Dubai doesn’t do things by halves. That much is immediately clear as the plane streaks over the bizarrely-shaped, man-made Palm Islands, lined with just about every major luxury hotel brand you can name (Fairmont, W, Anantara, Kempinski, Sofitel, One & Only... the list goes on), and on past the gleaming point of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Checking into one five-star resort on the Palm Jumeirah during my stay in the emirate, I witnessed a chap swaggering out of a lime-green Lamborghini in head-to-toe monogrammed Gucci – visor, sandals and all.
But Dubai does have a more sedate side. Head to the Design District, for example, and you’ll find a hub of talented fashion and product designers quietly fuelling the UAE’s burgeoning creative economy. The emirate is home to acres of mangroves, including the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, where flamingoes pick their way through the peaceful waterways. And, beyond the gleaming skyscrapers and artificial islands, there are also a handful of hotels opting for a more old-school sort of luxury.
Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach is far from what you’d call ‘boutique’, of course, but by UAE standards this five-floor property set in oasis-like gardens is effectively low-key. It’s situated half an hour’s drive north of the Palm, far enough that those gigantic in-house aquariums (hello, Atlantis, The Palm) or booming, Insta-fabulous pool parties (FIVE Palm Jumeirah, for instance) feel a world away.
The resort makes a pretty flawless first impression: ushered from our Uber into a light-filled lobby, we’re met with a towering Murano vase overflowing with fresh flowers and, beyond a spiral staircase, a tantalising sliver of cobalt blue ocean through the two-floor picture window.
It’s 10am and, understandably, our room isn’t quite ready yet, but would we like to have breakfast while we wait? It’s music to our ears after an eight-hour overnight flight – and a generous touch of hospitality when, technically speaking, breakfast is only included the morning after one’s stay. And what a breakfast it is: a maze of buffet stations where you graze your way from dim sum to Arabic mezze via smoked salmon and mimosas, watching birds dip into the terrace’s fountain for a drink of their own.
A couple of restorative coffees later and, bellies full, we’re following a long, carpeted hallway to our Premier Skyline Room. Powder blue furnishings meet pearlescent mosaics for a gentle, contemporary take on Middle Eastern décor. Opulence here is more in the room’s spaciousness – some the capital’s largest, apparently – extending to separate walk-in closets and marble bathrooms with twin sinks and deep, oval freestanding tubs. The iPad on the nightstand gives 24/7 access to a digital concierge app (we put this to use later on, ordering a nightcap). The balcony, meanwhile, frames that surreal, glittering Dubai skyline; somewhere over there in the Downtown district is the 1,200-store Dubai Mall and an opera house.
But I have different activities in mind: having escaped the British winter and a busy working week, the sun lounger beckons. The resort’s two pools, gardens and beach feel well shielded from the city beyond. Attendants seamlessly appear from time to time with complimentary fruit smoothies and ensure that each sunbed’s cooler bag is topped up with chilled water. Ensconced under a palm tree or in a seafront cabana, you could be in any exotic paradise, really, save for the hypnotic sound of the Adhan (call to prayer) that carries on the breeze from Jumeirah Mosque. Subtle nods to local culture also come through in the hotel’s spa, where treatments draw on the Gulf’s ancient pearl diving industry.
For travellers keen to soak up the emirate’s warm weather and pampering hospitality while skipping its gaudier, world-record-aspiring side, Four Seasons Resort Dubai is the ideal urban oasis. Or maybe just treat it as a reassuringly old-school retreat to return to after a day immersed in the Expo’s razzle-dazzle – everything in moderation, after all.
Doubles at the Four Seasons Dubai from £620.