, we continued to watch the show happening on the surrounding dunes. Aside from spa treatments and dune buggy rentals, enjoying a front row seat to this quintessential Omani activity seemed to be the entertainment of choice for those of us staying at the property. As the sun dipped, our view of car lights zig-zagging up and down the hills was replaced by the flicker of campfires. A man began walking around our tables, strumming a guitar and singing classic old American songs. The stars glittered above the desert, full of wishes and promises for journeys yet to come.
The Dream Car: Maserati Levante
• Engine: 3 litre V6 Twin-Turbo petrol engine (350hp/430hp)
• Transmission: 8-speed automatic gearbox with integrated Start & Stop System
• “Q4” intelligent all-wheel drive system
• 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds
• Top speed of 264km/h
• Fuel consumption: 10.9 l/100km
• Adaptive cruise control
• Forward collision warning
• Lane departure warning
• Powerlift tailgate
• Panoramic sunroof
• Five dynamic ride levels
• Premium finishes, from baby-smooth leather to Ermenegildo Zegna silk
Starting Price: OMR33,900
Authorised Oman Dealer:
Alfardan Motors LLC
Alfardan Building, Meydan Al Azaiba
Tel: +968 2452 3014
The White Desert Oasis
Dunes by Al Nahda
Wadi Al Abiyad Sands, Barka
+968 9723 5700
Autumn Retreat Special
OMR120 per night for luxury tent with breakfast and dinner for two (up to two children under 12 included), plus free airport pick-up for non-residents or free local resident pick up from Muscat or Barka regions.