Somehow, Dubai feels different here. The air carries the scent of juniper bushes and burst figs lie on the ground. A light breeze rustles through the reeds and endless palm groves. A mountain range rises in the distance, jagged red rock peaks, one after the other. Such otherworldly beauty in the low, hazy light – is it a vision? Or better yet – a fata morgana? We haven’t seen anything but the endless sands and sky of the desert, driving for miles in the shimmering heat, so maybe we’re not seeing straight. But this is no mirage: the Al-Hajar Mountains are very real. So is the lush date palm oasis at the foot of the mountains, the glittering green lake, and the old clay tile fort that has been watching over the village of Hatta for centuries. Hatta belongs to Dubai, and yet it’s its polar opposite: the village could not be more different from the vibrant Arab metropolis with its towering skyscrapers, shiny shopping malls and ten-lane motorways. Less than 70 miles outside of Dubai City, Hatta is an exclave surrounded by Oman territory.

The Arab farmer’s way of life

We are definitely in the countryside now. Its mild climate makes Hatta a popular summer retreat for Dubai families. It used to be a desert village, and the restored old clay farmhouses, the fort and the ancient mosques are a reminder of what life was like in the Emirates before the oil boom. The desert doesn’t get more authentic than this. Many locals still make a living as farmers, growing dates and offering accommodation for tourists – a real Arab farm holiday!

Hatta’s mountains are a bountiful playground for the Dubai crowd and for the adventuring outdoor enthusiast from abroad. The weather is pleasant and dry outside the peak summer months. You could take a kayak or one of the little blue electric boats out on the reservoir if you’re looking to cool down, but we’d rather explore the mountains: The protected nature reserve offers hiking, climbing, horse riding – and mountain biking. Hatta Trail Center is the first MTB park in the Middle East and offers more than 30 miles of trails in the Al-Hajar range, graded for four different experience levels. Our route loops through wadis and crimson scree slopes as we make our way through gravel and shallow pools, always hoping to spot a rare Arabian leopard in scrawny acacia trees, or one of the equally rare Egyptian vultures soaring high above the peaks. A haven of biodiversity in the Emirates, the Hajar Mountains show a very different side of Dubai.

Experience Hatta