Anyone who has ever had to travel for work knows, deeply and personally, how important a hotel room can be.
For me, while I spent eight nights and nine days at this year’s Dubai International Film Festival, the Mina A’Salam hotel, in Madinat Jumeirah provided a home away from home, the perfect place to get away from it all and write, not to mention my very own soft place to fall. All rolled up into the perfectly glamorous package of a luxury 5-star plus hotel.
It may be enough to say that a part of me felt sad to let go of my cozy, beachfront facing room each morning, on my way to a gourmet buffet breakfast, followed by interviews with celebrities and I was joyous to finally return to my abode, at the end of a screening or a late night spent at yet another glitzy DIFF party.
There is definitely something to be said about the collaboration between DIFF and the Jumeirah properties which house both the festival and its guests — from media, to filmmakers and all the celebrities you dare to think of. The festival’s infamous red carpets take place within the Madinat Jumeirah, which translates from the Arabic literally as the “City of Jumeirah”. Sprawling over a 2 kilometer long beautiful private beachfront property and including its own Souk, four hotels as well as the adjoining Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the landmark, multi-starred Burj Al Arab, with its own helipad, Madinat Jumeirah is exactly what the magic of the movies needs, even after the films have ended and it’s time to walk out of the theater.
What makes it all so special at Madinat Jumeirah? Well, there are the 3 kilometers of canal waterways that can be travelled by abra, modeled after a traditional Emirati boat still used today on the iconic Dubai Creek to carry goods to other Gulf countries. Or maybe it’s the four stunning properties which guests can choose from, whether they decide to spend their time in Dubai at a palatial property, or maybe at a traditional Arabic lodging, inside a beachfront villa with its own private pool or even at a more contemporary place like the newest addition to the Jumeirah family, Al Naseem (which translates to “Sea Breeze”). Or perhaps the natural beauty of Medinat Jumeirah, including its own working turtle shelter, the sea views, the lush green surroundings and the sleek white sands provide the exceptional deciding factor.
For me, it’s a combination of all, with a few gourmet food joints thrown in like Il Borro by Salvatore Ferragamo at Al Naseem, the best Tuscan eatery outside of Tuscany, and even in Florence probably the most delicious meal I’ve ever had.
But things are best told from the beginning and here is a short video of what it is like to travel to breakfast each morning from my hotel, the Mina A’Salam (its name translates to “harbor of peace” and the Mina is the oldest of the properties inside the Madinat complex) to the Pai Thai restaurant, which is where the festival treats its guests to their first daily meal.
Once back from breakfast, I could retire to my spacious room and write my daily fare, or choose to work out at the nearby Talise spa gym, just steps away from my hotel’s lobby. Each Jumeirah hotel has its own Talise spa and they are a thing of beauty. Actually, on my next visit I’m scheduling myself in for a massage and a yoga session. I hear they are both otherworldly experiences and I definitely work too hard while at DIFF.
Most of the morning press screenings are also held inside the Madinat Jumeirah, which means a quick jump over to the Arena for Rob Reiner’s ‘Shock and Awe’ or a walk through the bustling Souk to reach the Madinat Amphitheater for the screening of the Swedish Oscar shortlist entry ‘The Square’ starring sultry Danish actor and musician Claes Bang. If you wonder where all these celebrities stayed, well, they were also hosted on site in one of these magnificent hotels. In fact, I met Egyptian superstar Bushra on the terrace of the Al Qasr (from the Arabic for “the Palace”) hotel for a scrumptious hot chocolate one afternoon, and it turned out to be a most unforgettable moment.
Junkets are usually held inside one of the hotel bars which are shut during the day and can house the large press delegation which descends on DIFF each year. Lunches are in the Souk, also buffet style and the Fort — a recently renovated area at the heart of the Madinat Jumeirah — traditionally houses the opening night event, which allows for a seamless transition from the Arena cinema to the after party. Truly magical and for me, staying just a short staircase away from it all means unlimited fun and non-existent blisters. Compare that to Cannes, where my feet look like they’ve been though a battleground by the festival’s end, and you understand my delight.
On a slightly more quiet day, I decided to tour the adjacent Al Naseem property and discovered this incredible creature (pictured above) in the waters of their turtle sanctuary.
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) employs a team of seven to save and rehabilitate injured turtles found in the waters of the UAE. From its establishment in 2004, more than 1,000 turtles have been returned to the sea, thanks to this beautiful and important program and I witnessed first hand some of the current “guests” of the DTRP. Magnificent creatures which will definitely outlast us on this earth, it’s nice to see a deluxe property give back to the sea which makes it all so perfect.
Inside the Al Naseem I also discovered some UAE cultural heritage, in the abayas worn by the women in their staff, a collection designed by Slouchy’Z, within the Arabic-spiced chocolates by Mirzam and last, but not least, in the artwork featured in the lobby, at the entrance and around the property, by Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej.
In fact, Bin Lahej was commissioned to create the centerpiece artwork for the check in at Al Naseem, a stainless steel sculpture featuring a poem written in Arabic calligraphy by Dubai’s ruler H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The first line of the poem reads: “Our civilization is not valued by cement, words, actions and achievements, but measured and valued by our thoughts, our strategy and our minds.”
All in all, I can’t imagine a Dubai International Film Festival without Madinat Jumeirah and I think all who visit here probably feel the same way. To me, it’s the Feng Shui of film, fashion and fun all rolled into one.