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Culture: Sojourn into the sands
Feel the grip of the desert and discover resounding silence, perfectly formed dunes and epic sunsets.
An old Bedouin man is holding court in a camp outside Dubai. We’re just a short drive from the city, yet we’re in the middle of the desert. The heat could cook an egg. A small group of tourists gathered around him are asking questions. The man’s dishdash remains spotlessly white, his brow unsullied by so much as a bead of sweat.
Where is Mecca?
He points his cane east, twiddling its rounded top in his hands. “In the past, they knew by the sunset. Now there are apps and compasses.”
What does he think of Dubai today?
“Life is much better now. Before we had to dig for water. Now it comes from the tap. We had camels for transportation. Now I have a 4WD.”
Touché, I guess.
A couple of hours earlier I was collected from my hotel in a Mercedes G-Wagon. I’d signed up for a desert safari, and it took less than an hour to travel from this megacity, with its skyscrapers and slick hotels, into the Arabian Desert.
Dubai actually sits right within the desert — not that you know it, shopping Downtown or skiing in The Dubai Mall. But a sojourn into the sands reminds you just how animated this Middle Eastern city is — rising like a mirage in the wilderness.
In the desert, we switch to an open-topped 1950s Land Rover, prowling through the dunes with the mountains of Oman in the distance. I spot gazelles, Arabian oryx and lizards. I stop to examine trees, shrubs and snake holes. I’m given a red and white headscarf. It whips in the wind.
Two hours later, we pull up at the walled Bedouin camp, where I’m offered dates, coffee and rose water to wash my hands with. I take a camel ride over the dunes. Breakfast is traditional breads, chickpeas and honey. Briefly, it feels like I’ve a foot in two different centuries.
Details: Platinum Heritage offers the Breakfast with a Bedouin from AED395 (£64) per person. platinum-heritage.com.
Words: Pól Ó Conghaile
Adventure: Daredevils unite
Tick off just about every dramatic landmark in the emirate by leaping out of a plane at 13,000ft. After an adrenalin-inducing freefall, your tandem instructor will release the parachute — brace yourself for sensational views of the city, from the world’s tallest building to the magnificent Palm Jumeirah. From AED1,999 (£326). skydivedubai.ae
Down with the fishes
Catching then cooking your own food appeals to the inner primeval instincts of many of us, and a trip with Go Fishing Tours will let you do just that. Set sail from Dubai Marina for an afternoon of trying to snag grouper, mackerel and barracuda — or whatever bites — before mooring at a private island to barbecue this freshest of fish suppers while watching the sun set over Dubai’s skyscraper-lined shore. gofishingdubai.com
The white chopper waits on its pad. Dubai Festival City twinkles like a Christmas tree. I strap in, pull on my headphones and feel the throbbing rotor blades rev up. There’s an initial, rocky lift. Then an involuntary whoop as we pick up speed and push forward over the water. From here, it’s like a 3D movie. Downtown Dubai comes on like Gotham, anchored by the soaring Burj Khalifa. We fly around the Burj Al Arab, lit up like a purple sail. We float over The Palm Jumeirah, its fronds a-glitter. Twenty-two minutes later, we’re back at base, elated. From AED1,095 (£179) per person. helidubai.com. Words: Pól Ó Conghaile
Food: Friday brunch
The retox begins at midday every Friday. Rendezvous at one of the many hotels boasting a typically chic, fine dining menu. Here are five of the best.
Traiteur, Park Hyatt
Perfectly barbecued lobster washed down with free-flowing Dom Perignon Champagne — brunch doesn’t get more decadent than this. The quality of the ingredients — from the handpicked oysters to the homemade ice-cream — is impressive and the service second to none. Ask for a table outside overlooking the harbour. dubai.park.hyatt.com
Saffron, Atlantis The Palm
This adults-only spot is famed for its strong cocktails — think hollowed out watermelons filled with potent concoctions — and raucous atmosphere with live DJs. Most of the 220 food options, including sushi, are Asian-themed. atlantisthepalm.com
Nine7One, The Oberoi
For a more intimate, sophisticated choice, Nine7One is a refreshing alternative. Dine on delicately prepared tapas-style dishes under twinkling Swarovski crystal chandeliers. And don’t miss the indulgent chocolate fountain. oberoihotels.com
Bubbalicious, The Westin
With more than 10 live cooking stations spread across three restaurants, you’ll be spoilt for choice at this trendy option, popular with Dubai’s young and hip crowd. The cuisine draws inspiration from around the world and the entertainment comes in the form of a live band and Chinese acrobats. westinminaseyahi.com
Beachcombers, Jumeirah Beach Hotel
A firm family favourite, brunch at Beachcombers mixes top-notch food with good old-fashioned fun. Superbly located with views of the Burj Al Arab and the Arabian Sea from the deck, this Polynesian-themed restaurant (the waitresses wear sashaying hula skirts) combines great food (try the delicious British carvery) with entertainment — live music for grown ups and magicians and face painting for the kids. Your little ones will love the ice cream machine, too. jumeirah.com
Words: Nick Boulos
Published in the National Geographic Traveller (UK) – Dubai Guide, October 2014