Travel

This Luxurious Arabian City Is Basically a Mini Dune

With scenes from the movie filmed nearby.

owngarden/Moment/Getty Images
owngarden/Moment/Getty Images
owngarden/Moment/Getty Images

If Dubai makes you think of shopping malls and baking hot beaches, it’s time to think again. Post-lockdown there is a bold, new city rising from the desert sands. With a new futuristic museum that’s almost more spacey-theme-park than cold-artifact-tomb, you can bet Dubai is looking to tomorrow. It’s really no wonder why scenes from the movie Dune were filmed nearby-you can similarly expect a stunning arid setting with futuristic technology. In other words, welcome to Arakis.

Be dazzled by the sleek metallic skyline sparkling in the desert sun, revealing rooftop swimming pools and terrace bars abuzz with shisha and cocktails. Surrounding the city are the rolling white sands of the Arabian desert, where visitors can surf the actual dunes, ride camels Lawrence-of-Arabia-style, and enjoy decadent dinners as the flaming red sun sets on the far-reaching horizon.

The thriving, forward-thinking hub of art and science also balances a respect for tradition-especially in the steamy food wafting with spices. Flakey falafel, overflowing mezze platters, and the gooiest of baklava tempt strollers down winding side streets on food tours through the old city. You’ll also find an artsy neighborhood, plus surprising spots to scuba dive and ski (really) in these arid lands. From action packed adventure to the city’s famous glamour, here’s what you should check out in Dubai.

KARIM SAHIB /Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
KARIM SAHIB /Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
KARIM SAHIB /Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

Take a look into the future

Brand new and dubbed “the most beautiful building in Dubai” the Museum of the Future is a focus point for innovation and exploration. Part ride, part interactive exhibition, part platform for real global scientific research, visitors enter a Space Shuttle set in 2071 and “launch” into space ready to boldly go where none have gone before but humanity hypothetically will.

Journeying from Outer to Inner Space, the museum moves on to what it means to be human, with a floor dedicated to connecting to our five senses through several zen-inducing activities, such as communal gong baths. Finally, “Future Heroes” (under-10s) have a dedicated space to conduct their own experiments while parents sip a coffee from the robot-staffed café. Leave feeling all warm and fuzzy about possibilities and tittering from having the ground swept from under you.

25hours Hotel One Central
25hours Hotel One Central
25hours Hotel One Central

Spend 1,001 Arabian nights at a luxurious hotel

Just 20 minutes from the airport, the newly launched 25 Hour Hotel, One Central is a massive boutique hotel that manages to be both quirky and sexy. Taking inspiration from Arabian storyteller Hakawati, the striking ‘Fountain of Tales’ in the lobby is a beautiful place to sit, relax, and read one of the hotel’s 10,000 books. A hub for creative minds, there’s a coffee-adjacent co-working space (I recommend the cold brew by independent roastery Nightjar) as well as a pottery room and an artist’s studio. Playful slogans pepper the hotel from the neon “We Are All Nomads Here” at reception to your pillow’s entreaty of “Let’s Spend The Night Together.” Large glass showers sit daringly in the centre of the rooms, with curtains along the outside if you prefer. Swing in a chair hammock overlooking the central courtyard, head to the first mixed-gender sauna in the city, spin a vinyl on a vintage record player in the Analogue Circus, or borrow a polaroid camera to explore the city in one of their complimentary mini coopers.

Though not the cheapest of cities, for a more economical stay try the Rove City Walk. Offering many instagrammable corners, this well-appointed hotel is just a short stroll from Jumeirah beach. With a convenient–and rare–late check out at 2pm, plus super strong power rain showers, you’re bound to feel well rested no matter what you got up to the night before.

Frying Pan Adventures - Dubai
Frying Pan Adventures – Dubai
Frying Pan Adventures – Dubai

Eat abundant, assorted platters like a local

Take a break from all-you-can-eat brunches and head to Al Ustad for some truly tasty Persian food. Disarmingly low-key from outside, inside is filled with photos of Bollywood and Arabian stars who flock here just like the locals. Jars of pickled mangoes and pots of fresh tzatziki jostle for space as dishes of creamy hummus and dates arrive with paper-thin flatbreads still tasting of the grill. A bargain by Dubai standards, a mixed grill of chicken and lamb with whole roasted tomatoes and falafel will set you back only around $5. Be sure not to miss the mushroom rice, served with pats of butter and tart red berries on top. As you and your extended stomach make your way out, the friendly staff press chewing gum and candies on you.

Combining North Indian cuisine with a British twist, vibrant Tandoor Tina at the 25hour Hotel serves up decadent bone marrow naan, tasty coconut negronis, and epic sharing platters of grilled meats, vegetables, and fragrant spices. Bring out your party dress, because come evening the Monkey Bar upstairs is the place to dance amid the palm fronds thanks to a rooftop DJ, or take a shisha to the terrace to watch the golden sunset.

Before you leave Dubai, make sure to take in the Old Town with a Frying Pan Food Tour. Founded by two sisters looking to preserve cultural food, stories, and the community they grew up in, this four hour tour combines storytelling, exploration, and a whole lot of food. With complimentary earphones allowing you to hear your guide no matter where you are, visitors venture off the overly crowded main avenues and weave their way through Dubai’s Old Town, trying Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Iraqi cuisine. Well-paced and at just under 2km with seated stops, the sisters go the extra mile providing hygiene kits with scented tissues and antibacterial wipes for bathroom breaks (this is ‘old Dubai’ after all) as well as fascinating facts and a few special treats along the way.

GIUSEPPE CACACE /Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
GIUSEPPE CACACE /Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
GIUSEPPE CACACE /Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

Tap into your creative side on Alserkal Avenue

The cultural core of Dubai houses independent coffee shops, galleries, vinyl stores, restaurants, and the first arthouse cinema in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). On weekends, Alserkal Avenue is full of friends grabbing brunch after spin classes or before taking in an art exhibition. As one of the few dog-friendly spaces in the city, you’ll also find outdoor screenings and fitness classes that welcome pets.

If you want to pick up a canvas and try your hand at painting, The Happy Studio is a bubbly place that caters for budding artists. Head to Cinema Akil for cult classics and independent films from across the world. Or enjoy a spiced cup of warm Chai served in sustainable terracotta pots from socially conscious Project Chaiwala, working to empower women in India.

GIUSEPPE CACACE/Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
GIUSEPPE CACACE/Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
GIUSEPPE CACACE/Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

Ski and scuba dive while you shop

A visit to Dubai really wouldn’t be complete without at least popping into one of their gigantic shopping malls. Not just a stop to buy the latest trainers, these emporiums of commerce contain everything from ice-skating rinks to real dinosaur skeletons. Take the opportunity to scuba-dive with sharks and “mermaids” in multi-levelled aquariums at the largest shopping mall in the world or hit the slopes for a ski. Test your nerve by skiing the Snow Bullet and getting up to 16 metres off the ground, then cuddle up with real, live penguins.

Nara Desert Escape
Nara Desert Escape
Nara Desert Escape

Ride away into a desert sunset

Sonara Camp is a unique, eco-friendly dining experience nestled amid the sand dunes of a Conservation Reserve in the Arabian Desert. Arrive at your shaded encampment for refreshments on low lying sofas and rugs strewn across the sand, then work up an appetite by riding a camel, playing volleyball, or trying your hand at falconry. You can also surf the dunes here-and maybe pretend like a giant worm is chasing you.

Visitors can opt to spend the night, but either way-as the sun sets and the fires are lit-make your way to the dining area to be entertained by dancers and fire-eaters while you enjoy a leisurely dinner under the stars.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Libby Brodie is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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