Roger Tavener chronicles the endless possibilities in the expat hotspot of the UAE, Dubai.
This afternoon? Shopping at the world’s finest stores or a spot of sun-bathing and a swim with dolphins? Spoilt for choice.
Later on, some quad-bike racing and a 4×4 safari through scorching sand dunes stretching into the mists of time. Sounds good.
And what better way to end the perfect day than a candle-lit river cruise with as much wine as you can drink to compliment a gastronomic five-course feast after flying a sea-plane past the world’s tallest building.
Unless, of course, you fancy a romantic, balmy, moonlit early hours walk along your private beachfront, dipping your toes in the Gulf of Arabia.
And there’s the clue. Because where else in the world could you be but… Dubai.
And if you should ever see the slogan: “See Dubai Before You Die”…
Well, it sounded pretty good after such an exhilarating day out and the endless free, chilled-to-perfection glasses of sauvignon on that journey down the Dubai Creek, which is actually a rather deceptive term as the waterway is much wider than old mother Thames.
But everything in designer Dubai is bigger and better than anything, anywhere else. That’s actually the point of it.
And forget any misgivings you may have about travelling to this former desert outpost after all those recent headlines proclaiming the place had gone bust.
As it turned out, that was just a minor economic blip. I was there the day a few billion outstanding dollars were underwritten and I can testify that the following morning, on the dot of 6 am, the cranes, formerly at half mast, reared up and construction on new, even grander, projects began again.
This is the UNITED Arab Emirates, after all, so these former camel-borne caravan traders turned petrol-dollar fuelled entrepreneurs, stick together.
In town, development is again rattling on at an amazing pace. Shimmering tower blocks and astonishing world-class pieces of architecture are rising out of the champagne-coloured desert dust.
And, out there, in the Gulf, reclaimed land is multiplying Dubai’s mileage of coastline and creating some of the most astonishing pieces of real estate known to man. The Palm and The World, and designed to be seen from Outer Space.
Yet just thirty years ago Dubai was only a glint in the eye of the Al Maktoum dynasty, who decided in 1833 to hitch up their caravan and move 800 followers from Abu Dhabi to the edge of the Creek and set up a trading centre, based on pearl-diving in the Gulf.
Then, in 1966, when we were winning the World Cup, this tiny town won the lottery. There was liquid gold, oil, in them thar dunes and Dubai was rich beyond belief, literally overnight.
But the savvy Sheikhs had done their homework and realised that, unlike some of the the adjoining Emirates, Dubai’s glutinous resources were finite.
So they sat down and came up with a Master Plan. They would turn this featureless piece of desert scrub into the world’s greatest tourist resort. Adventurous or what? But, give them their dunes, they’ve achieved that and more.
And the building began.
First major building to reach to the sky, a decade ago now, was the Burj Al Arab, a seven-star hotel built to resemble an Arabian Dhow with billowing sails and every known luxury known to man or woman. The gushing PR blurb says that if Marilyn Monroe came back as a hotel she’d be the Burj, with its curvy, colourful, sexy and iconic over-the-top style.
If that’s Monroe, I was quite content to spend a night or two with her older sister, the 128-acre Jeleb Ali Golf Resort and Spa, which had all the skittishness of its sibling down the road.
The Jeleb Ali re-opened the doors to its wonderfully-marbled lobby eight months ago after a five month closure/refurbishment and is one of the founding sisters of the Dubai recreational revolution, having been built in 1981.
She truly is a classy, sassy oasis in this part of the desert, just a rapid free transfer to downtown Dubai. Close enough to be near. Far enough away to be relaxed and refreshed among the peacocks (a gift from the Maktoums) and other exotic flora, fauna and wildlife.
The warm and welcoming staff are ultimately friendly, yet unerringly discreet (damn it). Tiger Woods came alone a while ago (probably not for long though) as he visited his “TigerWorld” development of palaces (really!) and signature golf course not far away.
And the world-class sporting facilities, including a nine-hole golf course, marina, dive centre, horse-riding complex and spa have attracted sporting clubs, including English premiership sides, to the resort for warm-weather training.
It’s split into two. The Jebel Ali Hotel and the Palm Tree Court and Spa. Both are faultlessly five star and rightly lay claim to the title of “Dubai’s Only True Resort.” The food here is fantastic, from any of the dozen or so restaurants, including the award-winning French-inspired Signatures and La Fontana where a sumptuous breakfast buffet sets the day alight.
And no matter in which part you stay, you are never more than a minute or two’s walk from a private beach of bleached sand and the gently lapping Gulf
And, just over there, is the prestigious first phase of The Palm 2, another outrageous sortie into the sea to create what will be one of the world’s most envied addresses, full of soccer, movie and pop stars and the occasional anonymous, yet sickeningly wealthy, industrialist.
Well, at least we can play at being them for a few days.
Of course, while the resort boasts the finest restaurants to cater for all tastes, don’t worry, there are bars galore, serving alcohol. Although, like in the rest of the Dubai, beer, wine and spirits can be expensive. But not a lot more than your run-of-the-mill British five-star hotel. A pint of lager will set you back around £6 depending on the exchange rate. And beware of phone calls home, they cost an arm and a leg, whether from your mobile or from your room.
Dubai may be the preserve of the rich or the playboy or the paid-for, because if you want to live like a King or Sheikh here, you can. The sky is literally the limit and you can even see that, the world’s tallest building The Burj Khalifa, which towers over the Seawings seaplane piloted by Captain Per Korsvold flying at 1,500 ft and which takes off out of the Jebel Ali marina.
But you get what you pay for and Dubai doesn’t do second-rate. It gives value, which is within reach of the average Brit. Especially as Dubai currently has hotel rooms going begging as the recession eats into traveller numbers.
Love it or hate it, you’ll never be bored here with every type of sporting facility at your fingertips.
They even plonked a mountainous world-class ski centre in the middle of the middle east for Allah’s sake. So world-class skiers come here to practise. And they stay in the world-class hotels. And then take advantage of Dubai’s sunny climate, especially attractive when our grey skies are at their most depressing in the late Autumn, darkest mid-Winter and sodden Spring.
Like I said: “See Dubai Before You Die”.
You won’t regret it.
Virginholidays.co.uk is offering September specials of four nights at the Atlantic Palm, including economy flights from £699pp. Or shorter trips like Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa – 2 nights B&B and economy flights with Virgin Atlantic from £650pp.
For current more deals call Trailfinders on 0845 050 5871 or visit www.trailfinders.com.
Half-day desert safari with Travco from £42 adults / £35 children. For bookings email email@example.com.
Hg2 – A Hedonist’s guide to Dubai. £12 from www.hg2.com.
For more information about Dubai visit www.dubaitravelmarket.co.uk or call Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing on 020 7321 6110.