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26 June 2016Last updated
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The top six romantic staycations in the UAE

Pack your bags and leave the world behind this Valentine’s weekend for a whirlwind romance at one of these incredible UAE hotels

<i>Friday</i>
12 Feb 2016 | 12:00 am
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  • Like a palace rising on the shores of the Creek, Palazzo Versace Dubai makes for a fabulous romantic setting.

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Palazzo Versace Dubai

When in Dubai for Valentine’s Day, do as the Romans do and head to the most luxurious – and fashionably romantic – hotel in the region: Palazzo Versace.

It is the second Palazzo from the Italian fashion house. The debut property, on Australia’s Gold Coast, was the world’s first designer hotel, and Dubai’s version – in Culture Village, on the Creek’s shores – is Donatella Versace at her finest. Think Carrara marble at every turn, gold on the ceilings, opulent fabric-covered walls, rich red velvet-backed chairs, and decadent bedrooms that wouldn’t look out of place in a 
15th- or 16th-century Italian palace.

And I should know. I married an Italian in a 15th-century villa in Rome, nearly identical to the hotel’s seafood restaurant Vanitas. Both have hand-painted frescoes on the walls, crisp, white tablecloths, and some of the best Italian food I’ve ever tasted.

While my chef-husband feasted 
on focaccia dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, fresh fish and Wagyu, I savoured ricotta tortellini that should win awards. There were only three of them on my Versace plate, but every mouthful was a taste of Italy. The pasta was handmade and perfectly al dente, the ricotta melted in my mouth and the tomato sauce that sat delicately on top of each tortellini made me want to lick my lips and the plate. Hardly romantic I know, but this is a dish I’ve fallen for hard.

More was to come – handmade fettuccine with pomodoro and Parmesan shavings was followed by a cheese platter and double espresso. It was a simple but delicious meal, made more delightful by impeccable service and the talent of the chef.

Upstairs, the wow factor continued with a suite overlooking the Creek and opulent yet calming decor in soft pink and peppermint green. The double bed was so beautifully made, I was afraid to sit on it and wrinkle the quilt. The bathroom was equally stunning, with a giant bath, walk-in shower, and Versace beauty products in gold-topped bottles.

We slept well and went for the buffet-style brunch in Giardino the next day. Italian food is in abundance with a mozzarella station with every delicious type available (buffalo was my favourite), and pasta station, but there is Indian and European fare too. The waiters rushed around smiling, no doubt happy to wear shirts and ties 
in Versace’s iconic jungle print – the same fabric as the restaurant’s walls.

Our staycation was for one night but, like the rest of the Italians staying at the hotel, we will be back for a taste of la dolce vita in Dubai.

Romantic rating: 5


A deluxe room starts at Dh1,604 per night. Vanitas has a five-course Valentine’s menu for Dh1,200 per couple. On February 14, you can also opt for a private dinner for two in the hotel’s courtyard for Dh1,950. Visit www.palazzoversace.ae.

- Karen Pasquali Jones

Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi

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On a recent sunny-one-moment-cloudy-another Friday afternoon, I made my way to Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, mildly begrudging not being unable to sleep in until evening. But the 37-storey five-star property’s enviable location, with sweeping views of the Eastern Mangroves from the floor-to-ceiling windows of my room on the 30th floor, unhindered by other skyscrapers, had me hooked.

The hotel’s atrium – the third-highest in the world – is awash with natural light, as the front façade of the building and the ceiling are made of glass. It’s an elegant property, evidenced in the rooms too. Mine made a classy impression, while the bed was a sumptuous affair, comfy enough to lull me into a deep sleep later that night. The bathroom was separated by a glass partition from the room, and if you sink into a warm bath in the tub, you can watch TV through it. I switched off all the lights and with the curtains open, the soft glow of Abu Dhabi at night filtered through the windows – it was the perfect romantic setting, but I was alone, and the silence was wonderfully calming.

Imagine my bliss, especially since I’d spent a long afternoon at Namm Spa. Most of Dusit Thani’s staff come from Thailand, and you’ll be greeted by the trademark Thai smile wherever you go. I opted for a pink kaolin clay body wrap, which acts as a gentle exfoliator, and after a 10-minute steam and hot shower, I was prepped for a massage. My therapist’s expert hands kneaded away all my stress, and the mild lemongrass oil lingered on my skin as I sank into the tub.

The treatment had worked up my appetite and I was ready to dig into delicious Thai cuisine at Benjarong, Dusit Thani’s signature restaurant. I find formal eateries extremely testing, so its friendly staff were a welcome relief. The restaurant itself is done up in warm colours, and the ambience is utterly charming. But it was the tom kha gai, a chicken soup in coconut milk, that bowled me over. Perfectly sour and spicy, its flavours rolled off my tongue in an explosion of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal.

The next morning I woke up super fresh. A massive breakfast awaited at Urban Kitchen, and I piled my plate with the usual suspects such as sausages, and fruits. But the highlight was the Chinese steamed buns with spicy chicken filling – they immediately took me back to Chinatown in my home town, Kolkata, where I’d have all kinds of buns during early morning jaunts. Washing down the nostalgia with fresh coffee, in that moment of contentment, I realised that I’d become a staycation convert – for good.

Romantic rating: 4

A night’s stay in a deluxe room costs Dh638. Visit www.dusit.com/dusitthani/abudhabi. Go for the Valentine’s evening with welcome beverages at Breeze lounge and a four-course dinner at Benjarong (Dh199 per person) or The Capital Grill (Dh250 per person). For reservations, call 02 698 8137.

- Tania Bhattacharya

Fairmont The Palm

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As the waiter, Hassan, came round to serve my fifth course of meat, I didn’t know how I was going to manage another bite, never mind another 13 courses. That’s right, Frevo, the Brazilian restaurant, serves a whopping 18 courses of different cuts, so if you are a meat lover this is the place to be. My husband, Tarik, is more of a chicken lover so the chef prepared seven different varieties just for him. There are also vegetarian and seafood options as well. Hassan was disappointed that I couldn’t eat anymore, but I needed to save room for dessert. Out came hot doughnuts with Nutella dip and I was sold!

We’d checked in a few hours earlier for a mini break on the Palm and weren’t disappointed when we got shown to our room. It was bright, with a spacious balcony, and I found myself sitting outside taking in views of the beach and spectacular Marina skyline.

The rest of the evening, we tapped our feet to the beats of the live samba band and dancers. They gave the restaurant a true carnival feeling.

The next morning I was up early. Water sports are usually not for me, but this staycation was about doing different things, so after a light breakfast at Flow Kitchen, I was ready. Knowing that I wasn’t an adventure maniac, Mani, the instructor advised me to try the doughnut ride. But I’d paid too much to get my hair done a few days earlier to risk wetting it! He laughed and and said wakeboarding was out of the question then. My response? ‘Erm... small steps.’

The doughnut ride was so much fun. As the speedboat pulled me along the crashing waves, I could feel the breeze on my face and taste the seawater. Mani told me there were three signals to show how fast I wanted to go. Thumbs up was faster, thumbs down was slower and hand on head to stop. To my surprise, I found myself giving the thumbs up.

The afternoon came to an end taking in magnificent skyscraper views from the sea. It’s a great way to admire Dubai’s landmarks. Rejuvenated enough for work, I decided that the next time, we may just stay for a week.

Romantic rating: 5

Weekend Staycation Getaway packages from Dh1,185. Visit www.fairmont.com/palm-dubai. Head to Frevo until Sunday for a romantic Valentine’s dinner featuring a special churrasco menu from 7-11.30pm at Dh695 per couple. Call 04 457 3457.

- Verina Durand

The St Regis Dubai

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It was love at first sight. Maybe it was the impressive drive, or the palatial exterior. Perhaps it was the jaw-dropping chandelier, sweeping grand staircase, floor-to-ceiling windows or soft duck-egg-cream-and-gold interiors. But The St Regis Dubai definitely had me at hello.

Walking into the luxurious hotel – a part of Al Habtoor City off Sheikh Zayed Road – is like stepping back in time to the Gilded Age of the original iconic hotel in New York. Surrounded by understated opulence, and with traditions from the Astor family’s 1904 beaux arts hotel such as butler service, afternoon tea and midnight supper events still being celebrated today, this is a property that does romance with a capital R.

We headed straight to dinner at the J&G Steakhouse, where the chef rustled me up an off-menu pasta dish with grilled asparagus, while my husband ordered fresh oysters and a 1.4kg tomahawk steak. It’s a sharing plate for two to four people, but it was so delicious he polished it off by himself and still had room for dessert!

Nestled amid the wood and leather, and a gentleman’s club feel, we didn’t want to leave, but I wanted to check out our suite, which was the epitome of contemporary elegance. As big as most apartments in Dubai, we had a separate living area, luxury bathroom, and a giant bed we collapsed into as we’d eaten so much.

The next morning I was so full, I didn’t know if I’d be able to eat anything for breakfast, but I managed to find room for deliciously creamy scrambled eggs and mushrooms. Then I headed to the Iridium Spa for a bespoke massage.

As well as selecting the aromatherapy oil, I could also choose the technique – Balinese, Swedish or hot stone. I went for the Balinese and was soon lost in a blissful world of traditional massage, stretching and acupressure.

An hour later, I floated out of the spa only to realise it was time for brunch. ‘I can’t possibly eat any more,’ I cried, but was seduced by Parisian cuisine at the Brasserie Quartier’s Brunch at the Mansion.

There was a small gourmet buffet, but French favourites such as fresh seafood – lobster, oysters, crab claws and langoustines – salads, beef and chicken were all served at the table with plenty of ooh la la.

There was an entire room filled with pastries and candies and a cheese station with an impressive selection of French varieties to finish off one of Dubai’s best brunches.

There was nothing to do after all that food but nap, and it was with a heavy heart that we left. But this is a love affair with a hotel brand I was already smitten with that will continue long after V Day.

Romantic rating: 5

Until March 31, the hotel is offering a special rate of Dh1,904 per room per night, including breakfast, with Dh250 redeemable against a spa treatment or F&B. For further information and bookings, visit 
www.stregis.com/dubai. Brasserie Quartier has a five-course menu on offer for Valentine’s Day tagged at Dh550 per couple. For reservations, call 04 435 5577 or email brasseriequartier.dubai@stregis.com. You can also visit www.bqdubai.com.

- Karen Pasquali Jones

Fairmont Ajman

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Just a few years ago, the Ajman Corniche was hardly a tourist’s haven. Now, the landscape is almost unrecognisable, with resorts dotting the stretch and world-class restaurants having opened shop. Modernity has caught up with Ajman, and the Fairmont leads the transformation, 
I found, during a night’s stay there.

As we approached the hotel, its building loomed like a contemporary Arabian palace, and just like that, we were in another world. Walking in, the golden fishing net descending from the ceiling – harking back to the city’s fishing heritage – caught our eye. It was all elegance without being pretentious at all.

I’m a sucker for sea views, so to open the door to our huge room and be greeted by an expanse of turquoise waters made everything seem even more magical. Munching on complimentary tarts, macaroons and chocolates, we explored the junior suite, which had separate living and sleeping areas, as well as a work area and five-piece bathroom.

Be warned though: once you settle on the huge, plush bed, it’s very, very difficult to get back on your feet.

The efficient staff met all our requests promptly and smilingly. We spent the day lazing about the infinity pool and the beach, and headed to the upscale Turkish restaurant Kiyi, for dinner. And it turned out to be the highlight of our stay. When the bread is so good that it’s difficult to wait for the main courses, you know a restaurant takes its food seriously.

A traditional Ottoman setting greeted us – reminiscent of Istanbul’s grand palaces – complete with traditional hand-painted Iznik tiles. On Fridays there’s dinner with a show.

I was quiet when we went, but there still was plenty of theatrics à la Chef Picco. He asked us if we would forgo the menu and trust him – and we didn’t regret a minute of it.

Out came starters of fish on toast, a salad shaken dramatically in a huge glass bottle and directly tipped on to our plates, followed by my favourite, raw beef balls stuffed with potato, cheese and yogurt. It was cooked with a blowtorch in seconds at the table. I was offered a try of the blowtorch, but handed it back quickly after charring one meatball. It was great fun, though, and set the mood for a brilliant meal.

Then, mushroom au gratin, intensely flavoured lamb rack (marinated for days), baked seabass with melt-in-the-mouth veggies, rice pudding with thick ice cream and baklava followed. Later, we sat back and watched as the hostess Arzu and the staff chatted with diners at every table, making everyone’s night special. It was small touches like these that made us gloomy about leaving the next afternoon.

But a power breakfast at Spectrum cheered us up, with Indian, Arabian, and even smoothie and egg stations, in a marketplace-like setting. Chef Picco was there again to whip us up mushroomy cheesy eggs, and our coffee cups were never empty.

Move over Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah – Ajman is all set to stay firmly on the staycation stage, and with affordable luxury, gourmet cuisine and those untouched beaches, it’s going to rule it.

Romantic rating: 4

Rooms start at Dh646 per night. Visit www.fairmont.com/ajman. The Salt & Sea Valentine’s Day offer starts from Dh750 per couple and includes a three-course dinner on the beach. Call 06 701 5544 for details.

- Sangeetha Sagar

Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa

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Driving up to this fabulous resort, all I saw was beautiful sand dunes for miles and nothing else. I wanted a short romantic staycation with my husband Tarik away from busy Dubai, and being only a 45-minute drive, what better place than in the heart of the desert? Bab Al Shams means getaway to the sun, and that’s what we intended to enjoy.

As we checked in, we were given a refreshing mango juice then shown to our room. The hotel is built in an Arabian fort style, and the room is done up with traditional furniture and deep-red rugs on the wall. I felt like I was a million miles away from civilisation. The room also has a private terrace and the biggest bathtub I had ever seen!

We decided to have brunch at Al Forsan. It was Arabian-themed, and with the chefs preparing mouth-watering dishes behind live cooking stations, we were spoilt for choice.

I opted for a fattoush salad made of mixed greens, tomatoes and fried pitta pieces on top, then turned to the Indian station for butter chicken and rice. Tarik zeroed in on macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. That’s the child in him! This brunch is great for families as it has plenty of activities to keep the little ones amused – think camel and horse rides and a magician who performs little tricks at tables.

We didn’t want to overdo brunch as we were dining at the Al Hadheerah restaurant that night – we’d already been warned to turn up hungry so we decided to take a walk around the resort and have a spa treatment to wind down.

At Satori Spa, we opted for a couple’s massage for 50 minutes. 
My therapist started kneading away all of my worries and I fell into a light sleep as it was so relaxing. I woke up to Tarik’s groaning; I guess opting for hard pressure wasn’t all that pleasurable, I sniggered. He still said it was the best massage he’s ever had. Well no pain no gain.

The rest of the afternoon went by with us watching the sunset from the Al Sarab Rooftop Lounge. The views over the golden dunes were breathtaking, and we were soon lost in our thoughts.

After a quick shower, it was time for dinner. As we walked to our table, we were amazed at the cultural nuggets on show. There were falcon displays as well as tiny shops where you could buy souvenirs.

As our waiter sat us down, he explained that we had the best seats in the house for the show. He also warned us not to eat too much salad, as a lot of food was on its way. And he wasn’t wrong! Everything smelt delicious, and as the wood-fired ovens and live cooking stations got busy, we were instantly hungry. We ate grilled chicken and lamb kebabs while watching tanoura and belly dancers perform, and enjoying the live band under the stars. The evening was topped off with a spectacular fireworks display; it was an evening I will never forget.

It had been a long and eventful day, but I couldn’t wait to go to bed because I was looking forward to waking up early and going for a swim in the large infinity pool overlooking the dunes.

We’d packed a lot in one day, but the short getaway was rewarding nonetheless. And romantic beyond what words can describe.

Romantic rating: 5

The average rate per night is Dh1,300. The Al Forsan brunch is held every Friday from 12:30-4pm for Dh325 per person inclusive of soft drinks. For details, call 04 809 6194. Order the Valentine’s Dinner in-room for Dh750 per couple, which includes a dozen roses for the lady, a set four-course menu, a heart-shaped cake and more. From 7-11pm. Visit www.meydanhotels.com/babalshams.

- Verina Durand

Info

Romantic rating is out of 5.

<i>Friday</i>

Friday