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Off the Beaten Track – 5 Hidden Gems to Explore This Winter with the family.

Jazirat Al Hamra – The living ghost town, Ras Al Khaimah. This historic example of an early pearling village now lies silent and empty, abandoned and unchanged since 1968. You can wander freely along the laneways, eerie in their silence and view three different types of Gulf style dwelling. It was home to the Al Zaabi tribe before oil was discovered and when Al Hamra was an island. Records go back to the early 1800s, when the British fleet attacked, causing heavy damage to the pearling vessels and homes. The village was rebuilt into the familiar fareej neighbourhoods, where families had strong bonds, whether related or not. By 1831, a population of 4,100 thrived in this important strategic location with ships for pearling, fishing and trading. By 1908, around 500 families lived in the enclave. Where they once lived on the ocean it was the discovery of oil in Abu Dhabi which enticed the inhabitants away or a rumoured dispute with the local Shaikh over renaming the island, this crumbling link to the past is a great place to explore and photograph, especially approaching sunset. See photos of our trip on our Instagram HERE. Mleiha Archeological Centre, Sharjah Emirate.  9 am – 7pm every day. The Visitor Centre and surrounding areas provide a window to the district’s far past. There are excavation sites to the East and West of the centre and an ancient burial chamber just on its doorstep. You can explore a pre-Islamic fort and witness the community lifestyle and burials of the Bronze Age. Visitors will see horse and camel graves, ruins of a farmhouse with kitchen, community village and Mleiha Fort as well. Inside the centre, you can view artifacts, book a workshop or tour, led by an experienced guide. Offerings from the centre are diverse. We took the fossil package which included a workshop, where we looked at various casts of dinosaur claws and teeth, then items from later periods, including a full sabre-tooth tiger skull. Following that, we made our own casts from clay, to take home and paint. Then we were driven out to nearby escarpment where we wandered up the slopes and found many fossils that had once been on the ocean bed, that is now Arabia. We will definitely return for an archeological package. The Visitor Centre offers many packages including trekking to a 2,000 year old iron age fort or 8,000 year old stone age caves and a necropolis. There are desert survival courses and discovery tours offered in a range of vehicles. For information, prices and age-limits on particular packages check their website To see photos of our fossil hunt adventure, click HERE. Al Shawka Wadi, Ras Al Khaimah Emirate. An hour’s drive from Dubai or Sharjah, this is a great outdoors trip for winter, especially the day after rain! Located in the Hajjar Mountains, this seasonal watercourse is a popular destination for hikers with amazing hiking trails in the mountain wilderness, among pools, natural springs and greenery but also for off-road opportunities and routes perfect for mountain biking. We visited the wadi the day after rain and waded some distance through the crystal clear temporary river bed. The boys were fascinated how there were frogs and fish in the wadi just one day after rain, when the wadi had been dry before! One fish was even snuck back to our house in a water bottle thanks to the 6 year old and our helper, Bob the fish has lived with us for the last 8 months and will be released back into the same Wadi this winter once the rainfall hits. Bye Bob!! The nearby Shawka Dam, originally constructed in 2001, overlooks a developed recreational area with a children’s play area, washrooms, a family barbecue area and a number of pools. For photos of our day in the wadi, click HERE. The Abandoned Village, Al Madam, Sharjah Emirate. About 2 Km south-west of the town of Al Madam, is a track through the desert that leads through the shifting sands to a small hamlet of abandoned houses that have been swallowed up by the dunes. It consists of two rows of flat-roofed, long-deserted dwellings with a mosque at one end. You’ll need a 4×4 to reach it. First built in the 1970s, the ill-fated choice of site for the settlement resulted in the blowing sands and movement of the dunes taking back the houses. Most lie now, windowless with gaping doorways and sand neatly piled up to the ceilings. You can walk up the dunes onto the flat roofs for a panoramic view. Some of the houses reveal lovely ceramics and patterned walls and cornices – evidence of once much loved dwellings. Local folklore suggests that jinns frequent the area and that they drove the inhabitants away. Certainly, there is an eerie quality to the village but the evidence for a geographical reason is all around. Wadi Shees, Khorfakkan, Sharjah Emirate. Our boys were really excited about this trip as we took the new highway which has three tunnels, blasted out of the Hajjar Mountains. Their dad had been part of the engineering team and they were keen to see the result and experience the longest tunnel at 1.3 km. Just before Khorfakkan, Wadi Shees is signed to the right and almost immediately we passed Shees Park on the right. Verdant and bursting with blossom, there was a sizeable car park but we were leaving this until last and headed up the wadi. After about a kilometre, the Shees Nature Trail is on the left. There is a signboard and a few parking spaces marking the steep entrance. The Shees water pools are to the left, a short ways down the road; the bigger pools reached through a narrow entrance away from the road. The area is a popular picnic place and can be busy on Fridays and public holidays.  We headed about 100 steps up the hill to the old village of Shees, following the intricate falaj water system that gives this oasis life. The houses in the village have been refurbished and provide accommodation for the farm workers. What is now the mosque used to be the guest house where the ruler, Sheikh Sultan stayed on his visits. Continuing past the fresh water reservoir, the trail is marked with information boards about biodiversity and farming in the area. There are many fruit trees and we were able to spot bananas, pomegranates, pomelos, papayas and of course, dates growing along the trail. The path eventually meanders along with the falaj, back down to the road, a short walk from the parking area. The hillside opposite was strewn with mountain goats, keen to show off their rock climbing prowess and providing good pictures. Driving further towards the wadi, a stone road opens up on the left, best navigated by a 4 x 4. Driving between the narrowing rock faces of the mountains, we lost phone signal and this announced our arrival into Omani territory. To the left of the road lies the double Sharjah enclave of Al Nahwa which is situated inside an Omani enclave which in turn is surrounded by Sharjah.  We piled out of the truck and followed the wadi bed for about a kilometer. The boys loved climbing around the rocks and looking at the beautifully patterned, striated or sparkly rocks and a few special stones made it into their backpacks. Lizards were spotted on the undersides of the bigger formations and fish and frogs hid in the shade of the pools. It was amazing to see full grown trees sprouting out of bare rock when we can barely keep grass alive at the house!

Last stop of the day was the newly opened Shees Park on our way out. Built around the mountain, the park boasts a 25 metre high artificial waterfall flowing into a lake that is surrounded by stoneworks. The mountain path walk connects three terraces with stone stairs and allows the area to be viewed from a height of 30 metres. There are many palm fringed paths, a good play area and facilities for barbecues. There’s even a 70 seater outdoor theatre if you fancy putting on a play! See more on this day out at Shees by clicking HERE. If you do decide to venture out visit any of these hidden gems, make sure to tag us on Instagram so we can share! (@realmumsgroup)

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