Middle East Special 2019
Condé Nast Traveller India|October - November 2019
Middle East Special 2019
Luxury, Art, Adventure & More
Rituparna Som, Laurel Munshower, Vaishnavi Behl, Rhea Saran, Andrea Pinto, Jenna Scatena

SECRETS OF THE MIDDLE EAST

As it turns out, you can live out the lavish fantasy of the 1001 Arabian Nights. You just need our insider secrets

Velvet star-strewn skies overhead and a lush service worthy of kings and queens—Middle Eastern hospitality promises you a fairytale fantasy come to life. What if we told you it could get even better? We picked some of the best-kept secrets to turn your stay into an unforgettable experience.

THE BEDOUIN EXPERIENCE AT THE EMIRATES PALACE

Pastel shades of desert sands spread out in front of you while you sip on the finest Arabian coffee and enjoy dates under the shade of a Bedouin tent. The most famous nomadic tribe from the Middle East has inspired this experience at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi—a meal in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert, complete with a camel ride. This intensely luxurious property, known for its regal hospitality and palatial suites, woos guests with the most generous of Bedouin traditions. Catch a sunset over tea along with a camel ride through the pristine sandy beaches of the Arabian Gulf. (emiratespalace.ae)

LITTLE ITALY IN BVLGARI RESORT DUBAI

It’s about experiencing a little bit of Italian luxury in the city. The Bvlgari Resort Dubai is located on a man-made seahorseshaped island. It’s been designed by Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel, who has designed all Bvlgari resorts with the modern Italian elegance that the properties are well known for. The uber-luxe space is filled with a mix of handcrafted Italian furniture and rich natural fabrics to create an ultimate ‘Made In Italy’ look. But the essence of Italy lies in the details: the rooms and suites use earthy tones to create a homey atmosphere, like the cashmere blanket by Enzo degli Angiuoni, or the 100 percent Italian designer furniture and furnishings, such as Maxalto, Flexform, Flos and B&B Italia, hand-selected or customdesigned by Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel, including the signature Bvlgari lamps. The pièce de resistance, however, is the 540-sqm Bvlgari Villa, which features a stunning piece of art— A Dance of Line and Space—from award-winning Italian-American calligrapher Monica Dengo on the living room wall.

And what is Italy without food? The simply titled Il Ristorante is headed by Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito and includes, among its premium ingredients sourced from Italy, the award-winning organic Carma Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (bulgarihotels.com)

BEST DAY EVER AT THE OBEROI, DUBAI

OK, if you insist, we will shop till we drop—at least that’s what The Oberoi would gently ease you into believing. Their ‘Shop Till You Drop’ service makes navigating the vast malls in Dubai as enriching an experience as swiping your card a billion times. Speak to the concierge and sign up for their complimentary scheduled transfers between the hotel and Dubai Mall. The mall spoils you for choice when it comes to entertainment for kids—your options include Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, Dubai Ice Rink, the SEGA Republic indoor theme park, KidZania, and even the cinema, all making sure you can make your mark across the 1,200 shops. (oberoihotels.com)

BLINGED OUT AT BURJ AL ARAB JUMEIRAH

If it’s Dubai, it must be gold— an adage that the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah takes very seriously at Gold on 27. The gold leaf-bedecked bar is on the 27th floor of the iconic hotel and comes with a menu worthy of its brilliant shine. Master mixologists have created Arabian-themed cocktails, like Scent of the Souk, inspired by the spice markets and created with dried apricots and fig infused gin, and non-alcoholic drinks, like the mango purée and basil concoction Waters of Liwa, named after Liwa, the last outpost before the endless sands of the Empty Quarter. But it’s the bling that steals the show, the shine in your rose gold coolers and the Gold Chocolate Bar dessert. Premium shishas scent your evening, either with predictable favorites like apple or classic duos like spiced chai or even the ladies-only offers—rose gold (rose and lemon) or red gold (strawberry and vanilla ice cream). No matter what you choose, along with uninterrupted views of the Arabian Gulf and city skyline, this will be a night for the books. (jumeirah.com)

Clockwise from left: Gold on 27 at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah serves a spice market-inspired cocktail; Middle Eastern detailing; Gold on 27; flamingos on a kayak tour by The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah Opposite page: a Bedouin tent at Emirates Palace

ROW THROUGH MANGROVES AT THE OBEROI BEACH RESORT AL ZORAH

Imagine softly rowing past 60 species of birds at night in a mangrove in the middle of a desert. The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah in Ajman offers tours of the mangroves in single or double kayaks through 10m-tall trees surrounding an azure blue lagoon. It’s a space that transforms at night, with whispering leaves and the gently lapping water providing a surreal soundscape. The tour is a guided one and loaded with safety equipment. The mornings open up a different world—you can spot birds like flamingos, kingfishers and osprey, all feeding, nesting and swimming in the tranquil blue waters. (oberoihotels.com)

HOT CHOCOLATE BY THE FIRE AT KEMPINSKI HOTEL MALL OF THE EMIRATES

Now that snowy ski slopes in the middle of a sprawling desert are practically passé, how about turning it up a notch and staying in a chalet overlooking the slopes, staying snug and cozy in front of a crackling log fire? The Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates Dubai has 20 ski chalets that overlook the largest indoor ski park. The three-bedroom Aspen Ski Chalet has three marble bathrooms with freestanding tubs— all the better to get cozier in. The exclusive butler service makes sure you have hot chocolate on tap and a roaring fire after a few rounds of skiing (complimentary access to the snow park of Ski Dubai). (kempinski.com)

KEEP IT PRIVATE AT THE FIVE

The latest glistening jewel in the Dubai skyline is the FIVE Jumeirah Village, with 269 infinity pools around the hotel, all overlooking the city’s breathtaking scape. The rooms at this just-launched property have been kitted out as contemporary villa-style penthouses with gardens and, of course, individual infinity pools. Perfect for a high-rise private pool party perhaps? If you’d like to live it up at night, drive-in, yes literally drive into The Secret Room, a super-exclusive nightclub that lets supercars zoom straight into the red carpet room at the FIVE Palm Jumeirah. The underground club begins with a graffiti-strewn wall that leads to a magnificent fingerprint-only access room replete with a carbon rose gold avantgarde bar designed by Paolo Ferrari. It’s also decked up with ultra-modern sofas and transparent tables, the latest in all genres of music streaming through the speakers. (fivehotelsandresorts.com)

JET-SETTING AT FOUR SEASONS RESORT DUBAI

Imagine you’re just wrapping up your yachting vacay and feel the need for some pampering on land. How about drawing up to your private jetty for a discreet entrance to the Four Seasons Resort Dubai? Their latest attraction is the secret jetty installed at the hotel’s private beach, especially for guests looking to keep their holiday a little exclusive. However, it’s also the best way to make a grand entrance if you’re planning a wedding at the Dana Ballroom. The hall has been built to showcase the property’s regal façade, promising Instagram-worthy moments no matter where you are. (fourseasons.com)

JAZIRA STYLE

What’s your ideal Middle Eastern island? From heritage isles to eco-reserves, sports havens and everything in between, take your pick

BEST FOR SAFARI

SIR BANI YAS, ABU DHABI

It was in the ’70s that the late founder and ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, set this salt dome island on its path to becoming a wildlife sanctuary. Take a seat in a 4x4—or saddle up a horse—to head out on a safari around the 4,100-hectare reserve populated with some 13,000 free-roaming Arabian and African animals, including cheetahs cooling in the shade, giraffes noshing on acacia trees, and hyenas, gazelles and Arabian oryx wandering a savanna-like environment. (visitabudhabi.ae)

BEST FOR SPORT

YAS ISLAND, ABU DHABI

This sports-centric spot is home to Yas Marina Circuit and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It even offers speed demons the chance to take to the track in a Ferrari. At the indoor Ferrari World theme park, buckle up on the Formula Rossa roller coaster to hit 240kmph in five seconds. Or slow down on the greens at award-winning Yas Links, and then head to the marina for wakeboarding or lessons at the sailing academy. (yasisland.ae)

BEST FOR A BEACH DAY

LEBANON ISLAND AT THE WORLD, DUBAI

The first of the islands that were open to the public in the development that “puts the map on Dubai”, Lebanon Island is home to a beach club simply called The Island. A 20-minute boat ride from Jumeirah Fishing Harbour (they depart hourly from 11 am) transports guests over to enjoy volleyball courts, kayaks, chalets, a pool, two bars and a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine. (entry from AED300 or 6,000 for adults; theisland.ae)

BEST FOR SNORKELLING

DIBBA ROCK, FUJAIRAH

A craggy rock that’s not much to look at from land, Dibba Rock is one island where you will need to look—quite literally—beneath the surface to see its charms. Gear up for a snorkeling excursion and explore the islet’s sloping sides, home to colorful, polyp-covered corals in shallow waters. Known for its vibrant fish and black-tipped reef sharks, green turtles are also a common sight—more so for snorkellers than divers—at the sea-facing side of the site. (excursions from AED157 or 3,000; alboomdiving.com)

BEST FOR ART

SAADIYAT ISLAND, ABU DHABI

Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pollock—just a few of the names you’ll find on this island, thanks to the new Louvre Abu Dhabi. But that’s just the start. Manarat Al Saadiyat is home to Art Abu Dhabi each November and during the rest of the year is a versatile hub of art studios, artist residencies, dance, and music workshops. The Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum are slated to open in the future. (abudhabiart.ae)

BEST FOR DIVING

DAYMANIYAT ISLANDS NATURE RESERVE, OMAN

North of Muscat and 17km off the Batinah coast, these nine small islands are arguably Oman’s best dive sites. Expect dramatic drop-offs, caves and an array of soft and hard coral in rude health. There’s no shortage of marine life, and a lucky diver may even share the waters with a whale shark between September and November. (extradivers-worldwide.com)

BEST FOR HERITAGE

FAILAKA ISLAND, KUWAIT

Twenty kilometers off the coast of Kuwait City, this little frozen-in-time spot is history-laden—from the Mesopotamians to the Dilmun civilization and ancient Greek colonies—but its ’50s-era Heritage Village with the fully restored Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre is what draws the most visitors. Rides on Arabian horses and camels are an option at Failaka Stables, and barbecues and water sports ensure there’s enough for a day or weekend trip here. (heritagevillagefailaka.com)

BEST FOR PEARLS

AL DAR ISLANDS, BAHRAIN

Just 12km south-east of Manama, this is the best place from where to head out on a pearl-diving excursion, learning how to collect oysters and open them—and keeping any pearls you may find in the 1,000sqkm of oyster beds in shallow waters. Al Dar is a popular day-trip destination, whether on the hunt for pearls, with beach huts, a bar and restaurant, and water sports. (aldarislands.com)

BEST FOR ECO-CONSCIOUSNESS

PALM ISLANDS NATURE RESERVE,

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October - November 2019