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Desert Dreams Come True

In a city that prides itself on unparalleled luxury and unforgettable experiences, Nara Escape in Dubai has taken glamping to a whole new level with their bespoke luxury desert adventures and events.

By Dina Spahi, Photos by Nara Escape

While the glittering skyscrapers and gargantuan shopping centres impress visitors, the true beauty of Dubai lies in the undulating dunes and tranquil setting of the desert just a few kilometres away from the bustling city centre. A true oasis to be cherished and experienced, thanks to a multitude of tour operators offering ‘desert safaris’.

Raising the bar

Enter Stephanie Danial, a former private banker with more than 16 years’ experience, who moved to Dubai with her family and realised that the potential for a truly unforgettable experience set against the stunning desert landscape wasn’t being met. Without much ado, Stephanie set up NARA – an acronym of her four children, Neil, Adam, Ryan, and Adrian – in 2018 and immediately raised the bar in terms of desert events and camping. Gone are the kitsch fabrics, tinny music and subpar food of the old. Instead, Stephanie ensures that not only are the décor, entertainment, attention to detail, food and service, and the overnight tents and amenities of the highest standard, she has also introduced the rather ingenious concept of bespoke events. It is indeed this bespoke element that has propelled Nara Escape to the forefront of ‘must-do’ luxury experiences for tourists and residents alike. Without any advertising whatsoever they have garnered a veritable who’s who clientele list in under two years, counting luxury fashion and watch houses, VIPs and socialites, multinational corporations, and international celebrities who now have NARA Escape on their to-do list when visiting the Middle East.

From intimate dinners for 2, to extravagant events for hundreds – it’s all in the details

Bespoke Luxury

Their motto, as Stephanie says, is ‘Just ask… and we will make it happen”, and this is not an overstatement as Nara organises both romantic dinners for two and extravagant 200-guest celebrations with the same care and attention to detail. The Nara aesthetic is refined yet comfortable at heart, favouring state of the art amenities nestled among natural materials. Want to throw a festival-themed event for your anniversary à la Coachella? No problem. Want a Mexican themed birthday with a live band? No problem. A wedding proposal dinner for two while an Astronomer explains the stars? No problem. A corporate dinner for 200 followed by a group drumming session? Again, no problem. In fact, the Nara touch is so distinct, and their knack for hosting exactly what the client wants so canny that Stephanie and her team have increasingly been commissioned to organise ‘Nara events’ in a variety of locations, hence the creation of the subdivisions ‘Nara at Home’ and ‘Nara on the Beach’.

The Magic

While Stephanie’s eye for design ensures any event looks fabulous, she and her team also pay extra attention to the food and activities. On the gastronomic side, Nara’s private chef is none-other than renowned French chef Franck Sanna who has worked in Michelin Star restaurants in France, and who favours organic and locally sourced produce. In addition, Nara has partnered with the finest catering companies in Dubai, among them Japanese fusion restaurant Nobu. The activities are tailor-made for every event, and can include dune bashing, learning to drive in the dunes with an expert, driving your own buggy, riding a quad or desert Fat Bike, discovering the stars and the planets with an astronomer, learning about the heritage of the UAE with a private guide, and sandboarding. They can also source live music, an acoustic guitarist, classical and jazz musicians, an illusionist, fire dancers, a photographer, and more. Little ones -and not so little ones- are also catered for with sleepovers, film nights under the stars, treasure hunts, and even learning how to start a fire.

Sunset in the desert … an unforgettable experience!

Sweet Dreams

For those who don’t want the party to end and who would like to have breakfast served under the first rays of the sun cresting the dunes, Nara provides overnight accommodation in luxurious nomadic tents that have their own private bathroom! Beautifully decked out and supremely comfortable, they can accommodate 2 adults and 2 children. Another way to escape the city lights and recharge energy is on offer with Nara’s Wellness packages, including yoga, Thai massage, Shiatsu, meditation, desert hikes, and nature tours.

On Location sat with the ever-busy Stephanie Danial as she wound down another amazing season, to ask her about her inspiration, her love of Dubai, and her plans for Nara…

From idea to conception in a few short months – tell us about the journey of NARA.
The journey has been absolutely fantastic, bigger and better than my dreams!
Ultimately, it’s all about the people! The team is now my family and our guests are wonderful! Their happiness is our goal.

What is it about the great outdoors, and your experience with the Arabian desert that set the stage for NARA?
I believe that people are in search of experiences… and there is something so magical about the desert that makes each event unforgettable.

Life in Dubai; when not in the desert, how do you like to unwind, relax, enjoy?
I love to spend time with my kids and just chill at home. I also enjoy going out on the sea a lot.

You’ve been in Dubai for 9 years, when and why did you feel it was time to set up a business here?
I love Dubai. It is a city where everything is possible and you never get bored. My husband founded the Swiss International School of Dubai, where our children go to school, and which has helped us keep in touch with our Swiss roots.

NARA is not the first desert safari, but word of mouth has made it the most coveted. What makes NARA stand out from other desert experiences?
The basic idea of a desert safari is not new but we’ve turned the experience on its head and created a new concept, a new way of experiencing the desert. Each event is bespoke, while the quality of the food and the staff take it to a whole new level.

Beautifully designed, state-of-the-art tents complete with WC ensure a comfortable stay.

The concept of complete customisation – of size from 2 into the hundreds, oftheme, of mood, of budget – has been welcomed by private and corporate groups. How far does the customisation go?
Our motto is: Just ask… and Nara will make it happen. I hope it says it all. Our guests can choose the décor, the activities, the entertainment and the food.

The food at NARA is almost as renowned as the beauty of the surroundings, where did the gastronomic angle come from?
Our private French chef, Franck Sanna, is amazing! He can prepare the most delicious hamburgers as well as a gastronomic dinner. His energy, enthusiasm and love for food is highly appreciated by our guests. He worked at a Michelin star restaurant in France and for many years on private yachts. He has also trained at Nobu.

And those tents you have for overnight stays! They’re amazing, tell us about those…
I love camping but it needs to be in style. We have real mattresses, very soft linen, and toilets within the tents. The silence in the desert is magical.

Tell us about your expansion plans and upcoming ventures
I am very happy to have been chosen by the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to operate our camps inside the reserve. It is a true recognition and honour. We will operate two camps; Nara Escape, our private and exclusive camp, and Sonara Camp, a restaurant in the desert. The latter is a shared concept which will bring a new experience to the desert.

The top 3 most extravagant or unique requests so far…
A pop-up lunch for Ferrari for 230 guests in a museum in al Ain with no water or electricity supply;
An Illusionist levitating a chair in the Dunes;
And an elegant gastronomic dinner for 80 guests for Bulgari.

What do you feel makes Nara events stand out?
The beauty of the dunes and the energy we give to each event

Dinner in the desert – an unforgettable experience
Hypnotic fire dancers are just some of the amazing activities and entertainment options on offer.

What do you suggest first time visitors to Dubai experience, in addition to an evening at NARA.
I recommend visiting the Old Dubai, planning a day on a boat, and definitely spending time on the beach.

World renowned with international celebrities on your guest list…any names and events you can share? And who would you like to see at NARA?
This year has been amazing, Caroline Stanbury is a true ambassador of Nara. She invited Nicole Scherzinger who performed a beautiful song for us. We’ve also hosted Ben Stiller who loved our sandboards, Madeleine Stowe who had a lot of fun on our camel, Suzanne Sarandon who enjoyed the dinner, and Sarah Ferguson who was simply delightful. As for my guest wish list, that’s simple: Everyone is a star at Nara

The name, NARA, comes from your children, how else does NARA reflect you as a person?
Nara is indeed the initials of my four sons and in Arabic it means a small fire, the beginning of something… Nara is a new beginning for me. After being a private banker for 16 years, I truly blossomed with Nara.

What do you want people to say and to feel after an event, dinner or stay at NARA?
I want them to remember this experience, to share the moment, to feel happy and to come again!

Founder of NARA Stephanie Danial