LIKE most men, given the choice I would usually opt for root canal treatment without anaesthetic rather than trudge round clothes shops behind a gaggle of women with time on their hands and credit cards at their disposal.
But when the retail outlets in question form part of a ‘shopping and souk adventure’ in sunny Dubai and I’m being flown there in style with British Airways and resting my head for four nights of unbridled luxury in Raffles, I’m prepared to make an exception.
So, after seven hours of drinking, dining and dozing, cocooned in Club Class heaven at 40,000ft, me and my six female travelling companions (fellow media professionals, since you ask; who do you think I am, Hugh Hefner?) touch down in the desert emirate. Half an hour later we are nibbling sushi and dim sum, sipping cocktails at the swish new Red Lounge Terrace on the 17th floor of Raffles and drinking in the views. It’s an awesome introduction to a spectacular city.
The Raffles building itself is pyramid-shaped and when I retire for the evening I find accommodation fit for a pharaoh, with walk-in wardrobes, vast bathroom, colossal bed, comfortable lounge and balcony. The handmade pyramid-shaped chocolates on the bedside table are a nice touch too – maybe I should do the same with a bar of Toblerone when I get home.
The next morning we gather for Friday brunch – one of the city’s tastiest traditions – at Legends restaurant at the Dubai Creek Yacht and Golf Club. On the limitless buffet menu is everything from eggs Florentine to braised quail, pan-fried sea bass to spicy crab cake, beef tenderloin to braised lamb shank, with crème brulée the speciality dessert. Dining is usually al fresco with great views of the waterway but a stiff breeze forces us indoors.
After an afternoon swim at Raffles to compensate for the calorific intake, our driver Riswan ferries us into the desert, about an hour away, for a falconry display followed by bone-crushing dune-bashing in a 4x4. Later we watch the sun set over sands that stretch as far as the eye can see, before enjoying a barbecue supper, camel riding and henna hand tattoos at a nearby oasis. Because it’s Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, booze and bellydancing are cancelled, but most of us are puggled by our previous exertions anyway, and are content to have our perceptions broadened simply by gazing at the dazzling night sky above us.
The best is yet to come, however, for when I later wend my weary way back to my hotel room, I find that my butler, Salman (oh, did I not mention I had a butler?), has taken the liberty of running a piping hot bubble bath in the gargantuan tub, while placing a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket next to it. Well, it’s thirsty work in the desert. And the platter of fresh exotic fruits that is also provided makes it easy for me to adhere to the five-a-day healthy eating guideline – especially with a large dish of melted chocolate to dip them in. Yum.
After next morning’s buffet breakfast (basically anything you could possibly think of consuming, from Coco Pops to crustaceans and everything in between), Scots-born personal styling doyenne Kelly Lundberg greets us at reception. Founder of Divine, Dubai’s premier shopping service, Lundberg has notched up more than 10,000 hours of shopping with clients and knows just which boutique to go to for that must-have item. She’s also lots of fun.
We follow in her high-heeled footsteps, along with her glamorous assistant Louise, and shop till we drop. Some of the ladies want dresses specially made, so we head to the colourful hubbub of Satwa district, where their measurements are taken by one of the dozens of tailors there and silk and chiffon from China, Japan, Korea and India is selected from hundreds of hues. The dresses will be ready in 24 hours.
Next we visit the Village, a shopping destination that is home to eclectic outlets such as Ayesha Depala, S*uce and SensAsia Urban Spa, as well as Sugar Daddy’s cupcake emporium. We then drive off to peruse the pricey pre-loved designer classics at Garderobe (www.garderobevintage.com).
After that we head to the beating heart of much of Dubai life – the mighty malls. These vast retail temples cover acres of floorspace with hundreds of high-end designer outlets, quirky boutiques, international household names, plus restaurants and cinemas.
First is the Mall of the Emirates, home to a bewildering array of stores on umpteen floors, from luxury fashion for men, women and children, to art, antiques, games and electronic goods – plus a slightly incongruous ski centre, complete with a bemused flock of emperor penguins.
After an hour or so of window shopping and occasionally splashing the cash, we check out Lundberg’s other favourites on the Walk, in the trendy district of Dubai Marina, including boutique1 (www.boutique1.com).
Laden with bags, we recover at Raffles with the Collection, a unique high-fashion-inspired afternoon tea with designer sandwiches and ‘couture cakes’, delicately crafted tasty sweetmeats in the shape of handbags, shoes and hats. That evening we remain in the hotel to dine on duck consommé and wagyu sirloin at the hotel’s Fire and Ice steakhouse, then puff away on hubble-bubble shisha pipes of apple-infused tobacco at the Crossroads cocktail bar, before strutting our stuff at People by Crystal, Dubai’s best nightclub – dramatically positioned at the top of the pyramid. Indeed, fuelled by a magnum of Belvedere vodka, we enjoy ourselves so much that our scheduled visit early next morning to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, which featured in Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster, proves to be mission impossible.
Instead we briefly visit Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest, apparently, with an aquarium the size of Wales. But by this time I’m thinking if I never see another retail outlet again it will be several thousand years too soon. We bail out and get a water taxi, taking in the fascinating sights and sounds of the Creek, and alight at the bustling gold and spices souks for a spot of good-natured haggling. It’s an unexpected highlight of the trip.
Later we dine in the Dubai outpost of the Ivy, where the fish and chips proves just as tasty as in the original London restaurant, then return to the hotel to pack, where we find our flight home is delayed because of snow at Heathrow. But I can think of worse places to while away a few hours than Raffles – actually, I can’t think of many better.