Mid-flight at the oa­sis for the weary

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

IT is 14 hours from Syd­ney to Dubai, about the limit be­fore Europe-bound pas­sen­gers start to crack un­der the strain of cap­tiv­ity. A re­viv­ing stopover in the largest city in the United Arab Emi­rates is thus a good idea.

But plan­ning is ev­ery­thing. Ex­pect traf­fic and choose your short-stay ac­com­mo­da­tion care­fully, be­cause most of those fa­mously os­ten­ta­tious ho­tels and re­sorts are kilo­me­tres from Dubai air­port and the roads are jammed. (Car lovers may not care as in this city sur­rounded by shift­ing sands al­most every­one is shift­ing gears in Fer­raris, As­ton Martins and the like.)

My flight-lagged part­ner and I head for Sher­a­ton Dubai Creek Ho­tel. To step from the ris­ing desert heat into the tem­per­ate zone of the ho­tel’s mar­ble re­cep­tion area is heav­enly. Our room, too, is cool. Crisp bed linen, huge floor space and loads of light cre­ate a favourable first im­pres­sion.

Break­fast is be­ing served in the splen­did Ital­ianate set­ting of Vi­valdi Restau­rant. It proves to be a feast, ca­ter­ing to all na­tion­al­i­ties. Lo­cal fare such as lab­neh balls made from goat’s cheese and mint, smoked fish, creamy hum­mus and wafer-thin Ara­bian beef sends us into de­gus­ta­tion mode.

The ho­tel’s food will prove a high­light of our brief stay but we also de­cide to see some­thing of the city. Gold and spice souks are close by but malls are our mis­sion. A short taxi ride from the ho­tel is Deira City Cen­tre. Such shiny tem­ples are sim­i­lar the world over but ram­pant con­sumerism forms a pil­lar of this emi­rate’s econ­omy. At Deira we ob­serve a fa­mil­iar sight in Dubai: nou­veau riche Rus­sian tourists act­ing like Amer­i­can game-show win­ners, push­ing mam­moth trol­leys filled with tee­ter­ing piles of widescreen tele­vi­sion sets and other ex­pen­sive toys into wait­ing cars.

As empty-handed as los­ing con­tes­tants, we re­tire to the com­forts and dis­trac­tions of our ho­tel.

Af­ter­noon tea in the lobby cof­fee shop is fol­lowed by a re­fresh­ing swim. Even in the milder months from Oc­to­ber to May, the heat is dessi­cat­ing. Cli­matic con­di­tions do not af­fect our ap­petites and Ashi­ana, the ho­tel’s award-winning In­dian restau­rant, has been rec­om­mended for din­ner. We man­age to chill out while be­ing plied with hot food, as­sisted by arc­tic air­con­di­tion­ing and a sooth­ing quar­tet play­ing clas­sic In­dian in­stru­ments.

Af­ter din­ner we ad­journ to the Chelsea Arms, an English-style pub in a cor­ner of the lobby. Here Bri­tish ex­pats in de­nial about the in­hos­pitable dunes separat­ing them from Lon­don clutch pints and talk foot­ball.

Those more in­ter­ested in los­ing their tum­mies than fill­ing them seek out the ho­tel’s ten­nis court or re­cently ren­o­vated Health Club. Some of us pre­fer the less phys­i­cal chal­lenge of go­ing on­line in for­eign cities. High speed in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity in all rooms is a wel­come con­ve­nience.

Fi­nally, and im­por­tantly, our Sher­a­ton Sweet Sleeper bed lives up to its name and we awake pre­pared to face the air­port. A 10-minute drive and we are there. Oa­sis is prob­a­bly an over­worked sim­ile in Dubai but our ho­tel de­serves that com­par­i­son. Re­freshed, we face the next leg of our flight over the dry desert. Leonie Coombes was a guest of Sher­a­ton Dubai Creek.

Check­list

Sher­a­ton Dubai Creek Ho­tel and Tow­ers, Baniyas Street, Dubai. (+971 4) 228 1111; www.sher­a­ton.com/dubai. Tar­iff: Rooms from about $US200 ($250) a dou­ble. Book by July 31 (for stays to Septem­ber 30) for 20 per cent off stays of two nights or 30 per cent off stays of three or more nights. Get­ting there: The ho­tel can ar­range pick-up from the air­port; taxis are plen­ti­ful and rea­son­ably priced. Check­ing in: Mainly cor­po­rate guests, con­fer­ence groups and stopover trav­ellers. Wheel­chair ac­cess: Yes. Bed­time read­ing: Per­haps not the Geral­dine Bedell novel TheGulf BetweenUs , re­cently banned at Dubai’s in­au­gu­ral In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Lit­er­a­ture (it fea­tures a gay re­la­tion­ship). Try Paulo Coelho’s The WitchofPor­to­bello , partly set in Dubai, where it was launched in 2007. Step­ping out: Beaches draw many tourists to this city built on sand, and the Sher­a­ton Dubai Creek pro­vides a free shut­tle bus to coastal Jumeirah. Brick­bats: The prox­im­ity to the air­port is also a draw­back as some of Dubai’s tourist at­trac­tions are sev­eral kilo­me­tres away through dense traf­fic. Bou­quets: Mul­ti­cul­tural at­mos­phere and a friendly wel­come from staff; the per­fect an­ti­dote to a long flight.

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