A look at Dubai’s endearingly contrary nature, and The Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach

A common platitude in travel writing is that odious adage ‘a city of contrasts’. It’s a nothing phrase; yet upon quizzing our sales consultant Melisa about her trip to Dubai, principally to review the new Movenpick hotel, I struggle for a more fitting moniker.

Dubai is famously expensive. Except it isn’t.

It’s the quintessentially modern Middle East. Except it isn’t.

It’s a beach. And it’s a ski resort.

It’s an international transit hub. But everyone just ends up staying there.

A city of contrast traditionally assumes some kind of old-versus-new, ancient-meets-modern anecdote. Dubai certainly has plenty of that, but that’s not really the point. Nearly every conurbation on the planet, bar the western United States, and Milton Keynes, does.

But then you find feeling for somewhere so genuinely contrary you don’t know where to look.

Despite the ancient legacies – the communities of Bastakiya, the Jumeirah mosque, the souks and the traders that drift up and down the Dubai Creek – lest we forget Dubai itself is more or less a massive beach hut. It just so happens this one sells financial services and fois gras as opposed to crab salad and Cornettos. Meanwhile such a saturation of hotels and high-rises line its shores, one could be forgiven for thinking people come here simply to go to bed.

Media City, Internet City, two novelty-sized palm trees, a hotel built in the shape of a breaking wave juxtaposed with one that resembles a yacht, and a building so gargantuan they thought of everything except how to pay for it. The design of Dubai echoes that of an international conference; an excess-ridden pop-up of a world that will next week be torn down to make way for a bathroom and shower expo.

But it never does. It lingers on within its grandiose bubble, and those that end up there linger quite contently with it. Despite the cacophony of financial centres and business lunches, the air is always calm, says Melisa.

“Everybody enjoys living and working out there as they’re treated well. Most of Dubai is English and everyone knows each other. It’s tax-free and the pay is good.”

Nor is it as expensive as its public persona would have you believe. A half-hour taxi to the airport is around £15. Depending on traffic it can reach more than double that in London.

And depending on your favourite nightspot, breaking for the day doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the bank. A double vodka will set you back around a pocket-friendly £4.

Conversely Dubai was also the home of the world’s most expensive cocktail. The Skyview Bar at the Burj Al Arab hotel (the one that looks like a yacht) serves the “27.321”. So-called because of the AED 27,321 (around £4,643) price tag, and because the bar is located on the 27th floor of this 321-metre-tall sail, it uses Macallan 55-year-old single malt natural colour whiskey, specialist dried fruit bitters, and passion fruit sugar. It is served in an 18-Carat gold glass, which happily you get to take home. Decadently understated, then. Though the record was beaten only months ago by Salvatore Calabrese’s £5,500 cocktail at the Playboy Club London, which incorporates a cognac from 1778.

Of course, channel your resistance against an 18-Carat glass and you should be OK, though one finds they can overcharge for some pretty irreverent stuff.

“Our hotel gave us the towels and umbrellas to take to the beach, but they should have had their own sun loungers there,” says Melisa. “The people that sell the sun loungers were trying to charge around £50 each!”

The Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach

Melisa stayed at the The Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, a luxury Dubai hotel that sits in front of the Marina, overlooking the Palm Jumeirah.

“It’s a great view, but there was building work going on underneath. Mind you the noise wasn’t that bad and you could still see the sea.”

“My first impressions were nice. There was a stylish reception and lobby area where they greeted you as you came in and brought you a tropical drink.”

Melisa was encouraged to see The Movenpick veer towards Dubai’s more frugal side, though as with the sun lounger debacle this is not always a boon:

“The sauna and steam rooms were free, which was good. Breakfast wasn’t great. What they did have was nice but there wasn’t much choice. Then again they had a cheap buffet for dinner every evening which was only about £15 per person.”

There’s also a fantastic rooftop pool, but in similarly bittersweet fashion it doesn’t really get much sun until early afternoon.

Best then to make the most of The Movenpick’s splendid location and venture out. Dubai is a fantastically friendly place. In fact, because of such strict punishments the violent crime rate is particularly low. Not that that’s any measure of how happy-go-lucky the locals are, but it’s nice to know.

For the activity-hungry the Movenpick will be happy to organise any number of water sports on the Arabian Gulf, alternatively head inland to the desert for a spot of dune buggy racing, a must-do for the Middle East. The impressive Emirates Golf Club is within putting distance of the hotel and a little further on you’ll find the Mall of the Emirates, not least including indoor alpine resort Ski Dubai.

You are quite the walk from downtown Dubai, but Jumeirah Beach is one of the city’s biggest raisons d’etre. The Movenpick’s home within Jumeirah Beach Residence is a particularly happening spot to see and be seen. More of a grown-ups playground. Here for example you will find Camoon, an excellent all-round restaurant which combines the best of Arabic and Western cuisines. Expect hearty, satisfying home-style food, peaceful beachside dining, and shishas at sunset.

Evoking the spirit of Barcelona’s prestigious beachfront, here you’re round the corner from some of Dubai’s best beachside bars and nightspots. Highlights include the multi-award-winning Barsati, and the stylish rooftop of the 360 Degree Club, widely regarded as one of the best nightclubs in the world.

A grand, chic and modern hotel, located in Dubai’s must-be area and stylishly equipped, the Movenpick still lacks the pizzazz that might place it within the upper echelons. The view is spectacular until you notice the diggers. Great food, but not fine dining. Good prices, which can come at a cost. It’s next to the beach, but has no direct access.

With power to impress but not absolutely wow, the Movenpick is suitably contrary. And much as I’m remiss to print it Dubai is by all means a city of contrasts. It’s an American downtown dipped in Mediterranean culture sandwiched between Middle Eastern finery. It’s a silly, smart, ridiculous, conventional, all-out and complete nothing phrase. And no one ever wants to leave.

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