Well well well, who ever heard of skiing in the Arabian desert? Nearly everyone in Dubai, and many more around the world, is the answer – that number includes one-time boss of Marks & Spencer, Luc Vandervelde, who is on the board of Majid Al Futtaim’s MAF. In 2006 MAF put up the 400-room luxury Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates and attached what looks like, from the outside, a giant diagonal tube of the inflated kind where you had to swipe a fabric rabbit as it careered down, and out of the end. This tube, however, is big enough to contain three lanes of 400-metre skiing, with accompanying snowboarding and rockin’n’rollin’ in a mammoth clear plastic ball. The gal watched all this from 212, one of the hotel’s 15 Aspen Chalets that look straight out at the snow. It was all very cosy. Chalet 212 has three bedrooms and a two-level living room, with a working fireplace – and you can watch the slopes, operating until midnight.
The chalet had books on skiing, and framed illustrations of ski-related memorabilia. The charming and creative Jordanian chef, Sudqi Naddar, had prepared a tray of goodies, and made marzipan books that were so attractive it would have been a crime to have started to eat them (my welcome also included spiced warm applejuice, so good for a winter sports environment). I dined with the GM Grant Ruddiman, in the hotel’s super Spanish tavern, a really clever concept because with subtle behind-bookshelf lighting and other tricks you do not realise that this restaurant actually has no natural daylight (perhaps a glass of Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Rioja 2011 helped).
Tapas after tapas were carried out, until the table was almost groaning. My favourites included spicy shrimps, and an Andalusian vegetable cassoulet with egg and Idiazabal cheese. We were supposed to go on to paella but only Grant managed that. In the morning, they opened the gym for me at 5.30, an hour ahead of usual start – and there was an attendant already there. Now that is what I call service. Breakfast was another splendid meal, in Olea, and afterwards we went out on the terrace, by the outside pool, and looked up at the hotel, the side away from the ‘ski tube’. From that side it looks just like an ordinary hotel, all 12 floors of it, with 400 rooms in all.
But, of course, only 15 rooms, or rather suites, are snow-themed, and if you want to see what an alpine chalet in Dubai looks like, watch the video below. As you gather, the living room, with two windows, looks into the alpine landscape, as do two of the upper floor bedrooms: rise even higher, a total of 29 stairs in all, and the top bedroom’s windows face the other way, down over the pool. This is certainly a really unusual luxury hotel and it is not surprising that the most-used word in Arabic comment cards, from locals who have stayed here, is ‘amazing’. I have not, by the way, even mentioned that the hotel is integral with Mall of the Emirates shopping mall… For now, SEE THE VIDEO, BELOW.