Sophie McIntyre heads to the Armani Hotel in Dubai to enjoy next-level service and style in the Burj Khalifa
Bouncing around on the back-bench seat of an open-top 1950s Land Rover, as the car wiggled its way across rusty dunes towards the skyline, I had pretty much renamed myself Sophie of Arabia — perhaps there might be castings for The English Patient II relatively soon, I thought, hopefully.
This exciting, and clearly life-altering, epiphany occurred in a quiet, barren corner of the United Arab Emirates’ Desert Conservation Reserve, on the way back to civilisation after an enchanting evening at a Bedouin-style encampment near the Omani border.
The festivities began at sunset. Seated in the round on ornate cushions atop a tall dune and next to a bunch of gurning camels, we were treated to dates stuffed with cheese as the sun set and as Emiratis across the Arabian Peninsula savoured their iftar treats. We drank the classic Middle Eastern favourites: cardamom-scented coffee, sweet chai, warm camel’s milk and of course the Middle Eastern party favourite, not sampled by many of us Brits since childhood, super-sweet Vimto. After the aperitifs came a traditional iftar spread: meze, rice, and a slow-roasted ‘lamb grab’-style dish (so nicknamed because the dish is often placed in the middle of the table and guests eat the meat and rice with their fingers, reaching across the table). This particular dish had been cooked below ground, as has been the tradition in the desert. The feast was rounded off with a spot of sociable shisha and then it was time for the somewhat unusual after-dinner games, namely camel riding and a rather mind-boggling astronomy lesson.
It was enough to make anyone fall for Arabia, even a hardened expat-brat like me. Having had parents living in the Arabian Gulf for more than twenty years (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi), I had thought myself immune to the charm and mysticism of the pre-oil-discovery Middle Eastern narratives, from any perspective other than that of indulgent nostalgia. Give me Lawrence of Arabia on a chilly afternoon in London any day, but for me the modern Middle East is about money. Business, oil, tourism and shopping take precedence, not least of all, of course, in Dubai.
But for a few hours, thanks to a tour organised by Platinum Heritage, I had relinquished my cynicism and embraced the romance of the desert. I was, however, relieved when we were collected in a huge, air-conditioned (temperatures had been skirting around 40°C all day) Dodge wagon and sped back into town on al-Ain road, passing the rugby Sevens Stadium and the camel-racing track en route. We were heading for the Armani Hotel, an architectural and cavernous establishment on the lower floors of the world’s tallest building and downtown Dubai’s most famous landmark, the Burj Khalifa.
One of only two Armani hotels worldwide, the other being in the fashion capital of Milan, the Armani Dubai is a sophisticated offering that fits perfectly with the fashion-forward UAE culture. But it is by no means a beach resort. It is a chic and indulgent city-centre haven for the visiting businessman (or -woman) or the avid shopper. If you like a pared-down, modern aesthetic, clean lines and a room with a view, then you might want to try the Armani.
And it’s hard to beat that address. The hotel occupies the first eleven floors of the spectacular Burj. On arrival, if you crane your neck right back, you won’t be able to see all the way to the top. But you can shoot right up there in a lift for high tea; watch the famous Dubai Fountain from a sky-high bar; or wallow in the elevated pool, looking over the city, if you so desire.
The hotel’s interior was styled by Giorgio Armani himself. And the colour scheme is strict and consistent throughout the hotel. The palette spans a range of muted taupes, greys, blacks and golds — chic and collected in tone, as one might imagine. The scheme gives the vast space a serene feel, one that is only perpetuated by the sweet smell of rose, musk and Arabian oud scenting the whole establishment. This divine and classically Middle Eastern aroma is one of the lasting memories of the trip. Armani produces some blissful Armani Privé scents and toiletries, which really drench the olfactory senses in the exoticism of the region. Bath times at the Armani are a real pleasure. I have recently even purchased some of the bubble bath so that I might be able to transport myself back to Arabia at least once a week.
The hotel’s spa, impressive in scale at 12,000 square feet, offers tailor-made treatments with custom-made Armani products, made using unique Bois, Jasmine and Jade oils by Armani.
Enough of the pampering and on to the vast interior-design project that is the Armani Dubai. The simple lobby area is enormous and hangar-like in scale, with high ceilings and sweeping bronze sculptural interpretations of the Armani ‘A’.
Even after entering just the lobby, one notices the little details that give the Armani its edge (something needed on Dubai’s tough hotel scene), not just in terms of the attentive staff (each guest is allocated a lifestyle manager upon arrival who will tailor your stay to any specific needs: shopping, beaches, desert trips, business — they’ve got your back) but also in the superior finish of the place. The instinct to stroke the silk – or leather – clad walls of some of the suites is at some points irresistible.
The materials used to create the space are, of course, the best of the best — who would imagine Mr Armani would abide anything less? As an example, the lobby is lined with Italian limestone, the bathrooms with Spanish; and there is lavish Crema d’Orcia in the Amal restaurant. All the fabrics used in the establishment are sumptuous and with next-level finish, with green and gold as the principal shades, in keeping with Giorgio’s muted palette.
Dark wood is another big theme in the hotel — sweeping panels work as architectural statements and dividing lines all around the building. Corridors, walls, floors and restaurants — it is a bit of a leitmotif. The zebrawood used is imported from Central Africa and the floor of the cigar room is Brazilian walnut, for example. Some of the top suites even have walls covered in similar goat leather (the team explain that ‘Mr Armani brought a little piece of the real goat leather and has explained to his team that he wanted the same material to be placed in some of the walls. And since goats have pretty small bodies, it was quite difficult to cover an entire wall with no stitches.’). Guests in more ‘run-of-the-mill’ rooms have to make do with walls covered in verde scuro Florentine leather on the sliding walls of their guest rooms. Poor things.
You get the picture: a great deal of thought has gone into the creation of this interior. It isn’t smoke and mirrors and flash. It is understated luxury interior design, with no expense spared.
The hotel boasts seven restaurants, not unusual in Dubai, but one gets the feeling that many are among the city’s top dining destinations.
We began one surprisingly pleasant and breezy evening on the terrace looking over the famous Dubai Fountain (the world’s largest choreographed fountain system, throwing up displays set to classical and contemporary music every evening, every half-hour). It was a unique setting for a cocktail. After we had had our fill of the obtusely firework-like water and light displays, we headed into the Amal — my favourite of the Armani Dubai’s restaurants — for a contemporary Indian offering. The ‘Saffron’ tasting menu was exquisite, particularly the spiced lamb chop starters, the coconut kingfish stew, the super-rich dal makhni and the refreshing kulfi ice cream.
The hotel’s other culinary offerings are predominantly Italian, but there is also a swish Japanese and a classy nightclub with another fab terrace and view, and, of course, the address.
And finally, the shopping. After lunch in the Armani Deli restaurant, we were led to the lift and whizzed down to the Dubai Mall. Although the hotel has a small Armani concession — the Galleria — in the lobby, the main attraction is downstairs, in the Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue, where the likes of Cartier, Chloé, McQueen and, of course, the Armani Exchange abide. It is a fashionista’s delight and you can shop in the knowledge that your lifestyle manager will have it all whisked up to your room later and that if you change your mind about the dress that seemed opulent in the shop, but now perhaps seems a tad vulgar, your manager can pop it back to the shop for you. Fabulous. The Armani shop itself stocks one of the broadest ranges of Armani products in the world. If you are a fan of Giorgio’s pared-down aesthetic and you fancy immersing yourself in the designer’s world, then the Armani Dubai will be a real treat to visit.
Rooms at Armani Hotel Dubai start from 2000 AED per room per night, subject to 10 per cent municipality fee and 10 per cent service charge. The rate is also subject to tourism Dirham fee of AED 20 per room per night. For bookings and information contact:
00971 4888 3888
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