A Dubai resort with that holiday feeling: next to the Jebel Ali Free Zone lies a green seaside oasis, writes Rosemary Behan.
Hotel Insider: Palm Tree Court & Spa
The hotel is well-signposted from exit 13 on the Sheikh Zayed Road heading towards Dubai, so even though it looks like we're heading into an industrial zone, we're not worried about making a wrong turn. Palm Tree Court & Spa is part of the larger Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, which sits in extensive landscaped grounds, so we're enveloped in a relaxing sub-tropical environment before getting out of our car. The hotel also has its own separate entrance and grounds, so we drop the car with the valet outside the Asian-style reception pavilion and check in. From there, our bags are loaded onto a buggy and we're taken directly to our rooms in one of the resort's six three-storey blocks just behind the beach.
The resort is next to the Jebel Ali Free Zone, a 40-minute drive from Dubai and about an hour from Abu Dhabi. There's not much in the immediate surrounding area, but that's part of the charm - I felt relieved to be away from the traffic, restaurants and crowds of Dubai and enjoyed the completely self-contained feel of the place.
The Palm Tree Court part of the hotel complex is pleasantly landscaped with gardens, waterfalls and streams, and shares an 800m beachfront with the Jebel Ali Hotel. Guests from both properties are able to book the nine-hole, par 36 golf course and tennis, badminton and soccer courts. There is also a marina, a paddock with riding stables, a gym, spa, three swimming pools and various watersports. Jebel Ali International Shooting Club is five minutes' drive away.
The room and restaurant staff all seemed extremely friendly, genuine and helpful. I waited about 20 minutes for a buggy to take my luggage to reception on check-out, however, and when I was presented with my bill I found that I had been charged for another guest's massage. This took around 10 minutes to sort out, which was longer than I would have wanted to wait. I had to request bottled water for the room, which I would have expected to have been present beforehand.
Palm Tree Court & Spa has 134 rooms, which are called suites but are in fact large bedrooms (a minimum of 54 sq m). Ours was on the ground floor, faced the sea and had a large bed, sliding doors to an outdoor terrace with peacocks strutting on the lawn outside, and a large, luxurious bathroom. The rooms have recently been refurbished and feel spacious and private. There are tea and coffee making facilities and a CD/DVD player; I liked the fact that they were simple and without elaborate lighting systems; the rooms were quiet and the air-conditioning was effective.
A mellow mix of European holidaymakers and local families and couples. We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and water-skied before dinner in the hotel's Asian restaurant; the next morning after breakfast we rented a catamaran (both great value at Dh120 per hour) and then had a barbecue seafood lunch. By the time we checked out it felt like we'd spent two nights there, although the restaurants and Jebel Ali Hotel had become markedly more crowded by Friday.
The property shares 15 restaurants with the Jebel Ali Hotel, including several pleasant beach bars and cafes under numerous palm trees. We tried the White Orchid Asian restaurant, which offers an excellent selection of sushi and dim sum, seafood, tofu and meat dishes. The tom kha kai (Dh48) was full-bodied and spicy, the roasted duck curry (Dh105) rich and lean. La Fontana offers buffet breakfasts, lunches and themed dinners. The breakfast was a fresh and thoughtful array of practically anything you would want, from Japanese to a full English. The Friday barbecue brunch was also of a good standard, offering excellent chicken tikka, grilled fish and lamb, along with salads and the usual buffet offerings of pizza, pasta and roasted meats (Dh325 for adults).
The beach (bigger and better than most offered by hotels in Dubai), the spacious spa with an attractive steam room, jacuzzi and sauna great before a massage (good value at Dh295 for an hour); the air and the smell of the sea.
Our waterskiing took place on a stretch of water close to the hotel, overlooking stalled building work on The Palm Jebel Ali, which wasn't very scenic. Check-out took too long and I shouldn't have had to ask for bottled water.
A very pleasant weekend getaway which makes you feel you've been away without leaving the UAE.
The bottom line
Double rooms at Palm Tree Court & Spa, Dubai, (www.jebelali-international.com; 04 814 5555) cost from Dh1,800 per night, including breakfast and taxes. Until December 31, book a minimum of three nights and get a free all-inclusive upgrade.