Travel: Experience the high life in Dubai

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai

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Dubai’s precipitous palaces, submarine dining and desert safaris give new meaning to the high life

WHERE does luxury begin? What is luxury to you, might be bling to me. One thing is certain, in the travel world luxury matters.

Burj al Arab from Pierchic

Burj al Arab from Pierchic

Dubai is a place that prides itself on luxury. Not just on its hotels but with superlatives at every corner – the world’s first seven star hotel, tallest building, largest shopping mall, highest spa. And you know what? A touch of luxury never did anyone any harm.

Our arrival in Dubai set the tone of the trip – a guide to see us through arrivals and to our transport to the iconic Burj al Arab. The word “hotel” seems too humble for this hospitality palace with its two-floor suites and gold-plated service.

The trip was designed to show us the best of the emirate and our hosts had truly pulled out all the stops: three different beds in five nights, gourmet dining, sensual experiences and high-flying adventures.

Tearing ourselves away from exploring the gadgets and testing the Burj’s personal butler services, we went for tea at At.mosphere on the 122th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. “Tea” was hardly an apt description with its pink champagne, mini roast dinner and gold-leaf-adorned sweet treats.

Al Mahara

Al Mahara

We then headed down into the Dubai Mall where famous and familiar brands congregate and a ginormous glass wall reveals an endlessly fascinating aquarium.

Back at the Burj al Arab, where we seem to have adjusted rather well to the high life, our bubble is burst with a visit to a presidential suite and we have to reset our definition of luxury.

Cocktails in the Sky Bar precede an exquisite meal in the aquarium-clad restaurant Al Mahara. Not surprisingly, it’s a wrench to leave our fairytale palace the next morning.

The parting is almost forgotten as we explore the heart of Dubai. Scents and colours in the shaded souks, a bit of haggling over jewellery and pashminas and then an exhilarating boat ride across the creek before we head to our next hotel, Mina A’Salam.

Next to the Burj, our new hotel is in Madinat Jumeirah. It’s a complete resort – hotels, theatre, souk, beach, spa – and pretty much what most ordinary people would term luxury.

However our hosts have other plans and after lunch we are whisked out into the desert for another experience. This one is a Jeep safari in vintage 1950s vehicles and includes dune bashing, wildlife watching and a falconry display through the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Of course, it’s timed so we get the full effect of the sun setting.

We then head to our dinner: no flashy restaurant this time, but a Bedouin style camp on royal land. There’s entertainment, camel rides, henna artists and a tasty array of local dishes. If that sounds familiar to Gulf visitors, Platinum Heritage’s version is on a much more intimate scale and Kylie Minogue was a visitor a few days after us. And, as our own A-list experience continues, we spend the night in Bedouin tents.

The next treat is a pre-dawn wake-up call so that we can join a sunrise hot air balloon ride. And yes, it was one of the most intense experiences ever. The tingling nerves for a new adventure as the balloons took shape; the heat of the burner as we rose into the dark; the excitement as the first colours of the sun seep into the sky; spotting camels, gazelles and the miniature buildings as we soar along.

We are effortlessly whisked back to the city to take part in another Dubai ritual – Friday Brunch.

Madinat Jumeirah is the location of two of the most popular brunches in Dubai and we are guests at Al Qasr, where the food is so splendid I could spend the rest of this article making you gasp with incredulity describing it. The quality, choice and quantity on offer was stunning and there’s bubbly and cocktails to sip. It’s obviously the place to be seen for the fashionable expat crowd and so a people-watching experience par excellence.

Food is a big part of the Madinat experience – lots of different ways to enjoy it, from the simple beach-front café or the waterside Mexican and Thai restaurants to Pierchic, where we dined on our final night. This jetty-end restaurant serves seafood inspired by three Michelin-starred French chef Laurent Gras. Not only was the food fabulous but walking along the wooden jetty to the culinary oasis suspended over the ocean heightened the experience.

I’ve never really imagined spending time in just one resort without wanting to venture outside, but truthfully, I could happily ensconce myself in the Madinat. Indulging in the treatments at the Talise spa – including the mesmerising and slightly surreal AlphaSphere, where all the senses are touched in a relaxation pod – walking the beach, dancing at a roof-top scion of the iconic club Pacha Ibiza, a spot of shopping, all in a car-free environment, would suit me very nicely. A sun lounger by a pool or a boat trip around the Palm’s artificial islands before heading into my room to discover what clever cute animal the maid has created from a towel, would also be on my agenda.

And as a much-needed antidote to all the fine food and relaxation, I’d seek out a repeat of my tennis lesson with one of the Peter Burwash International coaches at Talise Fitness. This was a huge test of my own fitness and I was pushed to go for the passing shots against my coach, Emory, a recent American college graduate. The smug satisfaction after an hour’s exertion meant I could guiltlessly enjoy another meal.

I suspect the real attraction of the Madinat for me is the resort’s 3km of waterways with its abra watertaxi service, which whisks guests around and makes every trip a glamorous adventure.

Dubai is an impressive place as far as tourist attractions and facilities go. You couldn’t expect more. But what makes all those restaurants, hotels and attractions into a luxury experience? It’s the level of service and attention to detail which transform high-quality experiences into luxury living. Dubai demonstrated to us that it seems to have found a successful formula.

• Return economy flights from Glasgow with Emirates (www.emirates.com) from £387 this month. Half-day City of Merchants Tour of Old Dubai with Arabian Adventures (www.arabian-adventures.com) is £28 (AED 155). Arabian Journey treatment at Talise Spa in Burj al Arab from £179 (AED 995). High tea at At.mosphere in Burj Khalifa (www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com) from £104 (AED 580). Overnight desert safari with Platinum Heritage (platinum-heritage.com) from £161 (AED 895). Sunrise flight with Balloon Adventures, Emirates (www.ballooning.ae) from £179 (AED 995). Burj al Arab Jumeirah and Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah are both part of the Jumeirah Group (www.jumeirah.com). Dubai Tourism (020 7321 6110 or www.visitdubai.com)

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