Dubai: A winter sun break with a distinct difference
For a winter sun break with a difference, not to mention decadence, try Dubai, says Gabrielle Monaghan.
Set the mood
I'm doing a slow breaststroke in the warm, blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, mesmerised by the glassy high-rise hotels and gleaming office and apartment blocks that tower over Dubai's Jumeirah Beach.
Just a couple of feet away from my swimming spot is the base of one of the largest man-made developments on the planet - the Palm Jumeirah. This palm-shaped archipelago of artificial islands was built from sand dredged from the bottom of the Gulf.
Sometimes dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, it's just the start of the superlatives. As well as miles and miles of beachfront, Dubai is home to the world's tallest building, its largest shopping mall and its richest horse race. Winter sun doesn't get more weird and wonderful than this.
In a city dominated by glitzy skyscrapers, the low-rise One&Only Royal Mirage (royalmirage.oneandonly.com) is a welcome oasis of understated elegance.
The five-star resort comprises three hotels on a private beach, with 65 acres of lush gardens. My sea-facing balcony at the Arabian Court overlooked EauZone, a restaurant with wooden decks that appear to float on the swimming pool below.
Take a water taxi from the jetty at the One&Only Royal Mirage to Palm Island. When you disembark, grab an alfresco table at the 101 Dining Lounge and Bar, a waterfront lounge perched above a marina with panoramic views of Dubai's skyline. The island is home to One&Only The Palm, a sister hotel to the Royal Mirage.
After sneaking a look at its mansions with private swimming pools and beachfront villas, splurge at Stay, its on-site fine dining restaurant by Yannick Alléno, the Michelin-starred chef. Check out the Pastry Library, where the chef de patisserie helps diners assemble a metre-long tray of desserts. See thepalm.oneandonlyresorts.com.
For an inexpensive yet authentic taste of the old city (yes, there is such a thing), head to the Bur Dubai district. There take an abra, a wooden water taxi that costs just one dirham (24 cents), across Dubai Creek to Deira.
En route, look out for dhows, the kind of colourful ocean-going wooden vessels that have carried cargo to and from Deira for centuries. After the five-minute trip, spend an hour or so browsing Deira's spice, textile, and gold souks.
Order the mezze and mixed grill at Abd El Wahab (facebook.com/AbdElWahabUAE), a Lebanese restaurant that overlooks the Dubai Fountain, the world's largest dancing fountain. Book the terrace for the best views of the water jet displays.
Dubai is a winter sun destination - temperatures can surge to 50°C in summer. November to March is ideal, but remember to observe Islamic values by covering up outside your hotel. Being drunk, and kissing in public, are illegal.
Get me there
Emirates (emirates.ie) flies from Dublin to Dubai twice a day.
Return fares start at €509 for economy class and €2,449 for business class flights. The latter make the 7.5-hour flight much more comfortable as they include lie-flat seats and a chauffeur-driven car to and from the airport.
On arrival at the futuristic wonder that is Dubai International Airport, take the overhead metro or a taxi to the city centre. Room rates at the Arabian Court start at €394.
For more to see and do in Dubai, see visitdubai.com.