‘Glamping’: Dubai’s new take on desert camping

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An Emirati national flag flies over the reservoir at the Hatta Dam where kayaks and boats are cruising, in the Dubai emirate’s exclave of Hatta, near the Omani border. (AFP/Karim Sahib)
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A view of a tourist caravan camped at a mountain campsite in the Dubai emirate’s exclave of Hatta, near the Omani border. (AFP/Karim Sahib)
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A view of a tourist caravan camped at a mountain campsite in the Dubai emirate's exclave of Hatta, near the Omani border. (AFP/Karim Sahib)
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Boats and kayaks cruising in the reservoir at the Hatta Dam, in the Dubai emirate's exclave of Hatta, near the Omani border. (AFP/Karim Sahib)
Updated 08 March 2019
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‘Glamping’: Dubai’s new take on desert camping

  • With “glamping,” short for “glamorous camping,” Dubai aims to expand on its renown for luxurious city living and its tradition of camping
  • Dubai is now offering stays in chic desert trailers, in plush mountainside lodgings and beach camps, as it seeks to put its own mark on the glamping trend that has swept world tourism destinations

HATTA, United Arab Emirates: Just over 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Dubai’s skyscrapers, Mohammed Al-Kaabi strolls through the tranquil desert with his friends as the sun sets.
Kaabi, 27, hails from a long line of Emiratis, a people with a centuries-old bedouin history tied inextricably to the local desert.
Today, he is among a fast-growing group drawn to a new wave of a tradition of desert camping but with all the trappings of comfort, style and modernity.
With “glamping,” short for “glamorous camping,” Dubai aims to expand on its renown for luxurious city living and its tradition of camping.
Betting on tourism at a time of low oil prices, Dubai is now offering stays in chic desert trailers, in plush mountainside lodgings and beach camps, as it seeks to put its own mark on the glamping trend that has swept world tourism destinations.
“This place is far from the cities and the high-rises,” said Kaabi, sporting the traditional full-length white Emirati robe worn by men.
“Camping is very popular in the UAE, but when you want to bring the family it becomes more complicated,” he added, at a campsite in Hatta, near the Omani border.
“But here, safety and comfort are provided for.”
Camping is still a beloved way of life for many Emiratis, who take their equipment and head for the desert from the fall months onwards, when the scorching summer heat has faded.
Tourists and expat residents also increasingly opt to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Dubai welcomed a record 15.9 million visitors in 2018, many of whom were drawn to its mega malls, luxurious hotels and pristine beaches.
It hopes to push the figure up to 20 million visitors annually by next year, when it hosts the six-month global trade fair, Expo 2020.
The mountainous eastern Hatta desert has lots to offer “glampers” with a taste for adventure but also for their home comforts.
Near the Hatta dam, campers have a choice between a trailer, caravan or five-star lodge fully equipped with TVs and power points for charging a smartphone.
Seated outside a trailer, Jamil Fahmy, a Dubai resident from Saudi Arabia, said glamping was the perfect way to escape the city without compromising on hygiene.
“It’s fun, with the fire and hanging with friends and all that, but I personally prefer to sleep in a room with a bed and a private bathroom, and that’s what we get here,” he told AFP.
“It’s great to be an adventurer and explore and cook fireside, and that’s what we did.
“But when the time came, we retreated into the beautiful room and slept on a bed.”
Rooms with modern amenities, including bathrooms and beds, start from 400 dirhams (about $110, 100 euros) per night at the Hatta site, which opened in October.
The Hatta camping project, part of Dubai’s plan to use tourism to diversify revenues, is also home to a 350-meter zip wire.
Last year, Dubai faced a downturn in the real-estate market due to a supply glut, while oil prices also dropped, affecting the UAE as a whole.
Several glamping sites, some on the beach, have popped up across the UAE in recent years, with options to participate in yoga classes, star gazing or kayaking.
For Jay, a 37-year-old Briton, glamping offers a new experience after a decade in the UAE.
“We’re fairly outdoorsy, we came here kayaking before, we did the big zip line,” he told AFP, referring to the Hatta zip wire.
But, he added with a laugh that with the usual no-frills style of camping “you haven’t got a shower or all the facilities” so glamping is a welcome step-up.
“You get the outdoors and all of that, and nature, and you can barbeque — but you can also have a shower and get clean!
“It’s not five-star hoteling, but five-star camping.”


Irresistible Istanbul: Turkey’s cultural capital

Updated 22 April 2019
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Irresistible Istanbul: Turkey’s cultural capital

  • The historic city — part European, part Asian — still has the power to capture hearts

DUBAI: Although the bulk of Istanbul’s historic sites lie across the Golden Horn in Sultanahmet, there’s something magnetic about Beyoğlu. It personifies Istanbul’s confidence and economic energy, is at the heart of the city’s most exciting nightlife, and has acted as a battleground for Istanbul’s modern cultural identity.

It is also home to the city’s main commercial artery — Istiklal Avenue, a wide pedestrianized thoroughfare that stretches from the steep cobbled gradients of Galata to the vast open space of Taksim Square. For most of the year it is populated by an endless sea of people either wrapped up against the onset of winter or basking in the glory of spring and summer.

Beyoğlu is where you’ll find much that relates to the world of art and culture. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate and author of novels including “My Name Is Red” and “Snow,” lives and breathes the district’s neighborhoods. You can follow in his footsteps if you like, tracing your way from Sahaflar Carsisi, the used-book bazaar that he used to frequent as a child, to the The Museum of Innocence and its quirky minutiae of 20th-century Istanbul life. The latter was created by the author as a companion to his novel of the same name and is located in a 19th-century timber house in Cukurcuma.

Then there’s the food. Take Ficcin as an example. Spread across a number of venues on either side of Kallavi Street, this wonderful restaurant serves both classic Turkish cuisine and Circassian specialties. That means kofta, artichokes, grilled chicken and an aubergine salad with yoghurt and garlic, and specials such as manti (Turkish dumplings) and the dish that the restaurant is named after — a meat-filled savory pastry baked like a pizza.

If you’re looking to stay in the Beyoğlu area, not far from Ficcin is the Pera Palace Hotel, a late 19th-century masterpiece designed by the French-Ottoman architect Alexandre Vallaury. Renovated and refurbished just under a decade ago, its grand, high-ceilinged interiors are awash with dark reds, velvet and gold, while the colors of the lobby, tea lounge and library are deeper and richer than when Agatha Christie and a cavalcade of early 20th-century celebrities made it their hotel of choice.

A short stroll from the Pera Palace is the former medieval Genoese citadel of Galata, now known as Karaköy and lying at the southern end of Istiklal. Its central, striking feature is the Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348 and a reminder of the wonder of Istanbul’s pre-Ottoman past. Karaköy’s steep cobblestone streets are sprinkled generously with cafés and boutiques selling everything from Orientalist soap tins to Turkish towels and there’s a relaxed, laid-back kind of vibe.

From Galata you can walk down to the shores of the Golden Horn, crossing the Galata Bridge towards Sultanahmet and the district of Fatih (once the Byzantine city of Constantinople). It is here that you’ll realize the full impact of Istanbul’s allure. In peak holiday seasons it will be almost impossible to move within the maze of alleys that make up the Grand Bazaar, a colossal covered market that covers 64 streets and has 22 separate entrances. It’s easy to get lost, which is part of the appeal, but with up to half a million people visiting every day it can get extremely claustrophobic.

For a more sedate experience (although expect queues), Sultanahmet is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to both the Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque. At the latter you can sit beneath the continuous vaulted arcade that surrounds the mosque’s great courtyard, or marvel at the grandeur of its interiors, while the former’s magnificent giant dome and stunning mosaics remind you of Istanbul’s Byzantine past.

All of Sultanahmet’s main historic attractions are within easy walking distance of each other, including the Topkapi Palace, with its lavish courts and holy relics, and the underground delights of the Basilica Cistern. The sites are also within 10 minutes’ walk or so of the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, a fully halal luxury boutique hotel that first opened just under two years ago.

If you find the time, head to Pandeli. First opened in 1901, the restaurant is reached via a steep set of stairs near the entrance to the Spice Bazaar and is defined as much by its shimmering blue iznik tiles as it is by its traditional Turkish food. Expect views of Eminonu Square and delights such as lamb stew served on a bed of mashed roasted aubergine.

One thing’s for sure, visitors to Istanbul will not be bored. The many delights of this city straddling two continents could keep anyone busy for months. As the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine wrote in the 19th Century, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”