Welcoming seafarers and traders was all part of the Bedouin tradition in Dubai long before the City of Merchants became – courtesy of the region’s bountiful oil discoveries and the port city’s precious metal trading – the City of Gold.
At the One&Only Royal Mirage, the welcoming committee is a nod to both sources of riches. Front and centre is an imposing caravan of seven nomads (one for each of the Arab Emirates) astride life-sized camels. The gold-painted bronze installation by South African sculptor Danie de Jager depicts the travellers arriving, finally, at an oasis.
Once inside, there is that same sense of reward, relief, and a journey completed.
The Royal Mirage is a luxury layer cake – pattern upon pattern, shape upon shape, texture upon texture. It comprises three accommodation wings: The Palace, the Residence & Spa, and the Arabian Court, all set on a 26-hectare swathe of unexpectedly luscious land, with a long private beach.
All rooms have views of the Palm Island Bay and of gardens, so no squabbling there. It’s a sleepover fit for a Sheikh. Indeed, the Residence & Spa is part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio.
We are assigned an executive suite in the VIP Gold Club, a section of the Palace with a lift and private entrance. It’s spacious and plush, exuding warmth and comfort, its colour palette reflecting the myriad sands of the desert, with turbo-turquoise touches. There are fragrant arrangements of white roses and lilies. A caramel-coloured leather attaché case has slide-out drawers with designer baklava, and beside it is a silver cake stand of dates and dried figs. There are views over manicured lawns to a city that is forever a shimmering work in progress.
While it looks like something that rose from the desert centuries ago, The Palace was built in 1999 and its siblings several years later. And, like siblings, each has a discrete personality. But all are imposing yet intimate, courtesy of a trademark Arabian décor that evokes mystery, fantasy and a no-holds-barred luxury. Curved and scalloped archways and windows, vast floors of marble or tiles, water features and big furniture add to the Arabesque majesty.
Light fittings are a signature feature of Arabian décor. Lights are draped, hung, looped, and fall from exotic domes in clusters like oversized Christmas baubles or unfurled metal parasols.
Guests are not just a room number here – and the staff are always one step ahead of their guests, having cars ready, making reservations, suggesting and organising excursions to the desert and beyond. Prescription medicine at midnight? No problem, it’s there within the hour.
Strolling in the Royal Mirage grounds at night is magic. The Dubai skyline backdrop is like a curated illumination, as swords of neon reach for the heavens and change colour every few seconds – all reflected in the aqua waters of the very large, very sexy Palace pool.
Dining at the Royal Mirage is eclectic. There are eight key restaurants across the three properties.
For guests only, The Dining Room at the Residence & Spa is the domain of Fredy Foued Fahem, its outdoor setting a hot pink petunia garden, sparkling sea, palm trees, pavilions and cabanas. He produces classic French food with Paris runway edge – lobster with a creamy potato, saffron and garlic sauce; a Pina Colada dessert that crowns pineapple, lychee and coconut sorbet with coconut granita.
Nina, in the Arabian Court, has an Indian chef and serves Indo-European cuisine. The room is beaded and textural, a sea of flickering candles, mood lighting, cushions and bold striped upholstery. It’s named for the Mistress of Spice, and lives up to its brief, fuelling carrots with, yes, caramel sauce; lobster crèpes; or chicken tikka with foie gras.
Cross a low wooden threshold to reach Tagine, in the Palace, a hideaway like a Marrakech lounge room. It has water features, rose petal-strewn ponds, Tadlekt hand-polished walls and terracotta tiled floors. The food is authentic Moroccan – mezze, Moroccan filo pies, tagines, signature couscous and kebabs, lamb every which way, desserts flavoured with orange blossom.
The Beach Bar & Grill is the spot for seafood and scenery, shaded and informal by day, a little more dressy and candle-lit by balmy night.
Celebrities is the fine diner accessed by a marble stairway. Earlier this year it was the venue for a pop-up restaurant by Indian chef Gaggan Anand, of Bangkok’s award-winning Gaggan restaurant.
Have a wander to the Kasbar after dinner, and feel transported to the pages of the book, One Thousand And One Nights, as you get lost in an ambient three-level fantasy world of plush low seating, velvet curtains, tryst alcoves, music, and rich regal colour.
The One&Only Royal Mirage’s Health & Beauty Institute is renowned. It includes not only a comprehensive spa menu but the Moroccan-style Oriental Hammam – one of the first hammams in modern Dubai. It has beautiful octagonal rooms, winding corridors, dramatic archways, turquoise baths, domed ceilings. And the promise of bodily perfection!
The Traditional Hamman Experience is pampering for the brave. Expect to be dry-cleaned, have dishes of water tipped over your head, be lathered with black soap, pummelled like dough, laid out on a heated marble slab to have every freckle loofah-ed off, sluiced again, moisturised, and bandaged in towels before being sent to rest and re-gather with Moroccan tea and dates.
The Ritual is another, calmer, signature treatment, offering a body wrap of rose or mint-scented clay, a honey facial and an aromatic massage.
Branch out to The Palm
A quick boat ride away from the Royal Mirage is the man-made astonishment that is The Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago reclaimed from sea in the shape of a palm tree.
On its outer circle sits One&Only The Palm, which has a Deep South residential feel albeit a blending of Moorish and Andalusian architecture with modern Arabian interiors. Together, the three-storey Manor House and six low-rise Mansions comprise a total of 65 rooms and 25 suites. There are also four private beachfront Villas with temperature-controlled pools.
These modern accommodations combine woven fabrics, intricately carved dark wood furnishings and ornamental glasswork. The bathrooms are especially generous – with their space, water and marble.
It’s a grand place, and you expect a royal family to come and wave from the balcony of the Manor Houseat any moment.
The Palm’s hub is an 850-square-metre pool with oversized daybeds. But the low-rise resort also has its own beach from which to marvel at the berthed cruisers and beyond to the Dubai skyline in much the same way as one looks back at the electric Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. At sundown, head to 101 Lounge & Bar at the private marina for Champagne and calamari or fat sardines with toast and a slab of seaweed-flecked butter.
A pamper imperative for men and women is the Guerlain Spa with beauty treatments unique to The Palm. Book for pre-tanning sessions, milk scrubs and body wraps, and – the bee’s knees, literally – wrinkle correction facials. At the heart of several treatments are Guerlain’s peerless Orchidee Imperiale creams.
Choose massages that use hot stones, four hands, or dry Thai techniques. Perfume lovers can pick up one of the perfumes from Guerlain’s Exclusive Collections on their way out to the Fitness Centre or the Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio.
Now ready for your close-up, you’ll need lunch at Zest, with views to the pool. Its conservatory-style setting is casual, light and elegant, decorated with glass leaves and quartz crystals for a fresh, zingy ambience.
When the sun goes down, decamp to Stay, the powerhouse fine dining restaurant overseen by Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno. It’s a groovy space, all black crystal chandeliers and a palette of black, bronze and silver. Zest even has a Pastry Library, where creating your own dessert where creating your own dessert becomes part of the calorific theatre.
All that’s needed now is an Uber camel. •
Photography by various establishments.
There are One&Only resorts in the Maldives, Mauritius, Dubai, The Bahamas, Mexico, Africa and Australia. Seven more are in development. One&Only Sanya in China and One&Only Seef in Bahrain are expected to open this year; One&Only Portonovi in Montenegro and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest in Rwanda are due to open next year.
• The Bahamas: One&Only Ocean Club – Remarkable for terraced gardens; beach concierge; Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Dune restaurant.
• Mexico: One&Only Palmilla – Remarkable for a 27-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course; lavish beachfront suites.
• Mauritius: One&Only Le Saint Géran – Remarkable for its water sports: kayaking, sailing, water skiing; scuba diving and deep-sea fishing.
• Maldives: One&Only Reethi Rah – Remarkable for its 12 powdery white-sand beaches; overwater Ayurvedic treatment suites.
• Africa: One&Only Cape Town – Remarkable for innovative Japanese cuisine at Nobu; oversized egg-shaped stone tubs.
• Australia: Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley – Remarkable for its proximity to the Blue Mountains, Australian bush and horse-riding trails.
• One&Only Resorts: oneandonlyresorts.com