The Gulf Emirate city, once a 19th Century British protectorate, is now the business and tourism hub of the region.
When I had my PR agency in the UK, having the resources to travel wasn’t the issue; it was the time. Yet somehow, we always managed to escape over the Christmas & New Year holiday and of course at Easter.
By Eastertime I would be desperate for some warm sun; months of a British winter are enough to crack the spirit of the most positive and resilient person! My Birthday is in March and in the UK, it used to be celebrated with snow on the ground!
So every Easter we’d head off for winter sun; Florida, North Africa…and the Gulf. That’s when we first discovered Dubai. I first visited Dubai 14 years ago! Back then it was a fairly unknown holiday destination; we were pioneers, heading to an Arab country for some winter sun. Friends thought we were crazy; I even recall an American client warning me to be careful. It was as if we were going to deepest darkest Arabia.
Well, back then it was nothing like it is today, but still there were signs of the bling that was to come. We stayed in the newly opened ‘Jumeirah Beach Hotel‘. Now a popular family hotel with some great private villas (and water parks nearby that I defy anyone not to enjoy), but back in the late 90s, it was the swish hotel address in the Emirate. The Burj Al Arab tower was under construction, a flavour of the extravagance to come.
Dubai proved to be the perfect Easter short break escape – the Gulf heat hadn’t kicked in, so one could enjoy the beach, and eat al fresco in the evenings. What’s more the standard of hospitality and quality of attention to detail was really high.
Also, normally when I am away, I end up getting exhausted, rushing around taking in sights, endeavouring to uncover authentic cultural experiences and discovering the history. Well, in Dubai, there really isn’t that much to see. It’s all luxury hotels, Beautiful restaurants, huge shopping malls and …that’s about it.
So without any distractions, I could enjoy the pool, the beach, and the restaurants, without any guilt; without any feeling that I was missing the ‘real’ Dubai – this was it!
That winning combination made Dubai a perennial Easter destination for years and years! Next was the ‘Burj Al Arab‘ (I recall getting exciting about the full size Hermès toiletries in the ridiculously bling and ostentations bathrooms.)
Then another year it was the ‘Royal Mirage’ – I loved the theme park Arabian architecture; the ornate arches, small courtyards with fountains- it all just seemed a perfect fantasy world. Best of all, was the rooftop lounge bar.
Later One & Only took it over and developed it. We returned staying in a Garden Villa at their ‘Residence and Spa’ – what luxury!
I recall lying by the pool, and being offered cooled flannels, a few sprays of chilled water mist whilst another waiter cleaned my sunglasses – yes, I realised I wanted to get used to this level of service:-) That was probably when I started to develop my addiction to luxury properties.
Another Easter and it was the ‘Ritz Carlton Dubai’. This place is seriously classy. We chose a room on the club level, with access to the private lounge where every day breakfast, lunch and pre dinner appetisers were served. The ‘five food & beverage presentations’ as the team referred to them as were of the highest quality. My favourite- the evening cocktails, and champagne and caviar – somehow total extravagance in Dubai doesn’t feel wrong; it feels the right thing to do!
The spa is glorious too at the ‘Ritz Carlton Dubai‘, and outside the gardens filled with pools stretch down to the beach.
Over the years, construction continued unabated, with more and more luxury hotels and resorts opening. Industry analysts speculated where the demand would come from, but the demand kept pace with the growth in hotels.
One of the many new hotel and leisure areas constructedwas Madinat Jumeirah, and there more recently I discovered another hotel, the ‘Mina A Salaam‘. That encouraged us back to see the ‘Dar Al Masyaf’. Service was also impeccable and the location was great fun, with Arab style barges taking you from hotel to restaurant along the lagoons. I also loved the way the villas were designed to echo traditional Dubai architecture.
Of all the hotels I’ve experienced in Dubai, the most spectacular destination I have enjoyed in the Emirate is The ‘Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa’, a Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel. It is regarded as being at the centre of Dubai’s heritage and conservation efforts. Started as a personal project by the royal family, the reserve, some 65 kilometres from Dubai nestles within a green and verdant oasis amongst some of Arabia’s most impressive dune and desert landscapes. The architects have created private suites, each in the style of an elaborate tent, so it all resembles an ancient Bedouin retreat.
However do not be fooled by the simplicity of the architecture; each suite is in fact a luxurious, up-to-date retreat, offering the very best in elite accommodation, combined with a high level of personalised service. Relax on the discreet, shaded terrace or take a dip in one’s very own private pool, or take an evening bath, prepared by a butler.
The entire resort is beautifully decorated and features over 2,000 historic and rare pieces of artwork, traditional jewellery, and Bedouin crafts.
Despite its financial crisis, Dubai has bounced back and continues to grow. Now there are hundreds of hotels. The ones I mentioned here are very much old school, established properties, with many younger, flashier properties nipping at their heels.
Don’t expect quaint, historic souks and crumbling villages in this shiny Emirate – Dubai is bling all the way. I rented a 4 X 4 once with the objective of exploring old villages, thinking the surrounding countryside of the Emirate would be like Morocco. It’s not, and there is not much to see in terms of history. But the dunes are amazing – spending a night out in the desert, or simply having a meal in the candle light is magical.
Another must is experiencing falconry – it’s a very early start, but being out in the desert, sipping strong coffee eating dates and watching the beautiful birds perform is superb.
Next on my bucket list is the UAE’s cultural capital, Abu Dhabi, and also neighbouring Oman, an Arab country I’ve always wanted to visit.
- Quality – despite the explosion in choice with hundreds of hotel properties to choose from, quality still appears to be maintained across the 5 star categories
- Cuisine – everything is fresh and beautiful presented
- Guilt-free – a great place to indulge your desire for a movie star lifestyle – without the shame
- The bling – Dubai is not subtle and sometimes the sheer intensity of ‘shininess’ can be over whelming
- Low-cost – parts of the Emirate city seem to have succumbed to low end tourism – TOWIE has arrived in Dubai
- Culture – there is not a great deal to see in terms of history and culture although there are some stunning art exhibition, shows and concerts
COPYRIGHT 2013 – Andrew Forbes is a travel & lifestyle writer based in Europe. He is an expert in business marketing communications.