It’s known for its towering skyscrapers, flash malls and year-round sun, but Dubai is reinventing itself as a spot for wellness. With moonlit yoga and vegan cuisine, could it be your next destination holiday?
Lead image: Water spin class at Fairmont The Palm
Greeted by glittering towers through the haze of sand, Dubai is certainly a surreal place to wake up to – especially if you’re staying 37 storeys up at the Emirates Jumeirah Towers. But taking a look across the business district, skyscrapers and onward to, well, the dessert, it’s difficult to not find the whole place extraordinarily impressive.
The United Arab Emirates’ largest city, Dubai is certainly a destination known for its sparkling architectural feats – one needs to just glance at the imposing Burj Khalifa for proof. But across it’s modern history the city has built a reputation for holiday makers to enjoy the near-constant sun and the luxury of its endless high-end hotels.
Now Dubai is adding to its renown as a destination for wellness. And with its beaches, unrivalled hotel spas and a bustling expat community looking to keep fit, it seems like a match made in heaven.
First of all, head to the basement spa at the Jumeirah Towers for a full body massage, which will work out any kinks. It’s also well worth taking a dip in the unique flotation pod, which is essentially a small pool that you can float around for 30 minutes and is supposedly equivalent to four hours of deep sleep – a perfect antidote to that seven hour flight.
La Mer beach in the centre of the city is not your classic seaside spot, but it’s perfect for some watersports
Of course it isn’t all about spa treatments in the name of wellness, it’s also important to keep your body feeling fit. A 15 minute drive from the Jumeirah Towers you’ll find the recently opened La Mer beach in the centre of the city, which is a perfect spot for some watersports. With palm trees, a theme park and a Sephora, is not your classic seaside spot, but it is a great place for to don your lifejackets and head out on a paddleboard to while away an afternoon.
Across the city at the Fairmont The Palm on Dubai’s main-made palm island, you’ll find another welcoming spa where I’d recommend enjoying a relaxing massage before taking advantage of the sauna and relaxing in the beach view lounge with a cup of ginger tea.
If that’s not enough, the Fairmont also offers popular monthly moonlit yoga classes to channel your inner yogi, as well as the fitness centre’s PRAMA class, which as essentially circuits in a light-up room and is great fun, if not entirely exhausting.
Food and Drink
Of course, as you might expect, all of that movement certainly helps you work up an appetite. And in a city with residents from all over the world, you can find just about anything on the menu. During our stay, we went from indulgent Italian at Alta Badia in the Jumeirah Towers to a delicious Indian feast at Little Miss India at The Fairmont.
But there’s also plenty of healthy options available. With one and a half vegans on our trip (one was doing Veganuary), we had precisely zero issues finding somewhere we can all eat, with a highlight being the extensive choices at the Comptoir 102 health café – a wonderfully picturesque spot by Jumeirah Public Beach.
If you fancy something a little bit different, the Fairmont also offers cooking lessons with one of their head chefs. Vegan never tasted so good as we learned to make hummus, ratatouille and gazpacho while, somewhat bizarrely, joined by 90s pop-star Dane Bowers who was filming his new Instagram show. But while I can’t promise there will be 90s nostalgia, the class was definitely a highlight of the trip.
Where to Stay
If a resort stay is more what you’re looking for then the Fairmont The Palm hits the spot. Situated on Dubai’s man-made palm island, it’s a resort with all the frills (and then some, because of course, this is Dubai) including no less than ten restaurants, four swimming pools and a private beach.
This part of the city is known for its luxury hotels as well as being a hotspot for the thriving expat community who live nearby in the Marina. Such influence means the hotel offers everything you might need for wellness from food to exercise.
The king rooms are large and comfortable and they all come with a balcony overlooking the rest of the Palm. If you upgrade to the Gold Lounge as well, you’ll be able to enjoy private check-in, as well as complimentary afternoon tea and cocktail hours with the extraordinarily friendly staff.
What to see
While the hotels in Dubai are certainly made to offer everything you might need, you must also make some time to see the iconic sights of the city.
Just driving around Dubai is fascinating. Taking inspiration from all over the world, you’ll spot the Empire State Building, Big Ben and the London Eye echoed in aspects of the city’s buildings (only of course they were much bigger because, again, this is Dubai).
Head to Alserkal Avenue, a hub of contemporary art in the city’s industrial centre
A trip to the Burj Khalifa’s light show is a necessary detour for its spectacle, as well as heading next door to the enormous Dubai Mall to see luxury shopping as its best. On the other side of the city, the equally iconic Burj Al Arab is best viewed on an Abra boat tour at the Madinat Jumeirah hotel, which takes you through its waterways and drops you back at the hotel’s own Souk for AED 75.
Or if you’re looking for some culture, you can head to Alserkal Avenue, which is a hub of contemporary art in the city’s industrial centre. With rotating galleries and installations, it offers an interesting way to see a different side to Dubai.
As you navigate your way around Dubai, it’s easy to forget that this is a city that largely didn’t exist until the discovery of oil in 1966 prompted its extraordinary growth. But perhaps what a place with such a recent history has the benefit of is to be able to reinvent itself constantly.
It seems this is what’s making Dubai on the cutting edge of wellness and fitness, and as the trend grows in the west, I can only imagine what Dubai will come up with next. However, just as with all of the city, I’ll guarantee it will be twice as big.
Rooms at Jumeirah Emirates Towers start from AED 1100 in high season and AED 600 in summer; Fairmont King rooms cost from £116 based on two people sharing on a room only basis. For more information go to visitdubai.com