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Travel special: Dubai lives up to expectations

Travel special: Dubai lives up to expectations

By Marie Scott

The city was quiet, too quiet. On the broad streets, there was only the occasional glimpse of a solitary figure. Where was everyone? They were inside of course, out of the glare of the sun and the 40-plus temperature.

In a city where zillionaires are ten a dirham, deluxe-deluxe the norm and bling the watchword, no one walks. Dubai citizens live in an air-conditioned bubble, moving seamlessly from building to car without taking a breath of hot air.

En route to the Maldvies, Dubai is a convenient stopover, a handy break in what otherwise is a very long flight. And let’s face it, though it hardly has the appeal of Paris, Bali or even Brighton, its phenomenal rise and thrusting success make it a place worth visiting, if only once.

And indeed it lived up to expectations. The buildings are amazing, the opulence overpowering, the sheer determination of the place not to be gainsaid. To create this out of what was barren desert but a few short years ago is testament to the drive and far-sightedness of ruler, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Other countries in the region look to the success of this city with some envy. It has managed to combine being a world class financial centre, with phenomenal property expansion, and also in attracting increasing numbers of tourists.

In the two short days we were there, we went on an evening cruise around the harbour, visited the much vaunted Dubai Shopping Mall, toured the Palm, and went dune bashing.

The cruise showed off the untrammelled riches, with skyscrapers that copy others around the world – only bigger. A Big Ben lookalike is considerably taller, the New York Chrysler tower not only bigger but with a twin. With more space between them than other cities can accommodate, all these towers can be appreciated, especially lit up around the harbour at night.

dubai_twoThe shopping mall is a shopping mall writ large, and though it boasts more shops and more footfall than any other shopping mall in the world, it just doesn’t have the cachet of London, nor Paris, Milan or New York. We retreated to the calm of Fortnum & Mason’s adjoining establishment for ice cream.
It isn’t possible to see the Palm, of course, when on it, as that can only be done from the air, but the scale of the buildings bears witness to the scope of this development. Not a tempting place to live maybe, but impressive.

To cater for tourists, all kinds of entertainment has been laid on, from camel riding to skiing. We opted for the dune bashing escapade, a trip into the desert in a four-by-four, driven by a would-be Formula 1 maniac. This cheery chap revved the vehicle up and down dunes with heart-stopping speeds and manoeuvres, teetering on the brink of precipitous declines, in imminent danger of somersaulting down. It was quite splendid.

It is an amazing place to visit and has more deluxe hotels than anywhere else, boasting the only 7-star on the planet. Go to www.definitelydubai.com for more information.

The buildings are amazing, the opulence overpowering, the sheer determination of the place not to be gainsaid…

Here & There

Qatar could be the next popular choice on the Gulf now that other countries in the region are seen as somewhat risky. Like Egypt, it offers year-round sunshine on its 500km coastline of sandy beaches, plenty of architectural and cultural attractions, cruises on the traditional dhow fishing boats, and with a six and a half hour direct flight, is not too long-haul. There are not many holiday packages as yet, but promotion by Qatar is stepping up, so expect more for next year. Meantime, there are plenty of 5-star luxury hotels and direct flights to Doha from the UK. Go to www.qatartourism.gov.qa.

Looking ahead to Christmas and fancy a family or group get-together somewhere but home? Unique Home Stays has a portfolio of luxury pads throughout the UK that can accommodate up to 14 guests. By the sea, in the country, near town, these are high quality properties for self-catering rentals. Go to www.uniquehomestays.com.

With the average cost of a wedding in the UK now put at a tidy £20,000, a special wedding package for Barbados should seem a snip. With ceremony, flowers, cake, live band, coordinator, hair and make-up etc all included, plus luxury accommodation for from 12 to 16 people, it may be the answer to a bride’s prayers – and, given the saving, to fathers’ too. The Bellevue Plantation House, with all the wedding arrangements, may be booked for £8,900 for a dozen, £10,140 for 16. See more details at www.bellevuebarbados.co.uk.

Those keen to go off the beaten tourist track can head for the remote parts of Bhutan, tiny country in the Himalayas that promises a variety of experiences for the intrepid traveller. The Takstand Monastery, cliff-hanging in the Paro Valley, is famed as the Tiger’s Nest; there is much rare wildlife; medicinal springs; and traditional events in the summer months. Bhutan Tourism Council says tourism is flourishing, so don’t expect to be the only visitors in town. www.tourism.gov.bt

Tahiti – the ultimate paradise island. It may be far away in the Pacific Ocean but nowhere is beyond the reach of British holidaymakers, and as a new drive to attract them gets underway, this promises to be the destination for next year. A number of companies offer package deals to the islands, including www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk and www.luxuryholidaysdirect.com from as little as around £2,500 including flights.