The Burj Al Arab appears on the horizon, rises out of the fog along the coastline in Jumeirah, visible from skyscraper terraces all over the city, like a myth seen in books. A real gem in its architecture, seeing the legendary hotel, the only seven star hotel in the world, is like seeing the Taj Mahal in India. It is a real architectural feat that should not be dismissed for being too showy, too brash, too contemporary, but rather revered as a symbol of this city that is no less than over the top! The hotel sits quietly glimmering in the sun along a long and wide sandy beach. The interior takes a while to grow on you, but the services and facilities are irreproachable. It's definitely worth a stay at least for a night, or if it is too pricy for your budget then do drop by for tea, but book early.
Images Stéphanie Poli.
On a man-made island, facing Jumeirah beach, 11 miles from downtown, and 14 miles from the airport. Expect it to take around 20 minutes to get to town and the same to get to the airport. If you choose a helicopter ride, (budget-allowing of course!) you will enjoy a wonderful 15 minute flight over the city, before landing on the hotel helipad on the 28th floor.
The Burj al Arab, literally meaning 'Tower of the Arabs', opened in 2000 after six years in construction. The hotel occupies a privileged site on an island of reclaimed land where the Chicago Beach Hotel previously sat. Part of the luxury hotel chain, Jumeirah, it stands at 321m high and untl the end of 2009 was the tallest hotel in the world. The hotel is connected to the mainland via a bridge; accessed is granted only if you have made a booking. There is an 'entrance fee' for visitors - this should be enquired about directly with the hotel as this tends to vary depending on the purpose of your visit.
Guests can book an airport transfer via Rolls Royce or helicopter with the hotel directly.
Be ready to enter a world of unwarranted opulence, over the top exuberance and a crazy clash of the most flamboyant colours. The Burj al Arab is by no means your average quietly elegant hotel.
The hotel was built to resemble the sail of a dhow (typical wooden boat used by the locals). Two "wings" spread in a V to form a vast "mast", while the space between them is enclosed in a massive atrium. The architect, Tom Wright, received a very specific brief: to build something that would become as iconic as the Eiffel Tower or Sydney's Opera House. The result is nothing less than any of the world's greatest contemporary monuments and it is safe to say that the Burj al Arab is THE symbol of a fast-moving, brash Dubai.
The hotel is an accumulation of various features - from the gaudy entrance based on an underwater theme, to the choreographed fountains riding up in a triangular shape in the centre alongside the escalators, to the breathtaking views. Whatever angle you look at the architecture, it is spectacular. Once inside the 180m high atrium, if you look up, your head starts to spin and you risk losing your balance; in the same way as when you look up at the Eiffel Tower.
The interior designer, Chinese born Mrs Kuan Chew, imagined the interior according to Arab tastes (50% of the customers come from the Middle East). Luxury, grandeur, and vibrant colours set the tone. One thing is sure: you won't be left indifferent.
The sauna, hammam, and Jacuzzi are designed with a section reserved for women and another for men further distinguish the Burj al Arab from the rest. Mosaic floors, wood panelled ceilings, complete with panoramic views from the relaxation room located on the 18th floor, it is an experience not to miss as a guest here. In comparison, the outdoor swimming pool for both genders seems very small. Surrounded by a tiled solarium, there is no view of the surroundings as the area is enclosed in order to maintain the guests' privacy; needless to say the hotel receives a high number of famous guests from all four corners of the globe, from politicians to royalty and show business celebrities. There is also a ladies' only pool.
The 202 duplex rooms are certainly the best asset of the Burj Al Arab. More than spacious (the standard rooms are 1,830 ft² and the royal suite... 8,393 ft²!), they have been built as a duplex, with a wealth of precious materials. You enter a huge lounge with marble flooring and mosaic inlays, enhanced by carpets with gold and midnight blue designs. Even though everything is lavish, the totality does not offend the eye because colours are in harmony. The bedroom and the bathroom are upstairs. Up a superb marble staircase also covered with a royal blue carpet with ochre design borders, the room resembles a holiday home. With regards to furniture, the same magnificence exists: sumptuous beds covered with pillows, an adjacent sofa. The bathroom will leave you speechless: very spacious, with an angle bathtube, besides other usual elements, the bathroom toiletries are all signed by Hermes and in generous full-size formats. In the room, you will find a television and a DVD player, a fax machine, a connection for your modem, a well supplied minibar, air conditioning, direct international telephone line, and a safe. Considering the height of the building, they naturally do not have balconies but all have a marvelous view of the sea. You could sit here for hours, floating over endless volumes of ocean...
Also, every room is attended by its own dedicated butler.
The hotel has six award-wining restaurants so guests not only have the choice, but it is also hard to make the wrong choice! With its restaurants alone, the Burj Al Arab leaves its potential competitors way behind. One of the famous addresses, the Al Muntaha, rises 655 ft above ground, the other, the Al Mahara, is submerged and to get there, you have to go by submarine! The more spectacular of the two is most certainly the latter: getting there has a lot to do with it, and the natural aquarium created by the fauna and the flora of the Gulf adds to the magical feeling. An absolutely sumptuous environment to enjoy a meal of the city's best seafood. The decor at the Al Muntaha, on the other hand, is state of the art (with its metallic chrome columns and electric colours). You must come for the panoramic view, and also for the particularly delicious Mediterranean cooking. If you want to enjoy excellent Arabic specialties, go to the Al Iwan: you will enjoy yourself amid red and gold decor from the One Thousand and One Nights. As for prices, expect to pay around £15 for a starter, and about £40 for a main dish.
The reclaimed island has no beach. However, the island is connected to the Al Madinat and Jumeirah Beach Hotels which have long and wide sandy beaches from which you can admire the Burj al Arab in its full glory. You can reach the beach of your choice via golf cart; just ask at reception. Guests shouldn't expect the Burj al Arab beach to look like something out of the Caribbean! Do keep in mind that Dubai is a playground for the rich and famous wanting to splash their cash and be seen - it is not a relaxing beachside holiday destination.