THE United Arab Emirates, six hours flying time from the UK, are a magnet for sun-worshipers and seekers of extravagance.
Dubai is the best known. Home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. At 830 metres tall (2700 feet), you can see the curvature of the earth from the viewing platform on level 124. Competing for attention is the Burj Al Arab, a spectacular seven-star sail-shaped hotel where every room is a corner suite, smothered in gold leaf and marble and with its own butler. The hotel has a heli-pad 200 metres up, visually balanced by the Al Muntaha restaurant which cantilevers out over the sea. Alternatively, the Al Mahara seafood restaurant surrounds you with a floor-to-ceiling aquarium while you dine. Not to be out-done, The Palm in Dubai is a whole resort area built out into the gulf, mixing luxury villa developments on individual “fronds” with a number of distinctive hotels such as Atlantis, The Palm. A firm favourite with families and about 35 minutes from the airport, Atlantis combines luxury accommodation, fine dining and a spectacular waterpark incorporating a marine park with over 65,000 marine animals. Add in a range of shops, a spa and fitness centre, multiple swimming pools and entertainment options and you have practically no need to even leave the hotel. If you do, you can fill your days gawping at numerous extraordinary hotels, as well as taking trips into the desert by 4×4 vehicle, or even use up some energy on the world’s largest indoor ski slope, complete with real snow. This is arguably the most surreal experience in Dubai.
Meanwhile, an hour or two down the road, you have Abu Dhabi. Once a pearl fishing port before the discovery of vast oil reserves, Abu Dhabi has, for some years now, been a fast-growing alternative to its more glitzy neighbour. Representing better value in its room rates, you can still easily access most of Dubai’s attractions, but Abu Dhabi has plenty to offer in its own right.
Last year, over 2.8 million tourists visited, with direct flights available from the UK. When you’re there, the attractions include the now famous Yas Marina race circuit, home to the annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Next door, Ferrari World chronicles the history of the world’s most famous name in motorsport and incorporates the world’s largest theme park. If that doesn’t appeal, how about retail therapy at any number of shopping malls, or, for a more laid-back approach to life, along the coast you will discover some of the best beaches in the UAE.
For those looking for a gentler pace, a more authentic “of the place” experience, I would recommend Oman. Sitting to the south of the Emirates, the contrast with its brash neighbours is startling.
Beautiful mountain backdrops and a surprisingly green landscape have a soothing effect. The accommodation still tends towards the exotic, with 5-star hotels being the norm, but like Abu Dhabi, the prices are lower than the equivalent Dubai offerings. Out and about, Oman relies on its natural beauty to charm you. In Muscat, the capital, you could visit the Grand Mosque, the Bait Al Zubair museum or the Muttrah souk for hand-crafted silverware. Beyond Muscat you will find ancient forts, the Al Hoota caves and even Oman’s own Grand Canyon. For every modern edifice in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Oman will offer you a cultural alternative instead.
Whichever of these three destinations attract you, there is no doubt that they represent some of the finest holiday experiences you could wish for. You choose.