With heavenly cityscapes from rooftop pools, seaplanes, skytrains and spectacular fountains, Dubai has all the elements for an unforgettable affair of the heart. Tristan Rutherford feels the love in the desert sands and Arabian souks.
Words by Tristan Rutherford
Dubai’s romance is best witnessed on a morning seaplane ride. First, the Cessna’s engines are gunned up The Creek. Fifty years ago, this waterway was the city itself, hosting wooden dhows that imported coconuts from India, returning with frankincense. Now, luxurious lunch cruises add ardour to the exotic scene.
The 45-minute seaplane flight is a sequence of superlatives. With a lusty roar, the aircraft rises from The Creek over The World, the planet’s largest artificial archipelago. Then, the pilot banks left towards the Burj Al Arab: this tower cost a cool US$1bn to build in the 1990s, but offers Dubai priceless PR as one of the tallest, most luxurious hotels in the world. If passengers are lucky, they can see patrons dining at Pierchic, a glamorous seafront restaurant at the resort’s ocean tip.
Next up is The Palm, the world’s largest artificial island. To prove the city’s dynamism, the seaplane dips over the Emerald Palace Kempinski, W Dubai: The Palm and the Ain Dubai Ferris wheel – the latter, standing at a jaw-dropping 210m, being the highest in the world and set to open in 2019. All three are destinations for doters and dreamers.
It can be hard to make sense of a destination that develops so constantly. Even Emiratis joke that their drive home changes daily, as new skytrains, towers and elevated highways lend a Blade Runner flavour to this city of just over three million. Ironically, the best place to take stock of modern Dubai is in La Mer, an impossibly intimate seafront neighbourhood that opened during spring 2018. Here 100 alfresco cabins host Peruvian pop-ups, Turkish desserts and Brazilian tapas making the area a shining star in a city that hosts nearly 200 different nationalities. As many visitors come to Dubai to pop the big question, engagement rings can be purchased nearby (try Damas Jewelry on Jumeirah Beach Road). The brand-new complex also hosts waterparks and public beaches, plus sand sculptures of love hearts on the dunes.
The Downtown area is 10 minutes away by taxi yet several centuries removed. It’s a futuristic skyscape where fountains dance 50 storeys high, as palms rise up into the Arabian night. A new development adds to the romance: the Fountain Boardwalk is a 300m-long floating platform that stretches into Downtown’s manmade lake, mere metres from the high-power fountains. A more traditional activity is to hire an ancient abra rowboat for a cruise across the pool. However, it would take a brave suitor to declare “I love you” on board the scene is regularly overlooked by 10,000 sightseers.
Proposals are perhaps better delivered from the cloud-grazing heights of the 828m-tall tower that dwarfs Downtown. The Burj Khalifa is the world’s most lofty, most glittering and most romantic building. Indeed, staff working on the 124th storey viewing platform, At the Top, witness more tears of joy in 24 hours than during an entire Olympic Games (the venue is open around the clock). Panoramic scenes below are witnessed using the electronic viewfinders. These high-tech binoculars not only focus on The Creek, The Palm, The World and other unique landmarks, but they also look back in time, as digital images depicting the view from decades ago travel across the screen. Hungry for something more intimate? A lesser-known alternative to At The Top is At.Mosphere, a refined restaurant – the highest in the world, on the tower’s 122nd floor open for crêpes suzette breakfasts and menu dégustation dinners from 7am to 2am.
Dubai is all about capturing once-in-a lifetime moments. Rooftop pools, sunset sheeshas and endless beaches are so photogenic that Instagram is the city’s principal social media sharing platform. In 2018, town planners went one step further. In Zabeel Park, a green space the size of 45 football pitches, they installed the Dubai Frame. Like a 50-storey smartphone screen, it highlights the futurist city to the north and its age-old environs to the south. A newly installed elevator lets guests rise 150m up to the top, where a glass-bottomed walkway stretches between the two upright columns, to snap such scenes for themselves.
The contrast between timeless and modern is also a feature of Dubai’s newest neighbourhood. Based in one of the city’s more historic areas, Al Seef appears as Arabian as djellabas and dates. Traditional stone houses even feature wind catchers: rudimentary air-conditioning contraptions that funnel the breeze into shaded courtyards. Yet this Creekside suburb was built from scratch in the past two 1 The crowds of tourists at Dubai Mall in the evening. Great views of skyscraper buildings, skies and fountains are some of the attractions that draw tourists flock to the mall. 2 A ride across The Creek in an ancient Abra is Dubai’s best bargain. 3 Camel rides take place along the city’s endless beachfront. 4 Surf’s up! Try sandboarding on a desert safari. years. Hidden in porticoes and piazzas are alluring shopfronts and eateries: a gelataria, a branch of contemporary Emirati restaurant Al-Fanar, upscale abaya stores, handmade jewellery emporiums and waterside cafés.
However, if you truly want to understand the attraction of this part of the world, ask an Emirati – and you will no doubt hear about their love affair with the desert. On Arabian weekends, which start on Fridays, locals drive into the sands following camel trails trodden in centuries past. Romantic nomads can follow the same tracks on a 4×4 safari tour. As the late afternoon cools, one can try sand surfing, camel riding or belly dancing. Sunset brings traditional oud music under oasis palms and barbecues that splinter stardust into the darkening sky. At this point telescopes are handed around the group. As Dubai’s oases border Arabia’s Empty Quarter, light pollution is minimal, allowing the heavens to light up like a celestial dreamscape. Shooting stars zip through the night until dunes grow ochre in the morning light.
Locals claim that Arabia’s eerie dawn captures the desert at its most romantic. Indeed, it’s the only time that Dubai and its sandy surrounds sit still. This makes a final flight into the skies on a sunrise hot air balloon ride – the most captivating conclusion to any trip, especially as the breakfast choice includes smoked salmon, caviar and eggs Benedict. In the lower atmosphere, the city’s past and future combine: green oases with sun-dazzled skyscrapers; camel trains with skytrains; empty desert with urban areas dense with every nationality on earth. Dubai’s allure is in it all.
JAKARTA TO DUBAI VIA ABU DHABI
Flight Time 6 hours, 20 mins
Frequency 35 flights per week
5 Senses – Smell
Gulf Arabs have used fragrance for centuries. Blends of Omani frankincense and Syrian rosewater, plus Mediterranean bergamot and Asian jasmine sourced from farther afield, have perfumed both men and women. Anybody can purchase a bottle of Chanel No. 5, but Perfumery & Co in the Dubai Mall go one step further by allowing visitors to blend their own unique fragrance. Bottles of bespoke scent will be delivered to your hotel the following day. www.dubaimall.com