Dubai: Winter on the beach

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This ostentatious emirate may be in financial crisis, but that could spell a bargain bonanza for tourists. Jo Fernandez offers a guide


THE ACTIVITIES

The Aquaventure water park in Atlantis, the Palm (atlantisthepalm .com) offers a cool retreat from Dubai's searing heat. It has 42 acres of waterslides and rides, the most famous of which is the 98ft Leap of Faith, which shoots bathers along a transparent tunnel that passes through a shark-filled lagoon. For more thrills, sand skiing (nettoursdubai.com) has become one of the latest – and most bizarre – crazes for thrill-seekers here. Simply strap on sandboards and surf the huge dunes. And don't miss the chance to go dune bashing (arabian-adventures.com), also known as desert safari, a roller coaster of a drive in a 4WD over dunes. It often ends with a sunset dinner with shisha pipes (the local pastime) and belly dancing performances.

THE HOTELS

Dubai is the suitably opulent location for the much anticipated 217-room Palazzo Versace Hotel (palazzo versace.ae), which is due to open early next year on Dubai Creek. Meanwhile, The Address (theaddress.com) in Dubai Marina will satisfy five-star tastes with its sleek, sophisticated lodgings, spa and pool. Doubles cost from 1,399 dirham (£228) per room per night. The Premier Inn Dubai (global.premierinn .com) offers a true budget option, with facilities and services, including a roof-top pool, that compares well with higher-end hotels. Doubles from 350 dirham (£57) per night.

THE BEACHES

Jumeirah Beach is Dubai's main stretch of sand. It runs for miles along the Arabian Gulf, flanked by hotels and their private beach clubs. The Jumeirah Beach Park is one of the public areas that doesn't require a guest pass, though you'll be charged a nominal entry fee to enjoy its picnic spots, children's play space and swimming area with lifeguards. For a piece of the action, kite surfers should head to Wollongong Beach, known locally as Kite Beach. Surfers hit the waves off neighbouring Umm Suqeim, but beware, there's little shelter here and the sun is fierce. More beaches can be found on Dubai's man-made island, the Palm Jumeirah, the fronds of which have effectively doubled the length of the coastline. Before the current financial crisis, the Palm Jumeirah was due to be the first of three palm-branded beach developments, along with two other similar projects, The World and Dubai Waterfront. Only time will tell if they shall ever be completed.

THE SIGHTS

Now a potent symbol of Dubai's crisis, the Burj Dubai – the world's tallest building at 818m, featuring the first Armani Hotel – has relegated the emirate's iconic sail-shaped hotel, the Burj al Arab, to second place in the sightseeing league. It is due to open in January. More traditional attractions include camel racing, which takes place on Thursdays and Fridays during the winter on tracks around the city. Formula One this isn't – the loping participants take a while to get going. In between races you can browse the open-air markets that sell camel bells, beads and rugs. Or you might want to take a cruise on the busy creek in a traditional abra, or water taxi, for a waterborne perspective of the emirate. Call by the Jumeirah Mosque, the only mosque in Dubai open to non-Muslims, which was built in the medieval Fatimid style in 1978. It is a beautiful white-stone structure with towering twin minarets. Turn up at 10am on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday for guided tours.

THE URBAN SCENE

It's hard to believe that Dubai was once just a humble fishing village on a creek. Now the old quarter is defined as two main areas – Bur Dubai and Deira – divided by the waterway. Their streets are lined with traditional stone houses set around courtyards. In Deira, you'll find the gold and spice souks – an antidote to Dubai's ubiquitous modern shopping malls – as well as shops selling perfumes, textiles, leather and food. Bur Dubai has the Old Souk, the restored Grand Mosque, and the 18th-century Al-Fahidi Fort, home to the Dubai Museum, with its collection of historic artefacts including pieces associated with the emirate's traditional pearl-fishing industry. For the shock of the new, visit Dubai Marina, a city within a city in the heart of "new Dubai". Its towers house flashy hotels, restaurants and apartments, and, like much of Dubai, the area is a study in cranes.

THE RESTAURANTS

Dubai's famed excess includes world-beating dining. No offering is more ostentatious than at the new Atlantis, The Palm (atlantis.com), which prides itself on its collection of Michelin-starred chefs and includes the first Nobu in the Middle East. Another starry name is chef Giorgio Locatelli whose restaurant, Ronda Locatelli, offers friendly service and high-quality dishes such as tender lamb and pizzas baked in brick ovens. Three courses without wine costs 166 dirham (£27). For a more local flavour, Al Mallah (00 971 4 398 4723) is a lively traditional Lebanese shawarma restaurant in Satwa district with tasty street-style food. Try the falafel sandwiches and fruit cocktails with nuts. Main dishes cost about 50 dirham (£8). The Basta Art Café (00 971 4 353 5071) is the pick of the historic Bastakia quarter of Bur Dubai. Enjoy huge salads and Arabic coffee in the leafy courtyard. Main dishes cost about 50 dirham (£8).

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

Jo Fernandez travelled to Dubai with Elegant Resorts (01244 897515; elegantresorts.co.uk), which offers seven nights at Atlantis, the Palm, for £1,870 per person, including return flights from Heathrow with Emirates, return private car transfers, and B&B.

Further information

Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (020-7321 6110; dubaitravelmarket.co.uk).

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