These other Edens: Head to the Arab states for man-made islands and exclusive resorts

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The Independent Online

When the United Arab Emirates government announced three years ago that it was to build The Palms, three exclusive residential islands, off the coast of Dubai, it caused a very big splash. Environmentalists said it could damage ecosystems. Engineers predicted the coasts of these new islands would soon erode. Others thought the project too ambitious, a commercial flop waiting to happen.

But sales of The Palms were so successful, with David Beckham and Gary Neville two of the big names rushing to buy, that the government decided to create The World, a mass-development of islands designed to form a map of the globe.

Property is the new oil. The reason behind the UEA's sudden shift from quiet, desert region into mass-developed metropolis is bound up with black gold – or the potential lack of it in decades to come. The country has decided to act now to secure its future should the oil run out, and it seems to be working. Buyers are snapping up its island homes – in The World development, Rod Stewart is now the proud owner of "Britain" and Tommy Lee bought "Greece" for ex-wife Pamela Anderson.

Now, with all the money pouring in from eager buyers, neighbouring states Bahrain, Qatar and Oman have put their own plans into progress, with Qatar leading the charge to cash in on its coastline. It's developing The Pearl-Qatar, an ink-blot shaped island with circular lagoons, 350 metres offshore from the capital, Doha.

The development will be constructed in four phases over five years, and the theme is Riviera Arabia, which the developers claim will bring the "ambience and lifestyle of the Mediterranean to the heart of Arabia". The 8,000 residential units will include luxury apartments, costing from around £240,000 for one bedroom, and private villas on beachfront plots, for which the land alone will cost in excess of £1m. The 400,000sq m site will have three luxury hotels, three marinas and more upmarket retail, recreation and restaurant space than a party of WAGs could desire.

Bahrainis constructing Reef Island, a project of upmarket homes, shops, hotels and leisure facilities measuring 579,000sq m.

The strange, curved sandbank doesn't look like much at the moment, but by 2009 it will be throbbing with tourists. Reef Island is less than 15 minutes from the airport and centre of the capital, Manama, and properties are being aimed squarely at those who work in the financial district or who want to have fun under the desert sun.

Reef Island sales manager Ernest Fleihan says "Island developments are highly appealing because they offer exclusivity," he says. He admits that the company is targeting individuals "of high net worth".

The smallest two-bedroom apartments will measure 133 sq m, not a bad size by today's new-build standards. Those wanting more room and with serious amounts to spend will go for the three- or four-bedroom villas, or penthouses.

Also wading into the waters of residential islands is the Sultanate of Oman, currently one of the least developed or visited of the Gulf states. It has just begun negotiations with construction company Orascom to develop Al Sodah, an almost unreachable but beautiful and dramatic natural island off its coast. The new venture is unusual in that it will utilise what is already available, rather than being man-made, and will have only 30 villas on the 11-million square metre site.

Prices are not yet set but each of the one- to four-bedroom properties will have a private sandy cove and a plunge pool for every master bedroom. Hani Ayad, architect of the development, claims the project is unique in style and location. "The island drops dramatically into the sea with pockets of beach. Owners will have their own beach and total privacy," he says.

Oman also has some of the most rich and unspoilt landscapes in the world, However, Ayad doesn't think plans to create residential resorts of this type will damage things. "Oman is a remarkable place, and the best thing is that the government is very concerned about its environment. They aren't aggressively spoiling it."

www.thepearlqatar.com, 00 974 446 3444; ww.reef-island.com, 00 973 17 562814; www.orascomhd.com, 00 2 02 2461 8999

Buyers' guide

* Non-nationals can buy property only in designated areas in most Middle Eastern states.

* Several Gulf states claim to offer freehold ownership to non-nationals, but it's often actually a 99-year lease.

* Bahrain, Oman and Qatar are tax-free states * Owning property in all states allows you to apply for permanent residency, though there is no automatic right to live there.

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