Middle East


5
Mar 12

An Arabian Adventure

As difficult as it was to leave the cosseted confines of the gorgeous Desert Palm, we only had three days to enjoy our girlie break in Dubai so after sailing across the city, scaling skyscrapers, hitting the shops and sampling the spa, we just had time for one last adventure – and as it was also BF’s birthday it had to be something special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There really has to be a very good reason for setting your alarm clock for 3am whilst on holiday but the prospect of seeing the sun rise over the desert sands from the vantage point of a hot air balloon has got to be one of them – and I think you’d agree it makes a pretty good start to any birthday. So following a measly four hours sleep, we rose, put on some sensible shoes for the first time in two days and headed over to a Dubai car park for our early morning pick-up.

It’s wasn’t long before an A-Team style van pulled up and a stocky bearded man in a red jumpsuit leapt out and (with far more energy than four in the morning should afford anyone) introduced himself as Captain Attila – “like the Hun”, he added cheerfully.  Suitably amused, we hopped in and joined the other dozen or so day-trippers who were seizing the opportunity to snooze on the hour long drive to the isolated sands just north of Al Ain.

It was still pitch black when we arrived, the only light cast coming from the two other vehicles that had joined us from Oman and Abu Dhabi. But as the sun started to break over the horizon tingeing the indigo star-filled sky with streaks of pink and peach, we could see in the distance a team of maybe a dozen or so men energetically pushing, pulling, unfolding and positioning the mass of material and large laundry basket that was soon to be our aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The realisation that we were about to glide across the desert suspended by what was essentially a flimsy layer of fabric and an oversized hamper started to dawn – was a terrifying plummet towards the dusty earth really the gift I wanted to give my pal for her birthday? Surely such a thing could end what had so far been a beautiful friendship? Thankfully though, Captain Attila inspired confidence, rounding up his twenty-two passengers from nine different nations while barking out a safety briefing and deftly overseeing the fiery inflation of our balloon. If the birthday girl was nervous she was hiding it well so I tried to do the same.

Moments later, as the cherry-red sun is started to burst across the distant dunes, the balloon’s magnificently rotund form filled our eyes and the basket tipped towards its upright position ready to go. Attila, who had clearly had some kettling training in the past, ordered us to climb aboard (climb being the operative word – a maxi dress is not suitable attire as one of the passengers soon learned) and before we knew it, we were off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were a cheerful bunch of passengers, made up of groups of friends, loved-up honeymooners and intrepid solo travellers. Everyone was happy and for the first few minutes the basket was full of excited chatter and the sound of camera shutters. There was no scary swaying or ominous lurches, instead we ascended dreamily, smoothly and surprisingly quickly. We soon passed a thousand feet, and then two thousand when suddenly everyone seemed to realise that our aircraft was made of wicker, and tried to take a step inwards. There was of course no where to go and as we swept upwards past the height of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to our hovering altitude of three thousand feet, the friendly chatter that had previously filled the air was replaced by nervous smiles, lame jokes, yoga-like breathing exercises and then ultimately silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the scariest part of the ride. Everyone may well be smiling in this picture but believe me behind the mask there was nothing but butt-clenching fear. It was incredibly beautiful though, it wasn’t just the height that made my heart race, the sandy sea of burnt amber, coral and orange below was truly phenomenal.

My favourite part of the journey though was definitely the descent and landing, which turned out to be as close to a magic carpet ride as you can get. After drifting down to a less wee-inducing level, we swept across the endless undulating dunes passing the occasional Sheikh’s palace and Bedouin tribe, startling stray gazelles before one taking one final lunge across a huge herd of wild camels and coming into land with an almighty (and super-exciting) bump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, we soon realised that we had a celebrity in our midst, well certainly a future celebrity anyway. In the front left corner of the group balloon photo you can see a young guy called Lyrican. Turns out he lives just up the road from me in Manchester and is one of the UK’s up-and-coming rap stars, opening for the likes of Jay-Z , Eminem and 50 Cent on their UK arena tours. He was out in Abu Dhabi to film this music video -

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PF3PZtuiSA&sns=tw

 

So there we go, a birthday trip with Star Style from start to finish and one that had left us as exhausted as an eight-year-old after a day a Disney. We’d certainly packed in the delights of Dubai and now it was time for our next, and sure-to-be more relaxing stopover in the Maldives.

Arabian Adventures offers Hot Air Balloon Rides in Dubai from AED 995 per person (£175 per person).  The operator can also arrange a host of other memorable experiences such as Dubai desert safaris.  For further information and reservations visit www.arabian-adventures.com or call            +971 4 303 4888      .


14
Feb 12

Dubai’s Chicest Boutique Hotel: The Desert Palm

Well the snow has finally arrived (boo!), so it seems like the perfect time to chase away those winter blues with a visit to a warmer corner of the world. This week I’ve sought out some much needed sunshine with a girlie break to the sparkling city of Dubai. Along with Prague, Tom Cruise chose this Arabian Gulf city as one of the filming location for his latest flick, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is there plenty of opportunity to soak up the sun and shop till you drop, but there’s also a wealth of chic places to eat, cool spots for cocktails and some seriously super-luxe hotels. Eager to discover the best that the city had to offer I checked-in for some fabulous off-the-radar rest and relaxation at the city’s chicest boutique hotel, the Desert Palm.

At more than 160 stories, the Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world

The Lowdown

My stay at the oasis-like Desert Palm Dubai had me cooing with delight from the moment we were picked up from the airport by a chauffeur driven car decked-out with iced-towels, Voss water and deep leather seats. Even though I knew beforehand that the Desert Palm was home to a world-class polo club as well as an haute hotel, it still came as a something of a surprise to pull up to its frangipani-filled gardens and vast green fields peppered with show-ponies. Far from the madness of the metropolis, while still being close enough to be able to see the cityscape twinkling in the distance, it was obvious why camera-shy celebrities, royalty and visiting Emirati choose the Desert Palm for as their Dubai hideaway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel was not at all what I expected in this city of superlatives; Dubai boasts the world’s biggest shopping mall, the world’s tallest fountain, as well as the world’s highest bar, highest restaurant and highest swimming pool. All of these are housed in the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa which Tom Cruise was brave/mad enough to jump off in his recent flick and they can be reached via the world’s highest elevator. In a city that clearly likes to show-off, it wasn’t unreasonable for me to expect a lot of big city bling and over-the-top ostentation. Not so at the Desert Palm though, instead of showy affectations the hotel has opted for low-key luxe in the form of sleek creamy-coloured marble floors, shiny dark woods, and tactile furnishings which cleverly highlights its collection of perfectly-positioned artworks and equine sculpture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions had left me suitably impressed but after a seven-hour night flight and a four-hour leap forward in time we were in dire need of a big bed and a wee sleep. Our room, a Palm Suite, was as swish as the rest of the hotel and surprisingly spacious – spacious enough in fact for two ladies with 50kg of luggage between them to not fight over wardrobe space. And we needn’t have worried about sharing a bed too as it was enormous enough for us both to sprawl out without ever risking waking the other. Along with these winning features, our room also had a stunning spa bathroom with monsoon shower and plenty of REN amenities, a baffling array of technology and view over the open-plan lobby and pretty green polo fields.

 

 

 

 

 

The Highlights

For a small hotel its highlights are many. Days can be spent lounging by the temperature controlled infinity pool – warmed in winter and chilled in summer for optimum swim conditions – walking or jogging around the perfectly manicured grounds, horsing around at the resident riding school or simply sitting on the terrace watching polo whilst indulging in a spot of cream tea. Tucked away on the lower level of the main building there’s also the wonderful LIME Spa which managed to lure us away from all ground-level activities for a whole afternoon with its wonderful massage treatments and hot and cold therapy rooms and showers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s when the sun goes down that the Desert Palm really comes into its own though. The hotel’s fantastic foodie credentials and buzzing bar pull in an eclectic crowd of trendy expats, in-the-know out of towners and local urban prince and princesses. We booked into Rare, which as the name suggests features a menu of rare meats and prized game, and despite our best efforts to show some restraint ended up nearly bursting out of our frocks after sampling some of the finest steaks we’d ever had the pleasure to try. Although our room was within waddling distance we couldn’t resist the warm ambiance and cool vibe of the terrace and ordered up some champagne and shisha at Red Bar. With the city glittering in the distance, the smell of fruity tobacco in the air, and the prospect of three more days at the Desert Palm ahead of us, we agreed that we were experiencing the dreamiest of Arabian adventures.

Outdoor dining at Rare

 

Champagne and Shisha on the Terra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Style

 

 

 

Make a confident and stylish entrance to any hotel lobby with this gorgeous trolley case. Luxury Italian luggage label Brics have teamed up with Missoni to create this limited edition travel candy which will make you the envy of all other guests. Available from www.caseluggage.com

 

 

 

 

Go There

Emirates Tours www.emiratestours.co.uk offers a 3 night package to Desert Palm, Dubai www.desertpalm.com from £695 per person. Based on two people staying 3 nights in a Palm Deluxe Room with breakfast daily. It includes return Emirates Economy Class flights from London Gatwick and return private car transfers. Valid for travel from 1st July to 15th September 2012.

 

 

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