No one can have been more surprised than the resident camels who live just beyond the boundaries of The Villa development when removal vans starting rumbling into this, one of Dubai's newest neighbourhoods, in early 2010.
Not half a decade before, the area was desert proper, the heart of a planned Dubailand that has barely materialised despite the hoardings still hopefully proclaiming the advent of the City of Arabia, complete with three-dimensional dinosaurs (which make a handy landmark from the easily missed exit signs to the development).
Just over 12 months on from The Villa's first cohort of residents, the camel caravan is still gently nibbling leaves at the lone ghaf tree - now situated just metres from a Dubai Electricity and Water Authority substation. Despite the shattered peace of their desert scrubland, however, they barely glance at the small but steady stream of traffic heading off Emirates Road to join the meandering dusty drive that leads to The Villa's arresting - yet slight incongruous - Spanish-style main entrance.
• More UAE communities in the words of those who live there at Neighbourhoods
So keen were the developers to evoke the spirit of Alhambra at The Villa that they saw fit to build a mission-style bell tower, which, given the almost unnerving quiet and tranquility of this 327-hectare site, simply adds to the Hotel California-style ambience of it all.
"It was a lot quieter than this even when we moved in last summer," says Janine Woodward, an early resident. "We were one of a couple of families within our little clutch of villas and there were a lot of snagging and maintenance issues. We did wonder if we'd made a terrible mistake moving so far out."
It was also a surprise to many investors who bought back in the heady days of the Dubai property boom in 2005 to find out quite how "far out" The Villa development was eventually located.
"It was supposed to be nearer Global Village than this," grumbles one owner who never intended to live in his five-bedroom villa. However, the crash of 2008 put paid to the massive premiums that many early investors had hoped to make by flipping their still off-plan properties, which rejoice in such glamorous-sounding names as Granada, Mallorca and Cordoba. "We had been promised a raft of facilities - shopping, pools, leisure clubs. But although I see the spare ground reserved for them, there's not much in the way of building going on yet, except for the villas themselves, of course."
It's no wonder that all phases of The Villas are taking so long to finish. The Plateresque-style architecture, with marvellously whimsical turrets, towers and courtyards complete with burbling fountains, is a far cry from the neat rows of monotonously uniform houses in similar new Dubai neighbourhoods. Several hundred plots have also been earmarked for private builds, and it's already apparent that owners are desperately trying to outdo the developers (private bullring, anyone?)
Despite the lack of facilities, the seriously off-the-beaten-track location and the fact that these phase-one residents are still in the middle of an enormous construction site (although rows of Narnia-style street lanterns line the endless empty and half-built plots), there's no denying that The Villa offers bang for the buck. Five-bedroom homes that were being marketed for more than Dh7 million two years ago now cost a fraction of the price - and for those undaunted by the thought of driving several kilometres for basic groceries, renting is one of the best values in the emirate.
"We moved here from The Lakes, which, although it was near to the busier parts of Dubai, was still a 20-minute drive from my children's school," says Woodward. "We are paying far less for a home that is almost double the size and just beautiful. Despite our early reservations we love it here."
Given the slightly pioneering spirit of these early settlers at The Villa, in the absence of any physical communal place to meet, they have set up a virtual "community centre" offering support, advice and invitations for events such as coffee mornings, playgroups and general get-togethers.
"It also gives us an opportunity for a bit of an anonymous rant - not something you get to do in an old established neighbourhood," notes one resident, a mother of three who has lived in her Cordoba villa since October. "For instance, someone was recently complaining that their next-door neighbour had slaughtered several goats in their driveway, which caused a bit of a furore, especially because there were children playing nearby."
Among the residents who rent, in their lavishly lawned cul-de-sacs and crescents (nothing as mundane as a mere road at The Villa), there's the feeling they're in on a bit of a Dubai secret. The obvious advantages of a neighbourhood that for once marries luxury with value for money may well dissipate once those much-promised community amenities materialise. In the meantime, however, there's always mañana to enjoy.
What residents say
Nadia Naboodah, UK
We find it very convenient here despite it seeming so far off the beaten track. I can be in either Mall of the Emirates or Mirdif City Centre in 20 minutes. The community is lovely and very friendly once you get to know people who arrange social activities. We have made a lot of new friends.
Karine Lecointe, France
I moved from an apartment on The Palm to a five-bedroom villa last year. I did feel a little isolated at first, but our area has just begun to fill up with families, which is nice for my two girls. It is a car journey anywhere, but I think that is the same in a lot of developments in Dubai.
The Villas: The Facts
A four-bedroom Al Mazaya villa rents from Dh125,000 per annum. Similar villas sell from Dh1.8million. A six-bedroom Mallorca-style home rents for Dh310,000 per annum and sells for Dh5.1m
The neighbourhood master plan includes a school but until that is built the nearest schools are Jess Secondary School in Arabian Ranches, Repton Dubai or Bradenton Prep at Dubai Sports City. A Gems Wellington School will open in nearby Dubai Silicon Oasis in September.
Ordered taxis arrive within minutes from the nearby rank at Arabian Ranches. There is no public transport to the neighbourhood.
The closest is Arabian Ranches Medical Centre. There is also a Medi-Clinic in Motor City and a 24-hour emergency room at the Rosary Clinic in The Springs.
A retail centre is planned but looks unlikely to be completed within the next 12-18 months. Spinneys stores are located at Motor City and Silicon Oasis. Le Marche Centre at Arabian Ranches has pet shops, beauty salons and fast food restaurants. Le Succes French Bakery at Motor City delivers orders more than Dh50.