Where to find rural bliss in the UAE
Falconry, beekeeping, horse riding and much more…
We know that there are more than enough things to do in the UAE. But when you’re seeking rural bliss, do you really need to leave the city to find it?
What’s On spends a week seeking out country pursuits in the UAE and here’s what we found…
Birdwatching in Ras Al Khor
A means of escape, birding offers a reprieve from heavy thoughts and anxieties, with time spent outdoors simply observing wildlife. Buy some binoculars and head over to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, which offers birdwatching through customised bird hides placed in strategic locations around the reserve. The area is famous mainly for the flamingos, but it’s also a great winter spot for seeing migrating birds, including the Greater Spotted Eagle.
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, 8am to 4pm (Ramadan), 6am to 6pm (April to September), 7.30am to 5.30pm (October to March). Tel: 800 900. dm.gov.ae/discover-dubai/ras-al-khor
Beekeeping in Hatta
When you think of wildlife in Dubai, oryx and falcons probably come to mind – not a thriving colony of bees. Where do they drink nectar and feast on pollen within the confines of a concrete jungle? In Hatta, it turns out. Surrounded by the area’s craggy mountains, and an abundance of native flora and fauna, Hatta Honeybee Garden is a 16,000sqm bee sanctuary. Donning a bee suit and protective gear, visitors are welcome to get close to one of the 300 hives filled with thousands of honey bees, while learning about their importance in nature. You can also purchase some delicious local honey or treat yourself to honey-inspired beauty goods.
Honeybee Garden and Discovery Centre, Al Fay Road, Hatta, Mon to Sun 9am to 5pm, Dhs50 for adults, Dhs30 for children. Tel: (0)4 296 5474. @hatta,honey
Clay pigeon shooting in Jebel Ali
For those not totally sure what a clay pigeon is, it isn’t literally a clay pigeon. It’s a kind of pottery discus that is flung by a launcher into the air while you blast away at it with a shotgun. It’s a lot of fun, if you like that kind of thing, and avoids the needless slaughter of real sentient birds. Give it a go at the fortress-like JA Shooting Club. Prices start at Dhs230. First time visitors will be charged a Dhs30 induction fee.
JA Shooting Club, Jebel Ali, daily 1pm to 8.45pm (November to May), 4pm to 10.45pm (June to October). Tel: (0)4 883 6555. jaresortshotels.com
Harvesting vegetables from the farm
Tired of bland, plastic-wrapped supermarket produce? Go straight to the root with a day of fruit and vegetable picking at Emirates Bio Farm. Not only does a sunny day of veg picking make a glorious, cobweb-blasting day trip, but it’s also a brilliant way to bump up your green credentials. Book in for a farm tour, which also includes a ride on a tractor. Green and pleasant land eat your heart out.
Emirates Bio Farm, Al Ain, timings vary. Dhs40 per person. Tel: (0)3 783 8422. emiratesbiofarm.com
Dog walking in the woods
There’s nothing more rural than taking your dog for a walk in the countryside, but sourcing green fields in Dubai is a tall order. Take a side step away from your daily desert dog walks and head instead to Nad Al Sheba, where a mini forest trail awaits. The walk isn’t long – approx. 2.5km – but it’s flanked by towering trees that’ll make you feel lost in the woods.
Search Nad Al Sheiba Mini Forest Trail on Google Maps
Growing vegetables at home
Recently (ahem Covid), there’s been a renaissance of sorts with subsistence gardening, especially in cities where people have taken to their balconies to grow tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens, and the like. And guess what? You can do it in Dubai, too. Start off easy with the pink oyster mushroom grow kit from the UAE’s Below Farm Shop. Mushrooms are healthy, delicious, and a lot of fun to grow and these kits come with everything you need to grow them at home. The mushroom species are specially selected to thrive in the warmer temperatures we have in the Middle East so you can get the whole family involved. Kits cost just Dhs150 and can be ordered online.
Horse riding in Al Qudra
The UAE holds a long-standing horse-riding heritage with deep cultural significance, which, happily, means there are lots of options for aspiring jockeys out there. Fan favourite Al Jiyad Stables, near Al Qudra, has operated a riding school since 2003. From a casual canter to a one-on-one lesson, Al Jiyad offers everything you need to get saddled up. Group rides start from Dhs150 per person, while private lessons start at Dhs250. Pony rides and smaller horses are available for littler riders.
Al Qudra Road, 1km before Bab Al Shams, daily 5.30am to 10.30am and 3pm to 7pm. Tel: (0)50 559 9262. @aljiyadstable
Learning the art of Falconry
A rural pursuit Dubai-style, falconry is hugely popular in the Middle East. Only problem, as a newbie to the world of hunting with birds, you’re just as likely to get your eyes raked by the cruel talons of a bird of prey as you are to get it to fly to your glove. Which is where this course comes in. At Wild Fight, your five-day course includes tutoring on equipment, husbandry, handling and basic training of birds of prey. Finally, to make it all official, you’ll receive a handsome certificate upon completing the course.
Wild Flight, JA the Resort, Jebel Ali, from Dhs2,800. Tel: (0)56 424 1116. @wildflightme
Where to support your local farmers (and fishermen)
Food Explained, a Dubai-based agriculture and food company promoting eco-responsible business practices, hosts a Sunday market in front of A4 Space by Alserkal. Grab a freshly brewed coffee and shop for farm-fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, dairy products, eggs, and much more direct from their organic farmers and select Alserkal community members. The market starts at 8am and closes at 1pm. Be quick as the market shuts up shop for summer at the end of this month.
The OG farmers market and beloved weekend community event, The Ripe Market supports local businesses, providing a platform for the Ripe Organic Farm and others like it, with farmers selling organic local fruits and vegetables. Other traders offer a range of goods and garments, from wooden crafts to unique toys and other items, perfect for take-home gifts. Ripe Market Academy Park is open every weekend, from Sat 9am to 9pm and Sunday 9am to 7pm.
The Waterfront Market
A one-stop for all essential shopping needs from fresh seafood, meat and poultry, dry goods and spices, fruits and vegetables, the Waterfront Market is Dubai’s premier fresh food market right on the Deira Corniche. Best of all, it’s open 24/7.
Jumeirah Fish Market
The fishermen at Jumeirah Fish Market are friendly, keen to show you their hauls and sell you as much as you can carry. They offer an assortment of fish, shellfish and squid at excellent prices. For example, you can snag a whole local red snapper for a mere Dhs50, or pay just Dhs65 for 300g of Jumeirah-caught prawns. Visit early morning, from 6am, when the first batches of fish start to arrive.
Dubai Fishing Harbour 2, Jumeirah 3
Images: Supplied, social and Unsplash