Phrases like economic boom and world's tallest skyscraper help draw millions of visitors to Dubai each year. But for many seasoned travelers, they make a trip to the city-state sound as alluring as a holiday in Hell. Dubai's breathless p.r. machine neglects to mention the construction din, monstrous traffic jams, and overpriced chain hotels that blast synthetic music by the pool.
There is, however, an oasis of calm amid all the chaos: the Maison d'Hôtes Dubai hotel. Forget aqua-aerobics, 24 hour bars and tennis on the roof (for that you'll need to go to the Burj Al-Arab). Instead, the Maison comprises just three villas grouped around a garden with palm trees, two swimming pools and an outdoor restaurant serving fine French food thanks largely to the two French women who opened the hotel in 2006.
From the Maison's convenient position on a quiet residential street three blocks from Jumeira Beach, you can stroll down to the sand at sunset and dive into the cool Gulf waters, evoking the Dubai of a generation ago when it was a fishing backwater, not the rich beneficiary of our oil addiction. In a conscious snub to Dubai's megahotels, the Maison has only a tiny signpost outside. The 22 rooms don't even have numbers; each is named for a city in South Asia or the Middle East and decorated with furniture collected on the managers' travels around those regions.
My week in the Damas (Damascus) room was a lot more serene than any stay in the real Syrian capital, with a king-size canopy bed and a stone balcony shaded by a huge tree in which birds chirped all day. From the Maison's front gate you can see the near-completed Burj Dubai with its 166 stories still the world's tallest tower. But that seems a universe away when you're indulging in Dubai's rarest luxury: peace and quiet. www.lamaisondhotesdubai.com