A far cry from Dubai ’s archetypal macho towers competing to scrape the sky, One&Only The Palm is a sprawling low-rise island-style retreat. Ninety sandstone villas and mansions flutter their eyelids behind a swathe of golden sand, and the landscape throughout the resort is surprisingly green. A tangle of shaded paths lined with frangipani, lemon and tangerine trees, and avenues of tall palms give the place an atmosphere of a smart Arabian country club, and at night, when Dubai’s spectacular skyline is illuminated, the wow factor really ramps up.
A 45-minute drive from the airport, One&Only The Palm is located on the furthest-reaching frond of Dubai’s man-made ‘Palm’. That gives it a gloriously isolated feel, even if driving up the entire 'trunk' of the palm to then turn down the long arc towards the property makes for an unexpectedly long drive. For a change of scenery without heading into town, there’s a free shuttle-boat that zips back and forth across the bay to The Palm’s sister resort, One&Only Royal Mirage, eight minutes away, where a younger buzzy crowd sip martinis with their feet in the sand.
Architecturally, the hotel is splendidly grand. Communal spaces are vast, airy and impeccably symmetrical, sprinkled with flashes of fuchsia hydrangeas. Moorish arches, ornate plasterwork, dark wood latticework and twinkling brass lanterns showcase impressive craftsmanship. At the heart of the hotel lies a magnificent 45m pool flagged by neatly clipped date palms and air-conditioned cabanas featuring bathrooms, minibars and flatscreen TVs. As bling as it sounds, there’s nothing uber-trendy about this hotel. Rooms are grown-up and homely with swirly carpets, plush sofas and splashes of copper and topaz. Villas on the ground floor are particularly luxurious, benefitting from leafy patios with gazebos and back gates leading directly to the beach.
Though it all looks beautiful, keen swimmers might be put off by the water which - although great for kayaking and paddle-boarding - isn’t crystal-clear. Parents should be aware, too, that there's no separate kids' pool.
Facilities in the spa 9/10
In contrast to the proportions of the hotel, which almost mimic Vegas hotels in terms of scale, The Palm’s temple-like spa is relatively intimate. Spa-goers are greeted by white orchids, trickling fountains and pebbled walkways leading to nine treatment rooms, and sauna and steam facilities are found within a Moroccan-style cloistered courtyard. There’s also a Bastien Gonzalez nail studio, hairdressing salon, gym and tennis court. Post-treatment, there’s a good-sized adults-only outdoor pool and a small air-conditioned relaxation room with just two daybeds.
The treatments 8/10
Following a collaboration with the French skincare supremo in December 2015, all treatments are by Guerlain. Designed to soothe tired souls, the spa menu reads like an iTunes playlist: ‘Dubai Harmony’, ‘Solar Evasion’ and ‘Desert d’Orient’ were created exclusively for guests of One&Only The Palm and involve lavish milk scrubs, body wraps, hot and cold presses and scented massage oils. Ask for Avish, one of the male therapists who has excellent massage skills and looks like a Middle Eastern George Clooney.
Thanks to the spa’s association with celebrity podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez (relied on by supermodels the world over, Naomi Campbell included, for keeping their toes catwalk-ready), there isn’t a more comprehensive mani/pedi to be had in Dubai. Be warned, it’s quite a medical procedure with rigorous attention to dead skin removal, but it does include pampering touches such as a black diamond scrub and calming massage with white tea balm.
To round things off, there’s an extensive Guerlain make-up counter in the spa’s lobby stocked with shimmering powders, pearlescent lipsticks and SPF 30 foundation to ensure patrons of the spa emerge looking their best.
Food & Drink 8/10
It’s impossible to fault the food and drink. Each of the hotel’s three restaurants is overseen by Yannick Alleno, and there’s plenty of variety. Michelin-starred STAY by Yannick Alleno is the most upscale of the offerings, delivering foam, frills and fun spins on Mediterranean fare – an asparagus menu for starters – within a dark, elegant space with a heaving black-crystal chandelier.
In contrast, ZEST is delightfully light, airy and leafy with tables spread across one of the prettiest terraces in the city. Strewn with mossy terracotta pots, ancient olive trees and peppermint-green tiles, it offers a selection of excellent Middle Eastern mezze at lunchtime as well as traditional French and Italian dishes. After dark, the lobster cannelloni is a must.
Anyone averse to loud music might want to avoid 101, The Palm’s cocktail lounge jutting out over the hotel’s mini-marina. This journalist found the service less than speedy and couldn’t help feeling the bar was facing entirely the wrong way (away from Dubai’s majestic skyline).
Value for money 5/10
The rate for a Palm Manor House Premier room starts from $600 (£490) in low season rising to $2,000 (£1,630) in high season. Facials start from 685AED (approximately £150) and massages start from 640AED (approximately £140).
One&Only The Palm, West Crescent, Palm Dubai, UAE (+971 4 440 10 10)
Virgin Holidays Wonderlist offers four nights half-board at One&Only The Palm in a Palm Manor House premier room from £1,046 per person. Price is valid for departures on selected dates in 2017 and includes return Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow to Dubai and private car transfers.