Little black book Dr KC Barker is an educational futurist as well as founder of The Spa Review, a website dedicated to promoting spa culture.
'Wellness comes from the inside'
Dr KC Barker is an educational futurist as well as founder of @email:www.thespareview.com, a website dedicated to promoting spa culture. She lives in Dubai.
I love spas where I can get outdoors, so places like Bab Al Shams (www.jumeirahbabalshams.com), which is in the desert near Dubai, is wonderful. I think it's important that spas reflect the culture they inhabit; there are plenty of Balinese spas here, although we are nowhere near Bali. The Amara spa at the Park Hyatt (@email:www.dubai.park.hyatt.com) has an amazing Moroccan-style decor, which is much more appropriate for the Middle East. It's also small enough to feel personal but spacious enough to be peaceful. My favourite treatment is the salt and pepper scrub, followed by a deep tissue massage and finally an outdoor shower. It's not overlooked by any other buildings and all you can hear are the birds; it's pretty close to paradise.
I think wellness comes from the inside out and Hilary Adele at Inner G Centre in Dubai (04 349 7997) has taught me to deal with stress by meditating and breathing. She has given me a great sense of serenity. I always take visitors to Cafe Bateel in Souk Al Manzil in Old Town Dubai. Everything on the menu has dates in it; I love dates - they're delicious and filling. My favourite dish is fresh fava and borlotti beans with wild wheat and Madjool dates. I also love all the old-style restaurants down at Bastikia, on the Creek. I love sitting outside and watching the local people going about their business. The restaurants there all serve deliciously fresh fish and I usually order lightly steamed or grilled hammour.
Shopping for me is more akin to "cultural research": I look much more than I buy. Souks are where it's at for me and the ones in Oman are the best. The roads that wind through the Hajar mountains to Niswah have a great variety and I buy all sorts of beautiful gem stones, such as amber and turquoise, as well as antique silver. They're great to take back to friends in Canada, where I'm from. The souk in Al Ain, next to the camel market, also sells these beautifully decorative containers for eye kohl, which I have started collecting.
Interior design is another of my passions and I'm always on the lookout for the next place to decorate. I like the nouveau Arabic look; Marina Gulf Trading (04 800 4360) has some great pieces and their fabrics are wonderful. I tend to use a lot of reproductions of old photos of the region, as well as beautiful Islamic art, which I get in Gallery One (@email:www.g-1.com) in Mall of the Emirates to enhance the place's Arabic heritage.
If I'm not working, I love to spend the morning browsing the travel adventure books in Magrudy's on Jumeirah Beach Road in Dubai (04 344 4193). I recently read Daughter of the Desert: The Remarkable Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell. She was a female Lawrence of Arabia, who lived among the Bedouins and learnt the language fluently, except she always travelled with a collapsible bath tub and all her linen, crystal and china.
A trip to the camel races in Al Ain is always entertaining. Sometimes I ask for a ride in the TV truck and you get a great view, flying alongside the race. People here are really keen to show foreigners things, so it's always worth asking. My husband and I have a motorcycle, which we love to take off in. A weekend in Mussandam is a great way to wind down. You can hire dhows for the day through Khasab Tours (@email:www.khasabtours.com). The scenery is spectacular and you can just flop off the boat into the water for some snorkelling. I was raised on the prairies of Canada, so I am just starting to develop an appreciation for water. We either camp on the beach or stay in a large, fairly basic villa. It's the opposite of a luxury hotel but it's an important cultural experience.
For a long weekend of culture, you can't beat Istanbul. Christmas is the best time to go; since they don't celebrate the festival, everything is open and it's business as usual. I could happily spend a day browsing in the souks, eating street food down by the Bosphorus and walking around the old town. The Four Seasons is the most chichi place to stay, but we love the Ibrahim Pasha hotel (@email:www.ibrahimpasha.com), which is an old family house that's been converted. It's right in the heart of the city and serves the best breakfast in the world: light, crusty bread, eggs, olives, fruit and feta cheese - it's so fresh and wholesome.