By Steve MacNaull  www.ottawacitizen.com

There’s no front desk at the Armani Hotel in Dubai. When you enter the chic lobby of the property – after the doors, of course, have been opened for you by doormen in all-black Armani uniforms – your lifestyle manager magically appears.

Somehow he knows your name and greets you by it before whisking you up to your suite. Check-in is a seamless couple of minutes and then you are left alone to truly take in your magnificent surroundings.

The 144-suite hotel was designed by and named after Italian fashion icon Giorgio Armani and as such reflects his sleek, yet comfortable, minimalist esthetic.

“This definitely is the Armani experience,” the hotel’s public relations director Sarah Walker-Kerr tells me.

“Anything the guest touches has to be OK’d by Mr. Armani himself.”

As such, the public areas from the lobby and the restaurants to the business centre and even the bathrooms are a reflection of what Armani’s own homes look and feel like. “It’s understated and stylish, not opulent in any way,” Walker-Kerr says.

That continues into the suites where curved walls, feng shui principals and materials ranging from ice-cave marble and woven plastic to glass and the finest cottons combine to create a cocoon of designer exclusivity.

Naturally, this place is in the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s new and famous 160-storey Burj Khalifa, adjacent to the world’s largest shopping centre – the 1,200 store Dubai Mall.

The only way for Canadians to arrive directly in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai is on Emirates Airline’s superjumbo A380 – the largest airplane in the world.

If you’re sensing a biggest-boldestbest theme with Dubai, you’re right.

Most of Dubai is less than a decade old and built during an unprecedented boom fuelled by Middle East oil money.

As such, the skyscrapers are architectural feats, the shopping luxury, the hotels and restaurants top-notch and embellishments spectacular – from ultrawide tiled sidewalks and palm-treed plazas to mind-boggling amusements (a ski hill at the mall, for example) – and fountains. In fact, my suite overlooks the largest one in the world that spouts, spins and sprays every half-hour to music.

But back to those lifestyle managers at The Armani.

The hotel has eight and each of them has four assistants so, really, there’s a small army to cater to your every whim, from unpacking and packing your suitcases to event tickets and restaurant reservations.

One of the reservations you’ll definitely want to make is at Atmosphere upstairs on the 123rd floor.

Usually snagging a table at the world’s highest restaurant and lounge requires a three-week wait.

But for Armani guests, the table will be waiting tonight.

The view from Atmosphere is aweinspiring, reinforcing just how shiny and new this desert megatropolis on the Persian Gulf really is.

This is a good time to point out that while The Armani is prestigiously in the world’s tallest building, it occupies floors one to eight and floors 38 and 39. The rest of the 828-metre Burj Khalifa is taken up by condominiums and offices, including the work space of the tower’s developer Mohamed Alabar on the 153rd floor.

Armani got into the business after talking to Alabar about extending his influence into hotels.

And what better name for these hotels than Armani, a name and brand instantly recognizable as fashionable and luxurious.

An Armani Hotel will open in the fashion designer’s hometown of Milan by year end and then another will open in Morocco in 2012.

After a fashionable stay in the city, it’s time to head into the wild desert.

Which brings us to Al Maha Resort & Conservation Reserve, a 45-minute drive away. The 225-square-kilometre reserve is mostly untouched to let the oryx (looks a bit like a deer) run free.

On a hillside oasis, the resort has been built with a main lodge and 42 individual Bedouin-style compounds. Bedouins are the original tent-dwelling nomadic people of the region.

While a huge tent forms the roof and patio awnings, this is no tented temporary structure, but a stunning little house complete with Arabian Nights decor, its own grounds and an infinity pool overlooking the desert.

After relaxing in your own compound, the next best thing to do at Al Maha is the Camel Trek.

The resort has its own camel stable; just before sundown is the time to ride one of these desert pack animals into the sunset.

Our group dismounts the camels just in time to run to the top of a sand dune – glass of champagne in hand – to toast the brilliant show of orange on the horizon. Al Maha also offers riding on retired Arabian race horses, a falconry demonstration, nature walks and four-by-four desert safaris.

IF YOU GO

Getting there: You can take a 13-hour Emirates Airline non-stop flight from Toronto to Dubai. Return airfare starts at about $1,500, or splurge and pay $8,670 for business class, which has lie-flat seat beds and gourmet food. The A380 is a double-decker with 399 seats downstairs in economy; upstairs has 14 first-class private cabins and 76 business-class pods.

See Emirates.com.

Staying there: Nights at the Armani Hotel and Al Maha Resort and Conservation Reserve can be purchased as part of an Emirates package or separately. Room rates start at about $500.

See ArmaniHotels.com or LuxuryCollection.com.

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