Hot Air Ballooning over the Arabian Desert

Dubai might be a short stopover for most but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to the confines of a luxury hotel.

Floating at sunrise over the pristine dunes of the Arabian Desert is only part of one experience you should consider; combine falconry, a desert vintage Land Rover safari, delicious Bedouin breakfast, camel ride and you have the perfect day in Dubai.

The morning starts an hour before the sun rises and the air is still and tranquil. As the balloons climb above the Dubai Desert the views of the Hajjar Mountains and Oman are stunning. Gently drifting at around 10,000 – 15,000 feet a falcon (Dubai’s national bird) entertains the group with its flying prowess and obedience circumnavigating several balloons to return at full speed to snatch a piece of meat from it handler’s glove. As the balloon slowly descends onto the soft dunes, a team of vintage Land Rovers awaits to chariot you across the bumpy sand to the Bedouin breakfast that awaits.

Upon arrival at a lavish traditional majilis you’ll enjoy a five-star a la carte breakfast including shakshuka, salmon, halloumi cheese, fresh fruits and chilled mint tea. After breakfast to aid your digestion, you’ll partake in a little camel ride out on the dunes. Forget shopping and the malls  experience Dubai from outside the hotel!

Sealine Beach Resort Stopover

Anyone who’s done the long haul from Australia to Europe knows that a stopover in the Middle East sorts out all kinds of jet lag and general misery. Especially when it’s one where you can relax on manicured lawns by the sea.

This collection of low-lying villas and rooms, all of which overlook the ocean, sit south of the airport and about 50 minutes  drive from central Doha, making it a great spot to recharge for a couple of days. Swim in the pool, take the jet skis for a spin, organise a trip into the desert for dune bashing, and enjoy the Qatari cuisine in one of the restaurants. You won’t want to get back on the plane.

Soak in a pyramid view

The views all around you at 9 Pyramids Lounge have been almost the same for 4,500 years, when the Pyramids of Giza were built to house royalty as they journeyed from earth to their place of eternal rest. Of course, the nine monumental tombs are now one of the most famous sights in the world and attract travellers from right across the globe.

When you think about it, it’s surprising it has taken this long for an entrepreneurial soul to figure out hungry, tired tourists might like a place to rest. Now this open-air restaurant, with its shaded areas and places to sit, all with epic views of one of the seven wonders of the world, offers a spot to take a load off.

It opens early, so stop for a spectacular sunrise breakfast, settle in for some lunch or simply relax after a day exploring. There are yoga and wellness sessions, too, because how could you not feel zen looking at all that?

Get to the source at Dubai’s souks

If you want to get to know the real Dubai – the Old Dubai, with its bustling back streets, souks teeming with fragrant spices, textiles and food from Arabic, Indian and Iranian traditions – you must jump aboard the Frying Pan Adventures Souks Food Walk.

The walk begins at Deira, where your guides will lead you into the heart of the spice souk with its sensory overload of shouts, sights and smells. You’ll be plied with information on the medicinal qualities of turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and the most prized spice of all, saffron.

Venture away from the throngs of tourists and into the warren of alleyways to tiny eateries frequented by locals. You’ll sample parotta (flaky flatbread from Kerala) filled with egg and melted cheese, and chips with daqoos (vinegary hot sauce). At other pit stops feast on Emirati snacks and Iranian kebabs. It’s all so moreish, but there is more to come so pace yourself.

You’ll take an abra (Dubai’s oldest form of water transportation) across the creek to Little India with its Ganesh statues, brightly coloured flower garlands and sweet rose incense. Snaking through alleyways, you’ll arrive at the tour’s piece de resistance, the Arabian Tea House, located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.

The tea house is a step back in time, with its turquoise benches, white rattan chairs, lace curtains and bountiful flowers in an open-air setting. This is the place to taste Emirate food. Begin with mint tea then move on to cheese samboosa with tamarind dip, falafel with tahini, fatoush salad, chicken machos (cooked Emirati style) and rice pilaf with loomi (dried limes). It’s all wholesome, homely, authentic and delicious.

A taste of Melbourne in Dubai

Emirates’ love for eating out for breakfast is only exceeded by their love for brunch and two Aussie expats have satisfied both those needs in Dubai with their exquisite Melbourne-style cafe, Tom & Serg.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is the absence of the quintessential bearded and tattooed Fitzroy barista. From its hip decor to the pastries on display as you enter, you really have to pinch yourself to remember you’re not on Brunswick Street.

While you’d expect expats to be the cafe’s biggest customers, they’re not. The east-meets-west menu is a favourite with locals. Coffee beans are locally sourced and roasted and, the moment your espresso is placed in front of you, the thick crema means you know it’ll be good – Melbourne coffee good!

Try the masala fried eggs served on a bed of tandoori roasted cauliflower, chilli cashew nuts and green garlic oats. Aussie Benedict is also offered, as is smashed avo and Vegemite on hand-cut sourdough.

For lunch there is a more substantial menu that includes burgers, Moroccan chicken, risotto, tacos and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Be sure to leave room for the salted caramel French toast. Served with blueberry poached pear, crunchy pecan and lashings of cream, might just be the best French toast you’ve ever eaten. After you’ve satisfied your gluttonous urge wander over to the nearby arts precinct at Alserkal Avenue.

Elevated luxury at Al Jabal Al Akhdar

Built in a region of Oman formerly off-limits to foreigners, it’s hardly surprising that Al Jabal Al Akhdar has generated some hullabaloo. And the fact that it’s only accessible by 4WD adds an extra layer of temptation and intrigue. Perched on a precipice some 2000 metres above sea level, this property sits right in the belly of the Hajar Mountain range. At first glance, the landscape appears barren, yet its valleys are freckled with Damask roses and pomegranate and peach trees.

So regardless of whether you opt for a canyon view room or a private pool villa, the views from this five-star hotel will not disappoint. Expect unadulterated luxury and resort activities aplenty (a library and cookery school are just two of the on-site options).

Bimmah Sinkhole is no oasis

Driving through the arid landscape of northern Oman, you probably wouldn’t expect to come across a roadside swimming hole – especially not one as otherworldly as Bimmah Sinkhole. Located in Hawiyat Najm Park, just an hour and a half from Muscat, this natural limestone pool was formed by a falling meteor, or so the legend goes.

Forty metres wide and nearly 30 metres below ground level, the crescent-shaped basin of vivid turquoise water surrounded by dramatic rock formations is perfect for a cooling dip. And best of all, Bimmah Sinkhole is easy peasy to get to because there is no hiking or long drives, as is the case with a lot of Oman attractions. If you’re lucky, you might be visited by the tiny, toe-nibbling fish that live here – think of it as a free pedicure!


Adventure Overload in Oman

When it comes to action, Oman’s terrain is an adventurer’s playground and this tour ticks all the right boxes. Begin at the ruins of Tanuf, where you’ll get a dose of technical cycling as you pump up a series of switchbacks before descending through date palm plantations and weaving among the mud houses of Al Hamra, one of Oman’s oldest villages. Later, amble through an oasis-like wadi to Al Hoota Cave. Here you’ll abseil into darkness and, headlight beaming, explore vast chambers littered with car-sized boulders and towering ’tites and ’mites.

The next day, reach dizzying heights at Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest mountain. Witness the rippled chasms of Wadi Ghul – Oman’s Grand Canyon – before attaching yourself to a via ferrata and sidling along its ochre walls, with a kilometre-deep drop behind you. Cap off your adventure with a picnic at the top, overlooking the incredible landscape you’ve just traversed.

Discover the Middle East’s home of adventure.


East West Vibing at Buddha Bar Beach

It’s popped up seasonally in hotspots like Baku, the Maldives and the Greek Islands. Now Buddha-Bar Beach has found its first permanent open-all-year home on the luxurious shores of Abu Dhabi’s St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort. The concept, born in Paris more than 20 years ago, unifies elements of Eastern and Western culture, and this latest rendition of its restaurant-bar-lounge is a swanky day-to-night affair.

The menu, influenced by Pacific Rim and Far East flavours, shines as brightly as the glittering Arabian Gulf views with dishes that are art on a plate (the King of the Beach, a 48-piece seafood platter, is a masterpiece), while mixologists whip up aromatic cocktails to the DJ-crafted opus of electro and tribal rhythms and saxophonists moodily croon during the sunset sessions. Fair warning, though: prepare for all other nights out to be underwhelming after this.

Snow on the inside

It can be a sweltering 45°C outside, but at Ski Dubai the temperature is a constant, perfect minus two. It’s all part of the snowy mirage created at the Mall of Emirates. There are five runs, as well as freestyle zones for perfecting your tricks. And if you think there’s no chance for high adventure, perhaps you want to try the world’s first indoor black diamond run, at 400-metres long with a 60-metre drop.

For those more into chillin’ than thrillin’, there’s the chance to get up close and personal with the resident king and gentoo penguins. There’s a swag of packages available, visitors can meet the penguins, take part in a range of training sessions and even swimming with these adorable, fury delights.