Al Seef Heritage Hotel, Dubai
With its revolutionary architecture and limitless ambition, it's easy to think the Dubai of old has been lost to the annals of history. However, the Al Seef Heritage Hotel proves that Dubai's past is still very much its present. The hotel, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, was actually only built in 2018 but its antiquated appearance is like taking a romantic stroll down memory lane. Found in the heart of historic Dubai Creek, Al Seef Heritage Hotel is built in the image of a traditional Emirati village, fitting right in with the sandstone architecture of the city's heritage quarter and encompassed by the wafts of the surrounding souk.
Step inside and it's walking into a Dubai period drama before the oil boom. Dressed in traditional decor, every element of the hotel is a glorious throwback to the past, with vintage luggage trolleys and rotary dial telephones just two time-frozen accessories you can expect to see. The traditionally styled rooms are spread across clusters of authentic Arabic-style houses, known as bayts, each one akin to staying at a local's house in 1950s Dubai. Even though futuristic Downtown Dubai isn't far away, the Al Seef Heritage Hotel and surrounding historic quarter certainly makes for a refreshing change to the glitterati aura the city has forged its reputation on. If you don't believe in time travel, you definitely will after you stay here.
Al Seef Heritage Hotel
A stay at Al Seef Heritage Hotel is living through a local's eyes in mid-20th century Dubai. Every one of the rooms has been faithfully recreated in the image of the traders' houses which one frequented the bustling Dubai Creek, while the colour palette used inside reflects your surroundings: the blues of the creek, the warm beiges of the sands and the greens of the Emirati flora. The chocolate-brown beams are made from palm, the walls roughly plastered and the fabrics handwoven, all traditional techniques gloriously brought to life. Photography of mid-20th century Emirati life add to the time-frozen atmosphere, while the rotary dial telephones and copper sinks and showers are further vintage touches. All rooms also share a quiet courtyard, too.
There are plenty of mod cons in the rooms – you just wouldn't know it when you first walk in. They've been tastefully hidden to preserve the authenticity, with the safe and fridge concealed within weathered wood cupboards, the coffee machine encased within a rustic box and even the TV has a wooden frame to fit in with the rest of the room. If you were left in any doubt that this was 1950s Dubai, the oud scents which permeate the hotel have been wonderfully bottled in the toiletries, while the bars of soap exfoliate with sand from the desert.
Saba'a is Al Seef Heritage Hotel's only restaurant but it's a delicious journey through the traditional tastes of Arabia. You won't find the elegant brunches that have become custom in modern-day Dubai but you'll be greeted by marvellous mezzes of authentic food both morning and evening. At breakfast, there are handsome spreads including labneh (Arabic-style Greek yoghurt), chebab (saffron-flavoured pancakes) and eggs any way you like (the eggs shakshuka is a particular favourite of ours), as well as plenty of other choices. At dinner, the mezzes focus on grilled meats and seafood with meshawi (barbecued meats and seafood) accompanied by soups and stews like shorbat adas (lentil soup) and chicken salona. For dessert, there are the likes of umm ali (Arabic bread pudding with rosewater and pistachio) and kunufah (cinnamon ice cream with strawberry coulis).
Set right in the middle of Dubai's Heritage Quarter, a stroll from Al Seef Heritage Hotel through this corner of Old Dubai is like taking a walk down memory lane – literally. It's less about the facilities here and more about the immersive experience of a time most have forgotten. Once a busy trading port and hunting ground for pearl divers, the Al Seef neighbourhood is dominated by sandstone wind towers and local restaurants reminiscent of the Dubai of decades ago.
Wander on through the bustling textile souk and to the neighbouring Al Fahidi district, the city's oldest neighbourhood whose namesake fort is the oldest building in Dubai, having been built in 1787. It's now home to Dubai Museum and packed with artefacts charting the city's past. The busy boat station means you can catch an abra (water taxi) to the other shoreline, where you can explore the atmospheric spice and gold souks and soak up the shipbuilding history of the traditional dhow harbour. You can hop on a dhow yourself and enjoy a leisurely cruise along the creek.
There isn't a pool at the hotel – again, an accurate representation of the time as they weren't commonplace in this era of Dubai. However, if you're desperate for a dip, shuttles can take you to use the facilities at either of Al Seef's two sister hotels: Canopy by Hilton Dubai Al Seef and Hampton by Hilton Dubai Al Seef.
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