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Unwinding in the Middle East

ajmanimg_4661Venetia van Kuffeler experiences old world hospitality and new world sparkle in the UAE

 THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES is known for the glitz and glamour of its architecture: skyscrapers, giant malls, palm-shaped islands and the world’s tallest building, not to mention a generous smattering of luxury hotels from which to experience this dynamic Middle Eastern economic hub. I recently travelled there as a guest of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts to stay at two five-star properties, both owned by His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, son of the President of the UAE.

The flagship Fairmont Dubai has been a fixture in the bustling cityscape for over 12 years. Designed with business in mind, it is just minutes from Dubai’s key attractions and linked to the Dubai International Convention Centre by a covered walkway. The 34-storey property features 394 guestrooms, residential apartments and offices, as well as 10 dining and entertainment venues, a spa, and two rooftop swimming pools. In a city where new hotels seem to spring up overnight, Fairmont Dubai is not the youngest but it is among the most admired. The extensive list of awards the hotel has received speaks for itself.

Highlights include Noire, the first ‘blind-dining’ restaurant in the Middle East, where customers eat in a completely blacked-out room. Servers don night vision goggles, and I’m told guests keep coming back time and time again, relishing the way in which the experience alters sensory perceptions. The evening needn’t end there; guests can move on to one of the property’s two nightclubs: Cirque Le Soir, with live acts including burlesque dancers, snake charmers and contortionists, and the Cavalli Club, inspired by fashion designer Robert Cavalli.

Keen to establish Dubai’s historical credentials, Fairmont were happy to organise a whistle-stop tour of the Old Souk, a boat trip on the creek, and a visit to the Dubai Museum. This was followed by lunch at the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Only 15 per cent of Dubai’s population is native Emirati, and this not-for-profit organisation raises awareness of the religion, customs and culture of the UAE. That evening we experienced a little of the latter with a trip to the desert to enjoy a sunset falcon show between the dunes and a Bedouin feast with traditional dancing and shisha.

The next day we were back in a more familiar milieu. The Dubai Mall – the world’s largest shopping destination – houses everything from Fortnum & Mason to one of the world’s largest fish tanks. It has to be seen to be believed. Here guests can also access the Burj Khalifa. At 828 metres, the 200-story building has over 160 habitable storeys, more than any other building in the world. While travelling in the world’s longest single-run elevator (up 140 floors), we were told that the concrete used in its construction is equivalent to the weight of 100,000 elephants!

After all that excitement, some rest and relaxation was in order, and for this we went to Fairmont Ajman, the latest addition to the group’s Middle Eastern portfolio. A perfect retreat from Dubai’s buzzing metropolis, the property is nestled in the cusp of the Arabian Gulf, with excellent views of its clear waters and sandy beaches. The large windows in the 14-story building allow an abundance of natural light to flood in, creating cool, calm interiors. Although the hotel was buzzing with people, everything looked brand new, in keeping with a hotel that only opened in May last year.

With an eclectic range of restaurants, from Ottoman dining to poolside bars, guests are unlikely to go hungry. The best spot of all is the Badr Lounge on the mezzanine rooftop, which serves signature drinks against a backdrop of panoramic views. If you’re feeling more sporty, Fairmont Ajman has recently teamed up with the new Al Zorah Golf Club to offer a range of Stay & Play packages. Just a 10-minute drive away, the 18-hole course is set within natural dunes and an inland mangrove, where water levels shift with the tides, providing golfers with a unique and challenging experience.

As the smallest state in the UAE, life in Ajman is enjoyed at a slower pace, with the added attraction that prices are lower than elsewhere. There’s definitely a feeling that this is a destination on the up, and with a journey time of 30 minutes by car from Dubai International Airport, the trip from plane to beach is both smooth and fast.


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