To look across the wind-rippled sands around Dubai is to be struck by the wonder of civil engineering. Desert yawns endless as far as the eye can see, the landscape punctuated only by the occasional bush - used by Nomadic tribes for millennia to pinpoint water - and the odd passing lizard.
City types can here don their ghutra and play at being T.E. Lawrence, driving vintage Land Rovers, navigating by the stars, eating crispy, long-lasting Arabic bread cooked over a hot stone and learning the codes of coffee - if your host pours you a half cup, you’re most welcome, since a half cup stays warm and invites a refill; if you’re given a full cup, be sure to drink up and be on your way. If it’s Ramadan, you can break the fast by drinking the Middle East’s most popular, and deeply unexpected, drink of choice - Vimto. The more adventurous can try warm camel’s milk. You can eat camel too, as well as ride one. The ship of the desert is as much the larder of the dunes.
This orchestrated ‘desert experience’ is all the more striking back at the Armani Hotel in central Dubai - one of just two such designer hostelries, the other being in Milan - and all the more so for it being high up in the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (at least until Jeddah completes the 1km tall Kingdom Tower).
Of course, Dubai’s passions for shopping and building are not for everyone - the view from just about anywhere, including your room at the Armani Hotel, is likely to include a construction site. This is hardly surprising in the emirate that seems to throw up a new piece of landmark architecture every fortnight or so, and which - somewhat fixated on size - opens the world’s biggest entertainment park this summer, and has plans for the world’s largest Ferris wheel, the world’s biggest airport, the world’s largest building in square footage, and, of course, the world’s biggest mall, some three times the size of the Mall of Dubai. That is already the world’s biggest. It’s all a build up to the World Expo, being held in Dubai in four years.
But these passions do drive home what a miracle of transformation Dubai represents
- in just some 45 years it has turned desert into destination, teasing these silvered towers out of the sands. Small wonder the sheiks behind what at some point must have seemed like the greatest folly are now celebrated, from giant billboards to crystal-encrusted mobile phone covers.
Such is the transformation that it has encouraged global powerhouse names the likes of Armani to open here - rather than anywhere else on the planet they could choose - in order to give comfort and air conditioning to the more urban nomads suffering in the constant hairdryer heat outside. Naturally it does this in style. It is said that Giorgio himself made all of the interior design choices based on his own home - which can only leave guests to conclude that his home is a tidy symphony of brown, bronze, beige and his signature ‘greige’.
On each floor three corridors radiate from a central point that marks the very core of the tower. Armani marks this fact with a table on which stands a vase with a single orchid. The stamen is a welcome splash of colour.
It is, as it were, tres sheik - luxurious, refined, refreshingly unflashy in a place that still clings to bling, and, most attractive of all to the Middle Eastern customers who make up half of its guests, even connected to that world’s biggest mall. For them, no doubt, to stay in a fashion label hotel is a welcome extension to their fashion label purchasing. They sleep, breakfast and dine Armani, punctuating this with visits to the mall’s Armani stores and Armani cafe. An Armani porter will even escort you there and collect your big brand booty at the end of another long day flexing the plastic.
Then comes relief in the shape of indulging other senses. The Armani Hotel offers seven restaurant, - mostly of an Italian bent - and a spa offering, for the brave, the kind of intense massage that guarantees you’ll have to skip at least a day’s retail therapy while you’re in recovery. In the lobby are Armani stores - not selling clothes but one dedicated to flowers and the other to chocolates.
Naturally the glittering, sci-fi spire that is Burj Khalifa is itself part of the appeal of staying in the Armani Hotel - with its highest restaurant, highest pool, highest private apartment and - who knows? - on the observation deck 148 storeys up, maybe the highest Guinness Book of Records plaque. The sheer preposterousness of the place is perhaps bested only by the fountains towards the side of the hotel. From a restaurant veranda guests can watch the half-hourly display of what can only be described as liquid fireworks, a show of sequenced sweeping, swooning and rocketing water jets to the theme of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or a touch of Strauss. You can’t but wonder what it’s all for, this spectacle made of the desert’s most precious resource. But you can’t help being captivated like a child nonetheless.
It is, indeed, all very Las Vegas, another infrastructural wonder in the middle of a desert. Nevada has the strippers and the booze, of course, if they’re your poisons. But then it doesn’t have this not so little oasis of Giorgio. That alone might swing the balance.
Rooms at Armani Hotel Dubai start from AED 2,000 per room per night, subject to 10% municipality fee, 10% service charge and a AED20 per room per night tourism fee.