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.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MARIA SHOLLENBARGER

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

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