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Short stay: Al Seef Hotel by Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE

Step out of time. Drop out of high-rise Dubai into a quieter almost biblical scene in Arabia’s history. Jumeirah has deconstructed the concept of the big hotel. There are ten “bayts”, traditional Arabic houses with clusters of rooms, dotted through the Al Seef heritage village to recreate the intimate hospitality of a bygone era. Altogether there are just over 200 rooms and suites. Each bayt has a concierge figure who is more like a smiling benevolent aunt or uncle looking after their family of guests. To get a sense of the heritage village think of the ultimate nativity scene with rough-cast plaster walls, exposed timbers and palm-frond thatch. Artefacts of hand-carts, battered wooden packing crates and the nets that were used to fish the Creek for centuries help create the atmosphere. It’s the sort of place where Indiana Jones would recuperate after a particularly gruelling Arabian adventure. The welcome Before you even arrive there’s a courtesy phone call to check on your time of arrival. A porter takes your bag, you quickly complete registration formalities, and then a buggy delivers you and your luggage to your room. The rooms Rooms are a paean to Old Dubai with photographs of fisherman on the Creek, caravans of camels arriving from the sandstorms of the desert and children playing on the fringes of the vast desert. Telephones with rotary dials, old-fashioned wind-up alarm clocks, black light switches, retro radios and ornamental oil lamps recreate the aura of another era. But do not be deceived by the relatively small footprint, you will find everything you need for a comfortable stay. Behind the dark-wood camouflage there is a Nespresso coffee-maker, a mini-bar and whispering air-conditioning. A large double bed provides deeply restorative sleep after hours of exploring Dubai’s heritage. There’s a comfortable chair to slump into, swing open the wooden shutters and watch the world go by. The bathroom The hefty double doors look as if they began their career in Joseph and Mary’s stable but they lead into a refreshing rain-water shower and a range of oriental toiletries including appropriately Seven Sands soap. The facilities The bayts are in the heart of bustling Al Seef so there are few facilities on site. Satisfy your contemporary cravings by taking a five minute ride on the shuttle bus to the sister hotel, Zabeel House by Jumeirah. There you will find a swimming pool on the seventh floor with great views over the Creek, a gym and a spa. It’s impossible not to stay on for a sunset cocktail at the skyline bar and watch the evening’s dhow traffic. The restaurant There is no more energising way to start breakfast than with a glass of camel’s milk flavoured with with saffron. Saba’a is a restaurant that serves all ten bayts  Saba’a translates as seven. Why call a restaurant seven? It is the ruling Sheikh’s lucky number. When in Arabia make the most of it. Try the eggs scrambled with spices, tomatoes, onions and served with a flatbread. Dip the halva, bite-size oval donuts, in a little honey. Alternatively there is a traditional Arab breakfast of dips, breads and salad. Or if you really must there are cereals, cows-milk, eggs prepared the western way and white-bread. Currently Saba’a is closed for lunch but in the evening there are two magnificent options. An Arabic buffet with grilled fish or lamb as the main course surrounded by countless small plates. Waiters are excellent at describing this A to Z of Arabic food which is essentially a feast fit for a Sheikh. Two small bowls of soup, served simultaneously, one lamb and oats, the other lentil-based complement the other brilliantly. It is a feast with a grand finish as four desserts are served as the final generous offering. Other nice touches On the first and second floors of the houses are tables and chairs for guests to soak-up the sun or socially share tea and coffee. In the reception area of every bayt there are a number of books for you to borrow to read up on your Emirati culture and history. Cost From around £150 per night for a double room depending on season. The best bit As well as being in the heart of buzzing Al Seef, you are just a short walk from an abra to take you across the creek to the fascinating Dhow harbour. At a mere one dirham for the crossing it is one of the great travel bargains of the world. The final verdict Al Seef by Jumeirah is a welcome antidote to a world of towering glass and steel hotels which isolate you from your surroundings. It’s Jumeirah’s shout that small can be better. Sometimes we need to stop and look over our shoulder to appreciate where we have come from. Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of Jumeirah.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. I’ve been working in Dubai recently so I called into Al Seef to see how the project’s getting on. There’s a huge underground car park and then you suddenly come up into the middle of Old Dubai.

    I didn’t know about the hotel nor the restaurant. Early evening Al Seef is full of Emirati families soaking up the atmosphere so an Arabian style family banquet should do well.

    There’s a real buzz to the place with musicians playing traditional music and dancers too.

  2. This looks utterly brilliant. Dubai desperately needed something like this. I know a lot of people who’ve been to Dubai and said that it is too big, brash and in-your-face. Hopefully Al Seef will show a quieter and more dignified side to Dubai. I like the idea of the Arabian banquet. Too many people go to exotic locations and just eat the fast food they know and trust.

    1. Yes, I’ve always been one of those people who thinks that Dubai is just too modern and chaotic. This post has made me think again. Maybe there is something there for me.

  3. Yeah, I can just see Indiana Jones hanging out in a cool place like this. Washing off the desert, licking his wounds and grabbing a beer from the mini bar. Al Seef seems like a very special place.

  4. I heard about this Al Seef development a couple of months ago. Meraas the developers know what they are doing. First up it’s only 15 minutes from the airport and leaving that aside it is a classic case of “Location, location, location.”

    To start with it is Creekside so you’ve got stunning views and great access to the abras and water taxis. Also it is going to be right next to the Sheikh Zayed Centre for Cultural Understanding and they do some great stuff.

    Then you’ve got decent access to the underground too. If you really need to you can get to the Dubai or Emirates Mall plus the Marina.

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