JEWEL IN THE DESERT
EXQUISITE IN DESIGN AND SERVICE, BULGARI’S LUXURY RESORT IS AN OASIS OF CHIC RESTRAINT AND ITALIAN UNDERSTATEMENT AMID THE FLAMBOYANT EXCESS OF DUBAI.
On a fine breezy day last March I found myself standing on the teak deck of the spa at the new Bulgari Resort Dubai, gazing out to the pencil-sharp line where the cobalt Persian Gulf meets the milky blue of the sky, and wondering if it could be considered a compliment to a hotel to describe it as everything a city is not. In the case of this emirate – with apologies to all its fans – I’m going to say, perhaps it is. It’s of course an observation rooted in stereotypical ideas about Dubai, the place that, so the party line goes, strives to be taller, better, richer and more glittering, the one where more is always more. But given the extent to which that cliché still holds true, it highlights what is so winning about the Bulgari Dubai: its manifest less-ness: the chic relief it provides from the maximalist norm. Secreted away on a manmade, comma-shaped private island a few hundred metres off Jumeirah Beach, it is a low-rise, subtly-hued, almost entirely gilt-free bastion of elegance.
Even better, it’s a bastion of elegance with a seam of genuine Italian sprezzatura running through it. Not unlike the innovative vision on which the LVMH-owned Roman jewellery house has forged its reputation, the latest Bulgari resort – the fifth in its exclusive portfolio – is bold and contemporary, marrying precious materials and clean lines, with every last detail lovingly hand-crafted, resulting in an environment like no other here; and one that, above all, doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard.
The resort sits within a Bulgari-branded development that also comprises a 50-slip marina and yacht club – with restaurant, social areas, and large, very sexy pool, all of which hotel guests have access to – and several elegant blocks of residences. It curves around a shallow cove of limpid water, the fine white sand lined with chaises, umbrellas, and a smattering of private cabanas.
The 101 rooms and suites are spread across two fourstorey wings, while 20 villas of varying sizes, each with wide terrace and plunge pool, fan out along the beach’s edge, immersed in native greenery. The resort bears all the hallmarks of house architects Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel: subtle tones; rare hardwoods; raw travertine and marble. There’s an occasional nod to the luxury jeweller: the vibrant tile mosaics that line the bottom of the enormous circular pool are designs from the archive, as are the gem-toned watercolours and sketches hung in the halls and public spaces. The clever minibars, styled like leather travelling trunks, are embossed with the brand’s logo. And that enormous photographic portrait of Monica Vitti in the lobby-living room pays homage as much to the famous “Seven Wonders” emerald necklace adorning her throat as to the diva herself.
But the prevailing aesthetic is brisk, clean and notably unadorned. Any material extravagances are natural ones – the vast expanse of breccia medicea marble forming the wall behind the portrait of La Vitti,
perfectly bookmatched to explode in a pattern of dynamic symmetry; or a similar expanse of jade-hued marble in the spa’s plunge baths, beautifully back-lit; or the timber cabanas, the slickest interpretation of the beach shack I’ve seen (with full butler’s kitchen and bath inside, and a long, raised, shaded terrace with chaises outside). The rooms have neutral hessian or smooth timber walls and French oak floors, covered with plush Moroccan beni ourain rugs; the beds are covered in perfect oatmeal blankets of cashmere from Italian textile house EDA; bathrooms combine an indulgent overhead shower and large marble bath into a sporty-glamorous wet room, with a floor-to-ceiling window that gives on to the large terrace that runs the length of each accommodation (ground-floor rooms have hushed gardens, protected from view by trellises or hedges). The villas are light-suffused havens; beachfacing ones are separated from the charming boardwalk by low gated walls and wide gardens, and those facing the city have a CinemaScope view of the skyline, the needle of Burj Khalifa close to its centre.
The Bulgari Spa may be the least-Dubai endeavour on the premises, in its committed renunciation of frippery. Smooth, honeyed wood panelling and rough putty-coloured marble dominate; the eight treatment rooms are spacious, meticulously lit and devoid of the vaguely ethnic but often useless embellishments so common to luxury spas. The steam rooms, vitality pools and rainforest showers, with their multi-chrome light therapies, are impressive. But the real showpiece is the 25m indoor pool pavilion, with its two walls of glass, the turquoise-and-teal shimmer of thumbnail-sized mosaic tiles in the pool’s depths, and the yawning ocean horizon out the window – a spare abstraction of desert whites and blues, and not a skyscraper in sight.
The resort will satisfy many on the merit of its design alone; but its appeal is pushed well over the top by the service oversight of an Italian luxury brand. I found this nowhere more conspicuous – delightfully so – than in the resort’s restaurants and bars. There you sit, at the edge of a desert on the Saudi Peninsula, being offered a sampling of more types of mozzarelle than you may have seen on your last excursion through Campania, with a disquisition on the various micro-regional differences among them. Behind the sexy oval-shaped Bar – a Bulgari Hotels signature – the reed-slim Milanese bartenders are the picture of smiling competence, but with a pronounced contrapposto, both of posture and of attitude. At the Yacht Club Restaurant on a Saturday afternoon, waiters circulate with small dishes of delectable antipasti – marinated red prawns with fennel and orange, frittura mista, a pillowy cod-potato ravioli. But nothing here can beat a sunset supper at Il Ristorante di Niko Romito, an exclusive partnership between the Bulgari hotel brand and the vaunted chef from Abruzzo. Book a table on the terrace with a view over the marina, order a glass of one of the excellent red blends from Podernuovo a Palazzone, the southern-Tuscan estate of scion Giovanni Bulgari, and bask in the unadulterated pleasures of simple, fresh food prepared with exquisite attention, served by people invested in sharing its story. It’s a genuine luxury: the “real” Italy, in unreal Dubai.
Clockwise from main: The Bulgari Suite; a deluxe beach room balcony; Il Cafè; Bulgari-bejewelled Monica Vitti in the lobby; the private island’s beach and the Dubai skyline