For mega malls, phenomenal food and cat cafes
Taipei is the city where you can grab yourself a bag of ‘Almond Strips & Fish’ (or any number of other random snacks) and wander the streets marvelling at mega malls, curiosity shops, skyscrapers, street markets and the scent of stinky tofu – a local delicacy tourists can rarely stand near, let alone taste. With wonky wooden tea houses and Guinness World Record-breaking elevators sharing a postcode in this colourful capital, it’s a kaleidoscopic collision of tradition and technology that’s full of surprises (like the toilets fitted with water jets and air driers!). Here are five must-tries during your stay…
This is where you’ll find those Guinness World Record-breaking high-speed pressurised elevators. Part mall, part gallery, part dining emporium, with an observatory crowning this glorious Gotham City-style landmark, Taipei 101 is usually every tourist’s first stop – and rightly so. The 360-degree views are an awesome way to get your bearings in this sprawling capital. After you’ve taken in the panorama, you can shop at the many floors of stores below or enjoy one of Taiwan’s most authentic and elegant dinners at Shin Yeh, where booking is essential and every course is a lesson in local cuisine. You’ll come away knowing your fish maw from your sea cucumber, if you’re brave enough. INFO: taipei-101.com.tw/en
Love a Good Cuppa?
Try learning the traditional art of Taiwanese tea-making while sampling local brews in Wistaria Tea House. INFO: wistariateahouse.com
Miniatures Museum of Taiwan
In a country full of oddities, it’s hard to know which to gawp at first, but the Miniatures Museum is a good place to start. At first it seems like a dollhouse shop (and it sells enough dollhouse accessories to keep a high-maintenance Barbie happy), but look closer and you’ll see the manifestation of an obsession with collecting artisan miniatures that’s mind-blowing. There are historical to-scale reproductions of all kinds of buildings, from an English Tudor public house to American colonial mansions, and a replica Buckingham Palace, complete with chandeliers fitted with 40 rice-grain-sized lightbulbs 1/12th of the scale of those you’d find in the real British monarch’s pad. INFO: mmot.com.tw/en
Din Tai Fung
Ask any decent Taipei hotel doormen for advice on where to dine, and he’ll direct you to Din Tai Fung. Born in Taipei, this budget dumpling shop is now a world-famous chain with branches stretching from Asia to the USA – there’s even an outpost in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates – but nowhere do these delightfully soupy parcels of meat in stock taste as good as in their homeland. The ever-present queues are testament to this, but a meal here is worth the wait, and at many branches you can pass the time watching the chefs creating their prized products through windows overlooking open-kitchens. INFO: dintaifung.com.tw/en
Taipei lays claim to opening the world’s first cat café, now called Café & Cats 1998 in recognition of its inaugral year (129 Fuhua Rd, Shilin, +886 2 2835 3335). Today there are said to be around 50 in the capital. They operate as rescue homes, giving strays a safe haven and love, while filling a need in a city where many landlords don’t allow pets on their premises. Ask your concierge to write down the name and address of your nearest good cat cafe in Mandarin, and then pass the note to a cab driver. Sipping a steaming hot catuccino from a mug with ears while stroking a feline friend is the perfect antidote to a hectic day in Taipei.
WHERE TO STAY:
Mandarin Oriental, Taipei
Mandarin Oriental properties are ranked among the world’s leading hotels, so you know you’re going to get A-list luxury here, but that won’t stop you gasping as you walk into the lobby – the ballroom-like proportions and expanse of glistening marble will amaze even the most jaded five-star travellers. The suites are equally “OMG!” with deluxe details, from the we-so-want-that dragonfly wallpaper and glam Art Deco fixtures to the walk-in wardrobes and Diptyque toiletries – even the complimentary tea is by posh premium brand, Cha Cha Thé, so be sure to keep those little pinkies in the air!
When it comes to booking an Eid family feast you have the option of Italian Bencotto and French-Asian Café Un Deux Trois – both stunning – but Ya Ge is the place to experience Cantonese cuisine fit for an emperor. The signature roast duck and chicken dishes attract discerning locals, and the desserts are as picturesque as they are delicious.
If you want to celebrate your Eid escape with a gift for each other, try The Mandarin Cake Shop for multi-coloured confections that look like cartoon animations, or invest in some vouchers at the two-storey spa. This is where Taipei’s jet-set unwind with Clarins beauty treatments, Oriental-style therapies and insanely decadent ‘journeys’ such as the Royal Sturgeon, which involves being slathered in caviar!
INFO: Rooms costs from Dhs1,1315 per night; the Discover Taipei package, valid until 30 Dec 2016, includes Deluxe Room and daily breakfasts for two at Café Un Deux Trois from TWD10,800 plus 15.5 per cent service charge and government tax; Mandarin Oriental Taipei, 158 Dunhua North Road, Taipei 10548, Taiwan, +886 2 2715 6888, email@example.com, mandarinoriental.com
FLIGHT TIME: 9hrs 30mins
TIME DIFFERENCE: Taiwan 4hrs ahead of UAE
CURRENCY: TWD (Taiwanese New Dollar), 1TND = Dhs0.11
For culture, theatre and celeb-spotting
London is known as the Capital of Cool and it’s a magnet for celebrities. Hover around the right hotspots and you’ll get your selfie with a star. It’s also a top shopping destination and a cultural treasure trove, with 240 museums to New York’s 83, and twice as many bookshops! Here are some experiences not to be missed…
Try to get a table at this celeb hotspot, which continues to draw stars such as David Beckham, Tom Cruise and Rita Ora. INFO: chilternfirehouse.com
The West End
London’s ‘Theatreland’ is the place to see your fave celebs live on stage. Currently treading the boards is Game of Thrones ’ Kit Harrington in Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York’s Theatre and Downtown Abbey’s Lily James in Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick. INFO: lovetheatre.com
NY-LON, the lounge by Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines, honours the duo’s New York-London route with a quirky space inspired by a super-chic aircraft. It’s another A-list hotspot, being near The O2 concert arena, where, over the Eid break, Lionel Richie will take to the stage 2 to 6 July and Marc Anthony will follow on 10 July. With a huge bar that serves kitsch aviation-inspired tipples, and a menu of US and British cuisine, it’s one of London’s more interesting theme bars. INFO: ny-lon.london.com
WHERE TO STAY:
Café Royal has been sensitively restored and reopened in the heart of London – a phrase bandied about but never as bang on the money as this hotel is with its impressive location. This exceptional building presides over Regent Street, the capital’s most prestigious shopping avenue, with exclusive Mayfair to the west, creative Soho to the east, and Theatreland and many major museums to the south – all within a brief and beautiful walk away, so no need to battle the city’s awful traffic!
Inside is a haven for history buffs. The Oscar Wilde lounge flourishes with Louis XVI detailing; the Ten Room pays homage to British cuisine delicately presented in sturdy leather-clad surroundings; the Domino is all about old-school high-society. And the cherry on the cake? This hotel boasts London’s first dessert restaurant called Dessert Restaurant by Sarah Barber – the concept is obviously so new they had to be very clear with the name.
INFO: Rooms cost from Dhs2,045, Regent Street, London, +44 (0)20 7406 3333, hotelcaferoyal.com
FLIGHT TIME: 7hrs 30mins
TIME DIFFERENCE: 3hrs behind the UAE
CURRENCY: £1 = Dhs5.37
TOURIST INFO: visitlondon.com
For all-out exotic luxury
Ready to blow the budget? Despite the Seychelles being fewer than five hours away from the UAE, flight providers are limited and ticket costs are extremely high. As a result most UAE residents head to the Maldives, with affordable flights from FlyDubai, but it would be a shame to miss out on seeing the Seychelles at least once. Could Eid be the special occasion you’ve been waiting for?
Like the Maldives, the Seychelles is made up of a cluster of islands, but while Maldivian islands tend to accommodate individual resorts leaving you waterlocked, the three main islands of the Seychelles (Mahé, Praislin and La Digue) hold multiple resorts and attractions, allowing you more freedom to roam. Here are some attractions to spy along the way…
Vallée de Mai
Praslin and Curieuse are the only places in the world where you can see Coco de Mer palms growing. Their huge seeds, seen as a symbol of femininity, are protected, but a limited number are sold as souvenirs through specialist dealers (buyers must purchase and produce an export licence to take them out of the country). See them at Vallée de Mai. INFO: www.sif.sc
Hop on a ferry and take a day trip to Curieuse Island. Originally used as a leper colony, in 1979 its waters were declared a Marine National Park to preserve native wildlife and today it’s home to 500 friendly Aldabra giant tortoise that lay their eggs in front of the old Doctor’s House – a remnant of the colony that’s been turned into a museum narrating the island’s story. INFO: seychelles-info.com
WHERE TO STAY:
The Savoy Resort & Spa
Lying on the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the Savoy Resort & Spa is an indulgent five-star retreat, open since 2014. There are 163 spacious rooms, including nine swanky Savoy suites, all surrounded by views of the lush resort gardens, backed by either a mountainous landscape or azure blue waters. There’s an all-day dining restaurant, The Grand Savoy, and a buffet restaurant, The Island Trader, and specialty restaurants Pescado (seafood) and Mahek (Indian). Beachside Gecko Bar is the place to catch some of the island’s best musicians. Poolside Ocean Deck Pub, popular with locals and travellers alike, also offers live music, plus pre-dinner sundowners and draft drinks.
The 5,800sq m Savoy Spa will ease you into island life with the Seychelles’ largest swimming pool, featuring a cascading waterfall and a hydro-massage pool. The resort also offers the Seychelles’ only Russian Banya, a traditional Russian steam bath, and treatments using local ingredients like potassium-rich coconut cream made with a fresh cocktail of Coco de Mer and seasonal tropical local fruits used in the spa’s special wrap therapy.
INFO: Rooms start at Dhs850 per night. Currently guests can avail 15 per cent off all food, beverage and spa bills until 31 Aug; Savoy Resort & Spa, Mahe, Seychelles, + 248 439 2000, firstname.lastname@example.org, savoy.sc
FLIGHT TIME: 4.5hrs
TIME DIFFERENCE: None
CURRENCY: 10SCR (Seychelles Rupee) = Dhs2.6
For water sports or complete relaxation
If you’ve entertained fantasies about being marooned on a desert island, the Maldives is the Eid escape for you. Hundreds of the islands that make up the Maldives have been converted into resorts, and each one offers a heady mix of water sports, fine food, endless ocean and deluxe spa treatments. Beyond lounging like the local lizards and lazily reading the latest blockbusters, here’s how we recommend you while away your quality time.
At all Maldivian resorts, the surrounding waters form a playground for holidaymakers. Diving, snorkelling, jet-skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing and even kneeboarding are all on offer, so take your pick! Our fave is parasailing, where you’re strapped into a parachute and then take off from (and later land back on) the deck of a boat out at sea. Heights of around 60m are achieved and being airborne above the ocean in nothing but a little harness is surreal.
Plan a spa schedule during your stay. The typical five-star Maldivian resort spa offers more than just massage – you’ll find everything from body-toning programmes to courses of skin-clearing facials, so consult a therapist on day one and begin your transformation.
WHERE TO STAY:
Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa
Besides Feast, an open-air buffet spot serving breakfast and dinner, the Sheraton Maldives has three fine-dining restaurants, open on rotation for dinner. Baan Thai is the place to get your green curry. Sand Coast serves up Maldivian, Sri Lankan and Chinese cuisine alongside a ‘fitness menu’ for those on a detox, and a ‘fashion menu’, from which we recommend the very tasty local yellow fin tuna tartar with wakame and avocado salad, topped with a generous dollop of salmon roe. Sea Salt serves amouse bouche, fish fresh from the tank and four rock salt varieties with every meal (red, pink, black and rosemary-infused). The large $65 catch of the day easily serves two, and there’s a proposal-worthy table on its own pier – book in advance to nab it.
Don’t fret if you overindulge at dinner, you can make up for it in the spacious, air-conditioned gym, equipped with free weights and weights machines, cross-trainers, treadmills, a rowing machine and mats. On-site Shine Spa should be your next port of call, to help ease those muscles with the 90-minute Asian Journey combining Thai and Balinese massage techniques to winning effect.
Be sure to book an Ocean Villa, named for its sea view, which comes with a private pool, sun loungers and hammock, plus indoor and outdoor bathroom suites. This is postcard- perfection on the Indian Ocean!
INFO: Prices start at $375 for a Deluxe Room per night (Ocean Villas cost from $900), Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, Furanafushi Island, North Male Atoll, Maldives, +960 664-2010, sheratonmaldives.com
FLIGHT TIME: 4hrs
TIME DIFFERENCE: The Maldives is 1hr ahead of UAE
CURRENCY: Rufiyaa (US dollars mainly used by tourists); $1 = Dhs3.67
For a flight-free escape that feels a million miles away
If you can’t bothered with the hassle of flying, you’re living in the right place. The majority of UAE residents may reside in Dubai or Abu Dhabi for work, but we’re surrounded by laidback ‘holiday emirates’ that the rest of world travels for miles to visit. Within an hour or two we can be in Fujairah, famed for its ancient fjords, spectacular dive sites, palm groves, picturesque waterfalls and hot springs. What are you waiting for? Get in your car and go explore. Here is some sightseeing inspo…
Some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving sites in the country are found offshore in Fujairah, so hit the beach while you’re here and don’t forget your flippers! It’s not uncommon to see harmless black-tipped reef sharks, turtles, whale sharks, rays, seahorses, clown fish and barracuda.
Fujairah Fort, the oldest in the UAE, dates back to 1670 and has previously served as both a defensive building and a home for the ruling family. Restored to its former glory, it has three major sections, several halls and three towers, and the surrounding area is now part of a Heritage Village featuring old houses and displays that bring the past to life. INFO: fujairahtourism.ae
This emirate’s local-history museum gathers a mix of weapons, costumes, Bedouin jewellery and other archaeological finds to give you a taste of the region’s history. INFO: 09 222 9085
WHERE TO STAY:
Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort
Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort sits on a 230m-stretch of unspoiled golden beach, nestled between the majestic Hajar Mountains and the Indian Ocean, just a 90-minute drive from Dubai. There are nine food and drink venues, including Taste, a top-notch Thai restaurant, and open-air Gonu, set on the beach, serving gorgeous grills straight from the sea for the ultimate holiday vibe.
There’s a Penguin Club for little ones, and a teens’ club, with enough to keep all kids enterained (Wii, mini golf, cinema, pool tables and more), and as many water sports as you’d find in the Maldives, including banana boat rides, doughnut rides, waterskiing, boat cruises, fishing charters and snorkelling trips.
Spa Al Aqah offers everything from Ayurveda to aromatherapy with treatments originating from China, India, Bali and Europe, while the health club includes a fully equipped gym and floodlit tennis and squash courts, plus a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi.
The hotel can also arrange excursions, whether you fancy biking or hiking in the Hajar Mountains, exploring heritage sites or having dinner in the desert in a traditional Bedouin tent.
INFO: Rooms cost from Dhs1,500, Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Dibba Road, Al Aqah, Fujairah, 09 244 9000, lemeridien-alaqah.com