Monday 29 December 2014

Travel: Dubai stands tall in luxury stakes

DUBAI

John Masterson

Published 13/01/2014 | 02:30

IMPRESSIVE: With its opulent hotels and magnificent facilities, the fast-growing United Arab Emirates city of Dubai is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the luxuries of life

'IT is better to travel well than to arrive." The quote is often attributed to Buddha, but he said nothing of the sort. Plus he never flew Emirates or visited Dubai. The hospitality on Emirates is legendary. If you can become legendary that quickly. I know that hospitality on Emirates is legendary because, well, before we arrived in Dubai, I was chatting with the Emirates lady about the superb tuna, the tasty risotto, the port and claiming that The Lone Ranger was the best film I had seen in ages.

Buddha did say something like, "You cannot travel the path until you become the path itself," and before we landed the luxurious flatbed seat and I were one and very comfortable, just as Myles na gCopaleen and his bicycle became part of each other after years of exchanging molecules.

A short trip and we arrived at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the Palm, and WOW! is the only appropriate exclamation. Saray means Palace, and they don't exaggerate. There are five different types of marble in the enormous reception. And bowls of figs and pomegranates. My room was fit for a king. What a bed! The bath could have passed for a small swimming pool. I enjoyed a glass of wine taking in the splendid night-time view and slept like a baby.

In the morning warmth, I enjoyed breakfast on the open terrace while looking over the infinity pool to the sea and listening to a bird cawing. Decision of the morning was difficult. Pool or private beach? Beach won.

Now, I am on record as believing that there is nothing more boring than a massage. All you get is someone telling you there are knots in your shoulders when the background music, plus the lady's voice, would be the only things giving you tension. So I was very iffy about the Hammam Spa.

In the spirit of love and friendship I was feeling at the time, I relented and said I would give it a try. This was the best hour I have had in a long time.

I disrobed and was given a cotton towel to cover the essentials. A similarly clad young man motioned me to lie down on a giant marble circular table, which was pleasantly heated. He returned with a metal bowl of warm water and asked me whether the temperature was okay. It was. And for the next few minutes I had buckets of perfectly heated water poured over me. I say perfect in that it gives you the tiniest shock of warmth and then waves of pure pleasure as it courses through your body.

I was then washed and scrubbed with soaps and oils and covered in soapsuds before being rinsed again with more bowls of water. The body is exfoliated, cleansed, purified and the spirit is restored. I have never been as clean as this before or since. I have never smelt as good before or since, and I have most certainly never been as relaxed before or since.

He wrapped me in three warm luxurious towels and took me to an adjoining room, where many other men were lying back on loungers in equal bliss. I assumed nothing could have improved this moment. But for the second time I was wrong. I was served with a glass of Ayran to cool down and replenish salt. The recipe is simple: one pint plain yoghurt, several ice cubes, a generous pinch of salt, freshly peeled garlic bulbs (optional) a little chopped fresh mint and one pint of water. Mix and serve chilled. Try it.

The Jumeirah Zabeel Saray opened only two years ago, but feels like it has been there for ever. It is a lavish re-creation of life in Ancient Istanbul so I ate Turkish in their splendid Lazelar. Then for a nightcap I went to the high-tech Voda bar, which I mistakenly thought was the vodka bar. I sat in an art deco spherical chair and felt like an extra in A Clockwork Orange.

I began the next day heading for the top of the world. The Burj Khalifa just happens to be the tallest building in the world and the view gives you a real perspective on the modern miracle that is Dubai.

You can look out on The World -- yes, I do mean The World -- a series of islands that are gradually rising from the ocean. Just to make sure, I took a helicopter trip, and, sure enough, The World is emerging from the Dubai sea.

The Armani Hotel, designed and developed by Giorgio, is actually in the tallest building of the world and is, as you would expect, impeccable. I have never more regretted wearing denim as the hotel is black, white and beige with hints of red and I was out of place.

You need to see where it all started, so do take the downtown walk in the Deira district, where you could spend hours in the souks looking at spices and gold. Travel in a water taxi. It is a great ride and only costs about €1.

The Address Hotel, in downtown Dubai and linked to the Dubai Mall, overlooks the fabulous Dubai Fountain. With 63 floors and looking out on the Burj Khalifa, it is an address I desire. Some birthday I will wake up there and order Sushi No 3 in Fazaris again followed by Dynamite Roe. Yes! I live for the day when I will phone someone and tell them my address is The Address.

I ate Brazilian fare outdoors that night, in Frevo in The Fairmont, where waiters cut delicious meat from giant skewers. I drank a little Caçhaca, which is a Brazilian drink a bit like rum. We headed for a nightcap to the Madinat area, where you walk through the shopping arcades down to a restaurant and bar area on the port, which is a bit like a well behaved Temple Bar.

For my final two days I stayed at the new Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort. The staff unloaded me from the taxi and on to a tuk tuk, which phut-phutted me to my room. I was on the ground floor. Beyond my bed was the balcony and it was one small step into the magnificent pool lined with palm trees.

Every day in Dubai there is a mind-blowing experience. The Atlantis Hotel has its own aquarium and it just seems normal. And they know how to party. We went to the Intercontinental for brunch. Friday brunch is a big thing in Dubai and I don't think anyone was going back to work.

You have to do a desert trip. We did see some oryx, which are those gazelle-like animals with the long straight horns. And then we saw a man with his hawk. And did some hair-raising driving on the dunes before arriving for a meal under the stars. As a non-smoker I felt a bit naughty puffing on my shisha, but what the hell. It did nothing for me but looks a bit cool. I headed back to the barosti where they were dispensing a very quaffable red wine.

Just enough time to take in a visit to the Rugby 7s which is a very fast game indeed and attended by all sorts of superstars. This left me with my memorable quote of 2013. As I washed my hands having relieved myself I was tapped on the shoulder by a rugby fan.

"Do you realise that you just took a piss next to a Wallaby," he asked. I didn't. But after a week in Dubai it would take more than that to impress me.

 

GETTING THERE

Emirates Airlines operates a daily flight from Dublin to Dubai at 12.55pm from Terminal 2. Economy class is approx €500 and business a little over €2,000. From Dubai you can connect to 137 further destinations, many operating the A380. From next September, Emirates will operate two flights daily between Dublin and Dubai. www.emirates.ie or phone 01 7794777

THE Burj Khalifa opened in 2010 and is the tallest man-made structure in the world at 828 metres. There are fantastic views from the 124th floor observation deck. The elevator rises at 10 metres per second. Allow an hour up there and it costs about €25.

I visited Dubai in early November and the weather was perfect with dry air temperatures in the high 20s each day. Beware of the summer if you are not partial to high temperatures.

Irish Independent

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