Dubai: A city of dizzying heights, sun, sand and shopping
'The temperature at our destination is thirty four degrees" announced the pilot of our Emirates flight from Dublin to Dubai. It was two o'clock in the morning.
My heart sank. As I get older, I'm not able for intense heat any more, but you do acclimatise quickly. I wouldn't recommend people with a heat intolerance to go there in July or August but the other ten months are perfect. We stayed in Downtown Dubai at the Vida. The first boutique hotel in Dubai, it's a home from home. I checked in at three in the morning and found myself explaining my recently acquired eye infection to Denise the receptionist, lest she think a freak of nature had arrived to stay. I met her four days later and she remembered my name and enquired after my eye. Service indeed. The décor was tasteful and muted and the lovely pool area a welcome haven.
"Have a light lunch" they said "before you go dune bashing" and as usual I don't understand the concept of light eating so off we went to La Serre, a fabulous bistro in Vida and proceeded to eat more than my body weight. Starters included grilled marinated prawns in garlic and rosemary and mains consisted of lamb cutlets with spices, whole sea bass in salt crust and grilled tiger prawns with Amarillo peppers. And then it was off dune bashing.
To the uninitiated dune bashing roughly translates as sitting in an air conditioned four by four and putting your life in the hands of a total stranger. In our case, it was Hussein from Desert Gate, who provide excursions into the desert. We lunged up massive dunes and careered down the other side. Hussein heard language he has never heard before but we had great fun. It was up bright and early the next day and off for a veritable feast of a breakfast at the Pavillion, a café owned by Vida and just down the road. This set us up for the day and our next port of call - the Dubai Aquarium.
Housed in the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping centre in the world, it boasts 33,000 fish and 75 varieties, including tiger sharks, unicorn fish and batfish. Also in this area is the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, best remembered for Tom Cruise's daring exploits in Mission Impossible. We travelled at speed up the 124 storeys to the observation tower where views over the city were breathtaking and slightly scary. We headed out, courtesy of Galaxa Tours to the sea side area and lunched at the Atlantis hotel, a vast resort, completed in 2008 and heaven for kids. It houses a huge Aquaventure park where we got in touch with our inner child for the afternoon. Given that I panic in deep water, I left the more adventurous rides to those with no fear and settled for the gentler ones. Until we came to a junction that said 'rapids' one way and 'torrents' the other. We got through it amid lots of screaming. Then I went for a dip in the Arabian sea and I can honestly say I've had colder baths.
Not afraid of more action, we ventured out to the Address Montgomerie for a golf lesson. To say that we were dire would be an understatement. Stenson, McIlroy or any of the previous winners of the Race to Dubai needn't worry. There are 53 golf clubs in Dubai, so if golf is your thing, it's the place to be.
With all the new vertical buildings, it's hard to remember that there's an old town in Dubai and it was there, in Bastakiya, we went for breakfast the following morning. The old town felt cooler with its honey coloured buildings and narrow streets.
The XVA Art Hotel is an art hotel with thirteen bedrooms, all designed individually by a different artist, including the Kitsch room, the Dish-Dash room and the Henna room. We had a gorgeous breakfast in one of the three courtyards. Now the part of my brain that tells me when to stop eating doesn't exist, so it was back to Vida and an Urban Picnic'. You take your picnic basket, your rug and find your space, either in a cabana by the pool or indoors and indulge yourself. Plenty of wine and an array of food that left me speechless. That in itself is a feat. After a much needed rest, it was time to indulge our taste buds again with a sumptuous Indian spread at the Five Star Jumereiah Zabeel Saray Hotel and on to the Music Hall afterwards.
It was in the Spa area of this hotel that Nicole Scherzinger told Rylan that he was through to the finals of X Factor and he famously rolled on the floor crying. Quincy Jones, Susan Sarandon and John Travolta have all enjoyed the accommodation. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I could indulge my nicotine addiction in the Music Hall - an indoor public place. Sweet. I have the photos to prove it.
Vida is part of the Emaar group who have taken the city by storm and developed the downtown area of the city including the Dubai Mall, the Dubai fountain - the worlds highest performing fountain - the Burj Khalifa and are now embarking on creating the Opera District which will bring cultural events, theatre, concerts and art exhibitions to Dubai. They also developed the Marina and it was from there we took a breakfast cruise around the harbour the next morning. Joggers, cyclists and dog walkers were out bright and early to avail of the cooler temperatures. There was no point in even thinking about the diet as we headed to the Ritz Carlton Hotel and a lunch of mango and crab salad, followed by lobster, squid and huge prawns and a medley of wonderful desserts. Embrace the self indulgence full on I say.
I looked forward to our chosen afternoon activity with a certain amount of trepidation. Jumping on a Segway -essentially a two wheeled self balancing mode of transport - in the middle of Dubai had never been on my bucket list. "Relax" the man said. That was like telling me to freeze. I got the total wobbles. But when the focus was off me, I managed to master it. You lean forward to propel yourself and you lean backwards to stop. For the first few minutes of my trip around downtown Dubai, I lived in abject fear that I would land heavily on my dainty little ass as I tried to stop, but thankfully I didn't and actually had great fun.
For me Dubai combined sun, sea, activities and the ability to feed my desire for endless shopping. And of course there was the food…
Emirates flies to Dubai from Dublin from €625 return. To book visit www.emirates.com or call 0844 800 2777
Eleanor stayed at: Vida Downtown Dubai
www.vida-hotels.com. Vida have a special offer, available until 30 September, €140 per night, including breakfast. Friday brunch at Vida's Urban Picnic, 1-5 pm, costs €43 (non-alcoholic drinks) or €58 (house drinks)
Galaxia Tours provided all transfers as well as a desert safari. The desert safari included dune bashing, a BBQ dinner with non-alcoholic drinks, shisha, henna painting, camel riding, sand boarding and entertainment for €31 per person. www.galaxia.com
For more information about Dubai call Dubai Tourism on 020 7321 6110 or visit www.definitelydubai.com