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Dubai reimagined: Discover the zen side of this A-list hotspot

Travel to the United Arab Emirates for a zen vacation


Dubai review
Rachel Avery
Homes Editor
14 April 2023
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Dubai is famed for its skyscrapers, glittering nightlife and incredible blend of sand, sea, city and desert, so it may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a wellness retreat. Disclaimer: it's everything you need and more as a zen destination. 

After touching down, we headed straight to the desert, to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's favourite property, Bab Al Shams

Bab Al Shams
Bab Al Shams was our first stop on the trip

The hotel is a secluded gem with Instagrammable interiors at every turn. It's impossible to arrive and not want to move in for the foreseeable. It's luxurious yet still cosy and relaxed and the attention to detail in the beautiful rooms make it a home from home. Think ambience lighting in the bathroom through to fan controls right by the bed for ease. 

Dubai desert
The Dubai desert is a magical place

Our 4x4 Discovery Land Rover safari tour was just like the clips you see online. As we swerved up and down the dunes with a windscreen full of white sand at times, I reminded myself that wellness was also about pushing boundaries. Not for the faint-hearted.

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Safely back on stable ground, the serene pools were calling. A sun-soaked afternoon by the edge of the calm pool was punctuated by refreshing towels and ice lollies handed out by the attentive staff. Dips in the shimmering waters perfectly balanced the strong desert heat, and the delicious poolside food staved off hunger until dinner. 

Bab Al Shams
Bab Al Shams is located in the desert

For a true Arabian experience, we dined at Al Hadheerah at the resort. The word buffet may conjure up notions of lacklustre offerings, but this buffet was essentially its own market with seven-hour slow cooked lamb, an endless feast of freshly made salads and the best bread and hummus selection ever seen. As we enjoyed course after course, we were treated to an array of entertainment — singers, dancers and even camels! 

For an altogether different Dubai experience, we headed to the city and checked in at the mammoth One&Only Royal Mirage hotel. The only downside is you may get a little lost due to the sheer scale, but around each new corner, you discover something magical.

Nailing lavish luxury, the design is grand, and parts of the hotel are more historic palace than resort. 

one&only royal mirage
A grand place to stay

My room was a fully-fledged apartment with a kitchenette, living space, TV over the bath and balcony with a beach view. I could get used to this, I thought to myself as I unpacked into my endless wardrobe. 

The adults only pool was my favourite place for total calm, each set of loungers with their own cool box with water and cold towels and a view that looked like it was ripped straight from a brochure. Heaven! 

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Another zen location is the hotel's fabulous spa, book yourself in for a traditional hammam, a rejuvenating facial or simply relax in the warming pool and luxurious sauna.

One&Only Royal Mirage
Dubai by night is so stunning

Dinner on the water's edge at The Beach Bar and Grill was the perfect end to the day and the walk back to the room took quite some time thanks to the Instagram pitstops.

Paddleboarding has become a popular holiday pastime, but how about a fitness class on one? Well, we are here for wellness after all so a bit of hard work is required. The 8am Super SUP Fit class as the sun rose over the hotel was energising, challenging and at many points totally hilarious. Expect to take a dip as you attempt burpees, mountain climbers and squats on your floating gym mat. 

Super SUP fit
Fancy a padding boarding fitness class?

I had heard about 'the Dubai stone' where visitors pile on the pounds thanks to the rich and delicious food on offer, however, I have to say I found it quite possible to make healthy choices (if desired!).

Arabic food does have a lot of light bites but for me, each one had to come with a side order of delicious bread. It's all about balance, right? The alcohol situation is the same — a take it or leave it set up. Thanks to the culture there is always an extensive range of mocktails for those wishing to go teetotal, but the hotels also serve up all of the classic drinks for those looking to let loose. 

There really is something for everyone here and we even discovered a Vegan café, SEVA, which served up mouthwatering dishes and desserts so heavenly you wouldn't believe it. Top tip? Book yourself in for a meditation session at the studio next to the restaurant to fully immerse yourself in the chilled-out vibes.

Aura Skypool
We loved the views at the Aura Skypool

On the other end of the scale, there's Aura Skypool which is where you'll find the great and the good of the influencing circles. The world's highest 360° infinity pool, 200 meters in the air, offers up views that you'll just want to drink in. Think DJs, rosé and the best pre-party vibes. The perfect spot for sundowners.

Recharging my batteries in Dubai definitely came from time well spent at the stunning pools and soaking in the jaw-dropping vistas. My advice? Book a long enough trip to strike a balance between tranquil relaxation as well as the sightseeing and glitz. 

Prices from AED1,700 at Bab Al Shams. To book, visit babalshams.com

Prices from AED1,835 at One&Only Royal Mirage. To book, visit oneandonlyresorts.com/royal-mirage

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