By Marion Dakers www.cityam.com
Dubai seems an unlikely place for a relaxing holiday at first. Even 2,700 feet up, at the top of the Burj Khalifa tower, the whirr of cranes and speeding Jeeps in every direction makes the sea view throb with activity.
My guide points past the hollow half-built skyscrapers jutting across the city skyline to the beach, where a new sandbank is under construction. Next to the famous Palm and World islands, you can just pick out the first heaps of sand that will make up the rings of Saturn. Never short of ambition it seems, Dubai has started building the Universe.
Creating a boutique hotel aimed at giving holidaymakers tranquil pampering in a restful setting amid all this activity is arguably a tough challenge, but then you’d expect to be in safe hands with One & Only, the company behind some of the most renowned luxury boutique hotels. And, as I enter the grounds of the One & Only: The Palm (to give it its full name), its latest hotel in the region, which opened its doors in November last year, I can see why.
The hotel itself is just the second to open on “The Palm”, the man-made archipelago that has become something of a symbol of Dubai’s recent economic strife (the first was Atlantis in 2008, when the crisis was in the early stages). As we arrive it’s clear that the city is whirring into action again. There is building going on other parts of the archipelago, but as we enter The Palm’s serene grounds and step into its open airy marble lobby there’s not a hint of noise. The hotel is just a short boat ride away from the mainland, designed as a low-lying string of villas connected by landscaped paths.
The One&Only first started taking guests in November and offers 64 rooms and 28 suites – all set amid lavish manicured grounds, but with the bells and whistles Dubai is known for. There’s a luxurious fitness centre, a dedicated beauty service including a hair salon under the guidance of Alexandre Zouari, three restaurants under Michelin starred chef Yannick Alléno. Add to that a spectacular series of swimming pools, fountains and gardens and you have quite the getaway.
My “Premier” room is in the main block of the hotel, but guests willing to really splash out can rent one of the on-site villas that line the beachfront, complete with a terrace and private swimming pool. But even standard rooms have enough treats for a pampered break, with giant standalone baths, rain showers and balconies with sea views.
The furnishings throughout the hotel are puffed up to strange proportions in keeping with Dubai theatrics, with vases the size of small horses and lamps with better architectural design than half the city adorning every surface. The beds are similarly huge, and the curtains heavy enough to snuff out any noise from the outside world.
The One & Only has an eclectic offer of food, not least at Zest, the hotel’s breezy multi-cuisine restaurant. Diners can choose between Asian, Western and Arabic styles, each executed to a high standard. (I spent a an enjoyable few hours picking at a selection of halloumi, spicy prawns and couscous while admiring the view of the mainland.) There’s also STAY, a more up-market (and priced accordingly) contemporary restaurant set up by Yannick Alléno. The modern French menu boasts foie gras, veal and lobster fricassee. (Not to be missed: The Pastry library, where you can order deserts by the meter and choose the fillings from a mouthwatering list of caramels, jellies and chocolate creams.)
After this it’s great to hit the pool, and The Palm’s is full of pizzazz, lined by palms and covered in azure tiles. I grab the keys to one of the eight poolside cabanas and spend a happy afternoon taking in the sun, nipping back and forth to my room to get a blast of air conditioning when the Middle Eastern weather – up to 50 degrees Celsius in summer, but a more pleasant 30 degrees in spring – gets too much. (Cocktails from the attentive staff help with this, too.)
The cabanas are almost as well kitted-out as the hotel rooms, with a wide-screen TV, fridge full of drinks, showers and rattan sofas. You really could stay all day.
It’s not all about pool though. Located on the fronds of the eponymous Palm island, the hotel also has plentiful beach access. White sand and empty crystal waters are the reward for stepping outside the confines of the hotel.
For those in search of truly immersive pampering, it also features a pretty swish private spa, run by ESPA. The minimally-furnished health and beauty complex offers three and five-day “wellness journeys” for the committed, costing up to 3,900 dirhams (£650), alongside a menu of treatments from sports massage to facials to detox wraps for those short on time.
I plump for a pedicure at Bastien Gonzalez’s studio, a total foot rejuvenation that I’m told is in high demand at his branches in London. The treatment is nothing if not thorough (I’ve never seen so many tools in my life!) but my feet are transformed.
It is worth venturing away from the One & Only when you reach indulgence limit. Dubai is famed for its luxurious shopping malls, which include The Dubai Mall (the world’s biggest at 12.1m square foot) and The Mall of the Emirates with all the bling brands you could wish for. There’s also the city’s famous indoor ski slope Ski Dubai – assuming after leaving the UK you’d fancy some snow – and camel riding excursions are also available for those wanting a more authentic “desert” experience.
During my stay I visit the Atlantis resort’s the 65,000-fish aquarium and dizzying water park. I hit the mainland one evening with fellow hotel guests to Dubai’s creek and visit the old market via water taxi.
I also stop by at the One & Only’s sister hotel The Royal Mirage on the mainland, a stylish Arabian-themed resort that is a destination in itself for Dubai residents, not least because as a five-star hotel it is one of a handful of venues in the emirate allowed to serve alcohol. (Drinks as a result err on the more expensive side, at £7 a pint.)
Holidaymakers at the Palm are encouraged to take its complimentary water taxi trip to sample the Royal Mirage’s livelier bars and beach, which can serve as a useful day-trip if lounging by the pool ever gets tiresome.
It’s also fun to try out some of the hotel’s restaurants. Tagine is a Moroccan restaurant serving enormous plates of stewed meats set to the tambourines of a live Berber band.
The Roof Top bar – an outdoor hideaway where the mint juleps are strong, the futons expansive and the music painfully cool – is also great for a midnight cocktail with the ex-pat crowd and offers the best views of the Dubai skyline. It’s the perfect snapshot of the city before heading home.
ONE&ONLY THE PALM: Emirates Tours offers five nights at One & Only The Palm, Dubai from £1,149 per person.
INCLUDES: Price based on two people sharing a Palm Manor House Premier Room with breakfast and dinner daily. Includes return Economy Class flights with Emirates and return private car transfers. Valid for travel until 15 July and 11-31 August. Valid on flights from London Heathrow (not EK2 or EK6), and London Gatwick.
TWIN CENTRE: Emirates also offers a five-night twin Centre package for £1,449 per person with two nights at One & Only The Palm in a Palm Manor House Premier Room, and three nights at One & Only Royal Mirage in a Palace Superior Deluxe Room, both with breakfast and dinner daily. Valid until 15 July and 11-31 August. Valid on flights from Heathrow (not EK2 or EK6), and London Gatwick. Info: www.emiratestours.co.uk, 0844 800 1400