3000 miles is a mighty long way to go for a pop concert. But I planned to take in more of Dubai than Gwen Stefani, on my whistle stop visit to the UAE. Indoor snowboarding in 30+ degrees and shopping at the some of the biggest malls known to man, were also on my agenda!
Known for its glitz, glam and impressive high rise architecture, Dubai has a reputation as being a playboys’ playground. The hotels are opulent, restaurants first class and nightlife exemplary. However it is also forging a reputation for urban thrill seekers who are looking for an extravagant weekend break, hence my red eye flight for the Gwen Stefani gig.
In the midst of the skyscrapers, hotels are cropping up in every available land space, with central Dubai transforming from arid desert to a bustling metropolis over the last thirty years. And the newest, swishest hotel on the block was the impressive 5 star Renaissance Downtown Hotel. Gwen Stefani was there to perform an intimate concert at the star studded launch, and I was invited! So packing my most glamorous frocks, and sunscreen, I headed off for a winter break in the sun.
The hotel is situated in a superb downtown location with direct views of (currently the tallest building in the world), the Burj Khalifa. As hip as it is homely, the Renaissance lives up to its luxe reputation and features huge suites, quirky décor, four restaurants and obligatory outdoor pool. With south facing loungers for those who want to toast, and more secluded, shady loungers for those who like to chill, the pool has its own bar and adjoining open air restaurant.
Typically, the hotel oozes sophistication and modern art adorns the walls throughout, with camels or flamingoes presiding over the giant beds (depending on whether you are in an executive room, or presidential suite). Huge Arabic influenced art installations can be found in the public areas, contributing to a gallery-like, calming environment, which celebrates the UAE heritage giving it a distinct feel.
As one of the first hotels in the UAE to offer a Six Senses Spa, the treatments are space age! A playground for your sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing, the futuristic centre offers an indulgent array of holistic therapies including traditional hammam, sauna and flotation pool, along with body scrubs, wraps, manicures, facials and waxing, which are available to prime you before a big night out.
Whether you are celebrating or are just looking for something low key or romantic, the four fine dining restaurants on site offer a big selection; From the celebrity chef David Myers French menu at Bleu Blanc, to nouveau Japanese restaurant Morimoto, to Italian and tradition middle eastern food, there are private dining rooms as well as party options and all are open late. However, breakfast is served until 11am, so you can party hard and still stock up on some carbs, or healthy options at the extensive breakfast buffet.
With all those culinary delights, you might want to burn off some calories- either by marching around the town, or at the gym. Both are doable in Dubai. And the hotel gym is so high tech, you could actually spend a whole day in here… But who would want to do that?
Check in with the hotel’s knowledgeable Navigator for some under-the-radar spots around the neighbourhood. Ditch the guidebook, and get ready to explore, as they are happy to advise on club nights, transport, tickets and the need to know hot spots and pop ups.
For those who want to find out more about the history of Dubai, the Frying Pan tour company was a morning well spent- Old Dubai is what has given the city its unique flavour and showcases an important part of Dubai’s dynamic history. Joining a small group with a local guide, we headed to the Old Town, and took a traditional Iranian abra across the Creek.
Stepping off the boat in Bastakiya was like stepping back in time, as the atmosphere was buzzing with locals who were carrying on with their day to day lives, shopping, haggling and milling about at the bustling souks. Local places of interest were pointed out, in case we wanted a return visit, and temples rubbed shoulders with mosques, in harmony.
Stopping for a traditional breakfast at an off the beaten track, Iranian tea shop, we walked on through the cobbled streets, soaking up the history and marvelling at the difference in architecture from the skyscrapers which were sprouting on the other side of the river.
Late afternoon is the ideal time to soak up some culture in the Old Quarter; Check out some art at the Hotel XVA’s Gallery. Located in the oldest residential quarter of Dubai (dating back to the 19th century), the modern art is a welcome juxtaposition, and then stop for afternoon tea.
Contemporary art is Dubai is flourishing and the city boasts an impressive community of galleries. The Alserkal Avenue area is a collection of warehouses located in the middle of industrial Al Quoz and might be the trendiest place in Dubai right now. Boasting art and photography galleries, hipster brunch cafes and a vintage car showroom, it is the perfect mash up of old and new.
If you want to enjoy some lunch and ponder avant garde paintings, head to the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) where you can see contemporary exhibitions from local and international artists in The Empty Quarter, Opera and Cuadro galleries.
Considering this design landscape of the country has developed in the last thirty years, it is no wonder that the buildings are modern, erring on futuristic. But the cool thing about the Renaissance Downtown is that it stays true to its heritage, and there are not too many distractions, with its subtle design focussed to coincide with the culture. And Dubai offers so much more than shopping in the major malls, skating on real ice, and clubbing til dawn. There is lots of history to be found too.
FACTOBOX Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai Deluxe Rooms start from 799 AED per room, per night. These rates are excluding Full Breakfast Buffet and subject to the applicable taxes (10% service charge, 10% municipality charge, 5% VAT and 20 Dirham Tourism fee, per room, per night). Suite rates are starting at 1,399 AED per suite, per night excluding Full Breakfast Buffet and the earlier mentioned taxes. For more information and reservations, contact +971 4 512 5555 or visit the website. ACTIVITIES Frying Pan Adventures Culinary Tour. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary (20 minutes from Hotel). The Dubai Mall (Largest Mall in world, 5 minutes from Hotel): Gatwick North No 1 Lounge (Includes waitress service, breakfast, lunch or dinner as well as fast WIFI, premium spirits, Champagne and hot drinks). £37.50 / £30