Zabeel House Mini: Low-cost luxury on old Dubai’s waterfront

Zabeel House Al Seef. (Supplied)
Updated 18 December 2018

Zabeel House Mini: Low-cost luxury on old Dubai’s waterfront

  • Three-star Zabeel House Mini by Jumeirah, Al Seef was the debut property for the ‘Zabeel House by Jumeirah’ collection
  • Perfect for those who want to explore old Dubai

DUBAI: Even five years ago, we would never have associated Dubai with wallet-friendly holiday accommodation. Most of the top-rated hotels were considered upmarket, resulting in travelers having to shell out quite a bit to experience the luxury lifestyle that the emirate is synonymous with.
But affordable trips to the UAE are becoming more widely available, thanks to the arrival of mid-market concepts in the past few years. We’re not talking about the business-focused hotels which, let’s face it, can have rooms that are boring and bland. Rather, we’re referring to the more exciting, uniquely designed ‘boutique’ hotels that are wildly popular in cities including London, Barcelona and Zurich.

Opening earlier this year, the three-star Zabeel House Mini by Jumeirah, Al Seef was the debut property for the ‘Zabeel House by Jumeirah’ collection, aimed at “modern-day explorers” and “experience seekers,” with each hotel designed to fit in with its neighborhood.
In this case, that neighborhood is Al Seef on Dubai Creek, situated close to the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Home to the Museum of Illusions Dubai, along with the textile souk, and plenty of shops and restaurants — not to mention beautiful views of the water — this area is perfect for those who want to explore old Dubai.
The hotel lobby is a modern-design lover’s paradise. Featuring a mish-mash of colors — brightly hued couches adorned with slogan-print cushions — together with unique Emirati-inspired art, a foosball table, and swings, guests have the option of checking in via the manned reception or through the self check-in area.

Having arrived during a non-busy period, we were surprised at the speed of check-in — it should have been quicker than it was — but this was quickly forgiven when we were surprised with a free upgrade to a room with a view of the city.
The hotel has 150 rooms split into three categories: Pocket Room, Pocket Room — City Scene, and the Family Room. Each comes with an extra-large double bed as standard.

We were pleasantly surprised by just how much is packed into these little spaces. There’s a retro Smeg mini-fridge, a tablet to control lighting and other functions, an espresso machine and kettle, along with a television featuring over 100 channels. Quirky design adds to the charm, with artsy touches all around, including a fully functioning rotary dial telephone. A particular highlight is a city map of Dubai painted on the ceiling, so if you’re having trouble sleeping, you could always plan your next day’s itinerary.

Although the City Scene room costs more, there’s really no difference between the cheaper option except for what you can see out of the window. However, if you’re staying at a time when fireworks are expected by the Creek, then this category offers a view like no other.
A Dubai hotel wouldn’t be complete without a swimming pool, and Zabeel House Mini’s rooftop pool with a view is well worth the visit. For those preferring to stay indoors, there’s a fitness center and sauna (although, to be honest, we spent more time playing mini pool and foosball). What’s more, there are bikes available to use around the neighborhood; a great way to get around and see some sights, at least in the winter months.

As mentioned, there are plenty of restaurants around Al Seef — from tourist-hotspot Arabian Tea House to burger chains like Five Guys — but there are also options at the hotel. C.U serves up pan-Asian and Middle Eastern, while MishMash features street food from around the world. There’s also a ‘grab-and-go’ area.
At around $75-95 per night, you really do get your money’s worth and more. The hotel is truly delightful and part of a concept that is much-needed in the region. It just goes to show that you don’t need to flash the cash to holiday like a VIP these days.


Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

Updated 18 March 2019

Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

  • Yoga at the resort offers the chance for gentle self reflection
  • The chance for some simple, but delicious food is just around the corner

DUBAI: Officially called Bengaluru — though not by the locals — Bangalore, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, is lauded as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ thanks to the presence of prestigious IT companies and a burgeoning technology sector. Once known for its sprawling gardens and lakes, today Bangalore is more easily identified by shiny shopping malls, hip restaurants and traffic-congested roads. But beyond the trappings of urban life, the city still surprises with refreshing spots where you can hit reset.

One such oasis of calm is Shreyas Retreat. This coconut farm turned yoga retreat, set amid 25 acres of lush greenery, is the real deal, and one of India’s best-kept secrets. Though probably not for long.

Experiences here revolve around ‘self-discovery’, but with a refined approach to wellness. An in-house doctor will prescribe treatments ranging from oil massages and herbal healing experiences based on Ayurveda — regarded as the world’s oldest medicinal system — to more modern remedies such as hydrotherapy. You can choose to stay in one of the poolside cottages strategically placed around the retreat’s central courtyard, with the 25-meter pool and heated jacuzzi on your doorstep, or be at one with nature in a charming Garden Tented Cottage, several of which are scattered across the grounds. They come complete with canopied roof and outdoor patio, offering incredible views.

Need some time to reflect, then try the resort's yoga sessions at the Shreyas Retreat. (Supplied) 

Guests can also join in group-yoga sessions in the morning and evening, deepen their meditation practice or lend a helping hand at the retreat’s organic gardens. If all seems too new-age for you, packages are entirely customizable and really do cater to everyone — from the blissed-out yogi and spa seeker, to curious foodies who want to learn more about Indian cuisine.

The retreat is also an inspiring base to explore nearby landscapes, with trekking trips and village visits easily arranged. If you’d like to plan your own thrills, the scenic Nandi Hills, Hogenakkal Falls (often called the Niagara Falls of India), and cultural hotspot Mysore are just a few hours drive away.

The Nandi Hills provide the more adventurous with some spectacular scenery. (File/Shutterstock)  

For unique attractions closer to the city, a day at Lalbagh Botanical Garden is one well spent. Sprawling across 240 acres in the heart of Bangalore, it started out in 1760 as the private garden of Mysore ruler Hyder Ali. The government-run garden is home to the largest collection of tropical plants in India and a popular spot for bird-watching. Visitors have plenty to take in, including a serene lake, bonsai garden, aviary, sculptures and more. Its best known feature is the centuries-old glass house — designed along the lines of London’s Crystal Palace — that plays host to bi-annual flower shows which attract thousands of visitors.

A short stroll away from Lalbagh is Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (or MTR as it’s more commonly known), established in 1924. This is a no-frills dining experience. Delicious steaming hot food is served on steel plates as patrons tear into crunchy dosas (savory pancakes) and soft idlis (steamed rice cakes). Make sure to order try the rava idli — made from semolina — which was invented by MTR during World War II when rice was in short supply.

Bangalore is home to a handful of world-class galleries, including the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). However, if you’re short on time, there’s only one name you need to remember – Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. Home to a respected college of fine arts, the complex is buzzing with art aficionados and curious tourists picking up unique souvenirs. There are 14 permanent museum galleries to explore here, as well as five rotating art galleries that blend the best of contemporary works alongside more traditional and Indian folk pieces. Afterwards, wander through the verdant grounds, following sand-swept paths and enjoying the city’s creative energy. Bangalore may be India’s digital heart, but it’s got soul.