Life & Style | Travel

Five fantastic fake-ations in the UAE

Who needs the hassle of visas, luggage limits and jet lag when we have resorts to rival the best in the world right on our doorstep? Karen Pasquali Jones and Anna AbouZeid explore the UAE

  • Friday magazine
  • Published: 15:14 October 4, 2012
  • Friday

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Staying close to home is close to our heart.
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Do you yearn for a luxurious break, but can’t face the long-haul flight before you reach your destination? Well prepare for a trend alert holidaymakers, as the fake-ation has arrived! Check out the holidays that look and feel exotic, but are only a drive away.

Rixos The Palm Dubai - Feels like… South of France

Taking in the glamorous decor, ocean-view cabanas and beachside pool, complete with a saxophonist and a DJ, you could easily be fooled into thinking you were in Cannes rather than the Palm, Dubai. And while you won’t necessarily be rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s finest on the red carpet at the French resort’s film festival, you could be lying next to J-Lo when she comes to perform on November 22, as it’s the official concert hotel. And no wonder – everything about this ten-acre resort on the tip of the Palm shouts luxury.

From the gold hotel sign gleaming under the sun, to the swanky, marbled lobby; this place is a classy establishment. The Bulgari gift sets and mini bathrobes waiting for our children were a nice touch. Every detail had been taken care of, and then some. The hotel rooms were understated yet extremely impressive – think wooden floors, walk-in wardrobes and a giant super-slim TV at the end of the double bed, with a separate lounge area, and Bulgari toiletries, fresh fruits and chocolates liberally sprinkled throughout.

Apparently there’s a kids’ club, spa, fitness centre and all the usual facilities, but once we spotted the pool deck overlooking the Arabian Gulf, none of that mattered. There was a sun lounger and a cabana with our name on it – and we couldn’t wait to see if the service matched up to the five-star hotel’s reputation. The beach attendants must have had a board with all the guests’ pictures on them, as they knew who we were without having to ask.

Across the neatly trimmed – and very green – lawn, the curtains of our cabana were already being drawn to reveal a bucket filled with icy drinks to keep us cool. The kids insisted on trying juices of every flavour before ice lollies were handed to them and we were given a fresh fruit platter. Our every whim was catered to by the impeccable staff, without us even having to ask. All we had to do was choose between the chilled pool, with its bluesy background music, and swim-up bar, or the warm waters of the Gulf.

Even when we couldn’t decide – we kept switching between the two – the beach attendants simply gave us a cabana in each location. Both were always topped up with iced drinks, and fresh towels. Lunch was a Turkish buffet in A La Turka, and we dined on moussaka, kebabs, a metre-long pizza – which wowed the kids – and a selection of mezze. My nine-year-old son discovered the Turkish desserts, while my little girl demolished a huge bowl of ice-cream, and then demanded a nap on the beach. Feeling full, we joined her, and while my family snoozed, I watched the beautiful people hanging out.

Couples, families and business colleagues were soaking up the sophisticated surroundings and, with its Mediterranean vibe, this will surely become the place to be. A blissful weekend here left us totally relaxed, tanned, and ready to go back to work – without having to set foot on a plane. A laid-back, elegant resort for all the family, for me, Rixos is très magnifique.

Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas - Feels like…Barbados

White powdery beach? Check. Giant tortoises and friendly dolphins? Check. Uber-chic hotel complete with world-class food? Check, check, check. It was easy to forget that we’d travelled just an hour from Dubai and not to the Caribbean, with the unspoilt, sophisticated atmosphere of the Park Hyatt.

Our first pleasant surprise was the room. It was actually an entire suite, bigger than our family apartment back home, with a separate bedroom, bathroom and living room for our children, and TVs in every corner. Our children are pretty spoilt, and they’ve been lucky enough to travel to some of the top spots in the world and always try to turn left on aeroplanes. So they know a lot about hotels, and room service. “Can I have the DVD menu?” our nine-year-old asked our personal butler. “Can I have a softer pillow,” our four-year-old smiled, “and some chocolate?” Nothing was too much trouble for our female butler, who was happy to unpack our bags, have my little black dress ironed in time for dinner, and cater to our children’s constant demands.

After jumping on the huge beds – the kids, not us – we went for a stroll along the talcum-powder beach, which looks exactly like the one at The Sandy Lane in Barbados, and sucked in lungfuls of salty sea air to work up an appetite. Then, after bathing in a tub the size of a small swimming pool, it was off to dinner. It was a special event – executive chef Laurent Pommey’s sustainable menu.

Over five courses, my husband and children dined on seared tuna and Omani lobster carpaccio, which they all declared was divine, chilli tomato and cucumber salad, which our little girl loved even though it made her tongue “tickle”, and local mackerel fillet with herb crust, seasoned vegetables and a caper butter sauce. Being the sole vegetarian, I ordered off the menu, feasting on orange couscous and mint salad and spinach ravioli that melted in my mouth.

Our children were the only kids there, but they loved tasting all the exotic dishes and even meeting the creator himself. “What’s your favourite thing to make?” they quizzed, while sharing their concerns that he might get too hot in the kitchen. Feast over, it
was time for bed – which had the crispest sheets and fluffiest pillows ever. In the morning there was even more food, this time a buffet breakfast, to be followed by valuable relaxing-by-the-pool time. There isn’t just one pool at the Park Hyatt, there are several, from small plunge pools, to a bigger one outside the kids’ club.

Our children are the harshest critics, refusing to even venture into kids’ clubs in some resorts, but they loved this one, with its arts and crafts and shaded playground. They even insisted we leave them to make cookies and play football, while we dozed on the sun loungers. Then it was time to work for our lunch. We couldn’t just turn up and eat, we had to learn how to cook it first.

Under the tutorage of chef de cuisine Maik Lilienthal, we discovered the secret to a supersmooth hummus (ice cubes in the blender) and to grilling aubergines for baba ghanoush. The lesson was a feast for the eyes as well as our stomachs. It was fun sitting down with the other guests to dine on the dishes we’d made, and the chefs were even happy to help our children – who insisted on joining us after exploring the kids’ club – make biscuits for us to eat with tea and coffee afterwards.

With our tans topped up and our bellies swollen, it was time to leave. We just had time to check out the dolphins jumping in the waves below our window before driving home. There was no flight to worry about, just the quick drive back to Dubai, where we could chill and really feel the benefit of our short fake-ation.

Le MÉridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah - Feels like… Naples

With its dramatic mountain backdrop, clear sea, pretty beach and amazing food, you could easily mistake this luxurious resort, which is right on your doorstep, for the Italian capital of pizza. OK, so it’s only 90 minutes away from Dubai instead of an eight-hour flight, but close your eyes and you really believe you’re in Italy. Just like in the European home of fashion, football and food, the first stop for us after checking in, was one of the hotel’s nine restaurants.

It was a Friday, so brunch was being served and we made the most of it, tasting the international cuisine with, yes, you’ve guessed it, pasta and pizza. “Not bad,” our son declared, tucking into his spaghetti bolognese (and he should know – he eats it at least once a week, homemade to his Italian father’s recipe). After some serious non-stop eating, we just about managed to waddle to the 230-metre golden beach, which is at the foot of the Hajar Mountains.

Nestled between them and the Indian Ocean, this is a hotel with quite a view – everywhere you turn there’s something amazing to ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ over. So we made sandcastles and jumped the waves lapping the shore all afternoon, turning every now and then to take in the breathtaking backdrop or squint against the sunlight bouncing off the sea. Then it was time to get changed for dinner.

We were still so full we could have groaned, but luckily there was plenty to stop us thinking about how we could possibly eat another morsel. First, we had to explore our sumptuous suite, with a balcony the size of a small apartment, a walk-in wardrobe and a DVD player. We then had to navigate the menu of the (of course) Italian Sapore Restaurant.

We feasted on ravioli and lasagne that tasted just as good as anything I’ve eaten in Italy, before checking out the rest of the hotel. And there was loads to see, including shops, a cinema playing children’s classics, a games room with video games, billiard table and books, and bars aplenty, but we decided to have an early night, as our children were exhausted. That meant we were up early, hit the delicious breakfast buffet before everyone else, and were soon sunning ourselves on the beach.

Our nine-year-old son is a bit of an adventurer and, much to his delight, he discovered that there were diving lessons for children (and adults) at the hotel. “Please can I give it a go?” he begged his Padi-qualified dad. Ten minutes later, he was following an experienced diving instructor to the bottom of the main swimming pool for his first lesson while I watched with pure panic. To take my mind off my son’s underwater adventures, I went for a facial at the Spa Al Aqah. Of course, in such a luxurious environment it involved caviar – what else? – to brighten my complexion.

I was shocked when the therapist warned me I had the first signs of rosacea – redness and swelling of the face, possibly caused by my love of the sun – but she promised to help calm the problem with specialised products and a tailor-made programme. At the end of the relaxing and rejuvenating treatment – so much so I almost fell asleep – all signs of redness on my nose had almost vanished and I felt ten years younger. There was just time to check that my son hadn’t grown gills underwater, and to collect my little girl from the excellent kids’ club, before we had to pack our things and head back home.

It’s amazing to know that you don’t need to leave the UAE to have an incredible holiday, and the sophistication, views and gourmet food, certainly rivalled anything from the south of Italy.

Al Ain Rotana - Feels like… Tenerife

Palm trees swaying, sunlight glinting off the pristine pool and a mocktail with an umbrella in it – this is one destination I must have dug my passport out for. But in reality, it’s back at home collecting dust, and the Tenerife-style resort I’m staying in is actually in Al Ain, just a 90-minute drive from home. It would be easy to convince myself that I’m abroad though. The service is impeccable, the international food is delicious and it has the same chic look as hotels on the Spanish island.

Even the children think we’re in foreign climes. “Which country are we in again?” my nine-year-old asks, while my four-year-old tells him, “LA.” I try not to laugh as I slowly repeat, “Al Ain” until they reluctantly believe we’re still in the UAE. They’re delighted with the pool, complete with swim-up bar, where they insist on drinking smoothies perched on stools, with their legs dangling in the cool water. I have to drag them away at the end of the day to go to our suite. It’s elegant, has a giant bed that all four of us could fit into (though there’s no need as we have two bedrooms), and a huge TV to keep the children happy.

Cartoons on, my husband and I can relax for an hour before dinner at the French Polynesian restaurant, Trader Vic’s. The kids tuck into lobster, which they declare “yummy”, while I opt for an exotic salad and my husband has steak. Our plates are soon clean and, after dessert, we explore outside. Wandering past other guests dining alfresco and having shisha, it’s obvious that this is the place those in the know come from neighbouring emirates for a mini-break. With its elegant lawns, and lush trees and plants, it’s an oasis in the middle of the desert.

The Rotana isn’t a giant, sprawling complex, but there’s plenty to do. There are three restaurants, a café, some lounge and pool bars, along with a gym and leisure and fitness club. But it’s the pool that everyone loves. My children demand to go in it the moment they open their eyes the next day, and we have to force them to come to brunch in the international restaurant. They eat quickly, complaining that our leisurely pace is eating into their swimming and splashing time. So we give in, and lie by the pool while watching them play.

The afternoon rushes by, and after devouring yet more food, this time at the pool bar, it is sadly time for us to go home. We had planned to drop into the Al Ain Zoo, which is only a quick drive away, to see the white rhinos, white lions of Sanbona, giraffes, zebras and meerkats among other wildlife, but our children are asleep in the back of the car before we’ve even made it out of the hotel’s drive. Instead we head home, refreshed and smiling from our fake-ation. I can’t wait to go back!

Desert Palm - Feels like… Monaco

The Principality of Monaco is best known for its opulence, yachts, delicious food, and, of course, world-class polo. Sure, the Arabian Desert is miles away, but we have our own little slice of Monte Carlo just 20 minutes away from Downtown Dubai at the Desert Palm. As you step out on the hotel’s lobby terrace and gaze at the expansive green polo field stretched before you, you’ll see players outfitted in preppy polo kit, exercising their horses and driving plastic balls along the field with their wooden mallets for practice.

You’re immediately transported somewhere much more glamorous and beautiful than anywhere you might find yourself on an ordinary Saturday afternoon. If you’re anything like me, you dread Saturdays. The weekend is basically over and it’s time to do any last-minute laundry, clean the apartment, do the grocery shopping and get ready for the week. But this Saturday, all domestic drudgery was forgotten as I flitted off to the Desert Palm resort with a girlfriend to enjoy our last night of the weekend.

We knew we’d be in for a treat, staying in one of the resort’s recently opened polo suites, which are situated right on the hotel’s championship polo field, so you can watch matches from the comfort of your terrace. After admiring the photos of various members of the Dubai royal family playing polo and riding horses, we were led to our room. As my friend and I walked into the cool open-plan space, we looked at one another and said quite simply, “wow!”. The rooms are spacious, with a massive tub, rainforest showers and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a perfect panorama of the polo field.

If you want to watch a match while you enjoy a classic afternoon tea – they take place every Friday and Saturday afternoon – you can do so from the privacy of your suite’s deck. But my friend and I decided that we wanted to take our tea by the pool, before heading to the game. We changed into our bathing suits, stylish Monaco-worthy sundresses, slathered on the sun screen and headed off. Tea was super cute – we were each presented with three tiers of mini sandwiches (crusts removed? But, of course!), scones, biscuits, as well as preserves and clotted cream.

We felt very dignified drinking our Darjeeling beside the pool, shaded by a white cabana, with crisp linens on our knees. Next time though we’ll definitely have our tea delivered to our polo suite so we can watch the game, munch and gossip all at the same time! Tea over, we were driven by golf buggy to the adjacent field to watch the polo. I’d played the sport a few times before in school and, in fact, in Monaco, but I am by no means an avid fan. But even if you’ve never seen a match in your life, it’s fast and exciting – the sheer novelty of the experience means that there’s never a dull moment – and knowing that the sport you are watching is enjoyed by princes certainly adds to the appeal.

After watching the action, with the sun sliding behind the city skyline, our tummies started to rumble again, so we got dressed for dinner and made our way to Rare, the hotel’s gorgeous steakhouse. As it was a beautiful evening, we opted to enjoy our meal outside. We both started with roasted pumpkin consommé, which had the perfect blend of sweet and nuttiness. For our mains we opted for the Australian grain-fed Wagyu with wild thyme and mushroom sauce. I ordered mine with a side of sautéed mushrooms while my friend opted for puréed potatoes with truffle oil.

Truly decadent! Both were incredibly delicious and the meat was cooked to perfection. We weren’t the only ones enjoying the food either – the place was buzzing! I had no idea this was such a hot spot, but because it’s so close to the city, it attracts a lot of guests who want an excellent meal slightly off the beaten track. Once our appetites were perfectly satiated, we slowly made our way back to our room. Shisha on the terrace? We thought for a moment and decided we weren’t ready to come back to the Middle East just yet. We wanted the memory of our day watching handsome men on horseback playing polo Monaco-style to linger just a bit longer.

Get me there

For reservations at Rixos The Palm Dubai, The Palm Jumeirah, East Crescent Dubai, call 04 4575555 or visit www.rixos.com

For reservations at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas, call 02 4071234 or email reservations. abudhabi@hyatt.com

For reservations at Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort - Fujairah, call 09 2449000 or email res.fujairahresort@rotana.com

For reservations at Desert Palm Dubai, call 04 3238888 or email destinations@desertpalm.ae

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