Bulgari’s Desert Jewel
Six years since the Bulgari Resort Dubai brought Mediterranean style to the Middle East, we explore how it is still redefining the cuisine and culture of Jumeirah Bay
Nowhere does decadence quite like Dubai. It’s hard to believe that only a century ago, this post-modern playground of man-made islands and cloud-scraping towers was but a desert town of Bedouin traders. Frankly, as I’m whisked from the airport along Sheikh Zayed Road (lined by an intoxicating stretch of soaring silver buildings) it’s hard to believe Dubai is a city at all. The pearl divers that mined this coast for centuries offer one explanation for its high-bling ambition; an enduring penchant for all things dazzling reflected in its reputation as the jewel of the Middle East. So, when Bulgari, Italian purveyor of precious stones, opened its Dubai resort back in 2017, you could say it was fated.
Sculpted and set on Jumeirah Bay, a private man-made island that curves like a seahorse, Bulgari Resort Dubai is the fifth property in the maison’s portfolio. It may also be among the most exceptional, spanning 1.4million square feet of dolce vita distinction with a private white sand beach, two pools and extensive spa and fitness centre. It’s a welcome tonic from downtown’s superlative sweep; while the Burj Khalifa’s sky-piercing needle looms in the background, here opulence gets a low-key – and comparatively low-rise – makeover, a sand-hued fortress against gilt and glitz that feels more akin to a Mediterranean village than an urban resort. That said, it does have its moments: at the main swimming pool, for example, which is inlaid with gold Bisazza tiles; or at the 46-berth marina, where you’ll find an encyclopaedic index of luxury yachts bobbing on the water.
My home for the next few days is one of the 20 stand-alone villas, each tastefully dressed in subtle shades of champagne and caramel with a hearty sprinkling of all-Italian accents; Enzo degli Angiuoni cashmere throws, bathrooms clad in travertine marble and bespoke furnishings by the likes of Maxalto and Flexform. The spacious sundeck and its private pool are a godsend for seclusion-seekers and social skylarkers alike, with al fresco apparatus designed for both revelling and retreating. But the devil really is in the details: brimming bowls of fresh fruit, bell jars replenished daily with sugar-dusted Italian pastries like sfogliatelle or amaretti di mombaruzzo, blooming bouquets, and – my particular favourite – a monogrammed, leather-trim beach bag. After an hour perusing the pillow menu, testing out the soaking tub and scoping out the bar, I reluctantly vacate to honour my dinner reservation at the Bulgari Yacht Club.
Here, wood panelled walls are lined with vintage black and white snaps of Sophia Loren lapping up the sun from the deck of a Riva boat, or a beach-bound Bardot catching rays in Capri, while staff dressed in naval-inspired uniforms serve elevated Mediterranean fare – John Dory with artichokes and pistachio, or cardinali pastas filled with lobster, tomatoes and ginger – on bespoke Richard Ginori china, no less.
A FINE (DINING) SURPRISE
While Dubai isn’t typically known as a foodie destination, its gastro-scene is finally coming to a boil, in no small part thanks to the resort’s two Michelin-starred restaurants, Niko Romito and Hoseki. The former, helmed by Abruzzo-born Niko encapsulates everything that is great about Italian cuisine – quality, authenticity, simplicity. Despite the white-linen setting, bread is always the humble protagonist at the centre of Romito’s table, around which revolve a delectable cast of favourites from butter-bathed plates of handmade tortelli to cocoa-dusted tiramisu.
Meanwhile Hoseki is an intimate and more experimental affair, with just nine seats wrapped round an open kitchen and framed by views of the twinkling city lights below. In keeping with the Japanese tradition of omakase, courses are selected by Chef Sugiyama, a sixth-generation sushi-master, who lets the reactions of his diners guide the experience. In my case that meant exquisitely prepared slivers of fresh, Japanese fish (horse mackerel, sea eel, tuna cheek) paired with heaps of wasabi grated straight from the root.
The resort’s signature Il Bar is equally esteemed, having snapped up a place on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2022. Hotel connoisseurs may recognise the design of the black ellipse arch bar, which has been plucked straight from the group’s Milanese outpost – though this time it’s moustachioed Dario Schiavoni (previously of Rome’s La Pergola) you’ll find behind it, stirring and shaking his way through the evening like a modern-day alchemist; and I don’t use that word lightly – his crystal-clear espresso martini is nothing short of magic.
After a weekend of wining and dining, my final day on the island begins on a more salubrious note. A stint in the sauna negates the lingering effects of last night’s third sidecar and an Augustinus Bader facial leaves me almost as glowing as the gold mosaic statement wall of the indoor spa pool. I stroll through the resort’s wide boulevards and admire slabs of arabescarto marble set against coral-like brise-soleils that extend from each building – a nod to the reefs that surround the coast as well as protection from the unrelenting Arabian sun. A blown-up portrait of Monica Vitti grabs my attention as I stop for a cup of ginger tea in the lobby. Set against a wall of Breccia Medicea marble, the ethereal, tousle-haired beauty stares down the lens dressed in some seriously sizable jewels. And of course, these are not just any jewels. These are the diamond-fringed Colombian emeralds of Bulgari’s iconic 1961 Seven Wonders necklace.
Elizabeth Taylor, one of the jeweller’s most prominent patrons said, “I’ve never thought of my jewellery as trophies… for we are only temporary custodians of beauty.” Likewise, a great hotel inspires similar pleasures, not those anchored in permanence but in fleeting, ephemeral moments where the world seems to spin with a renewed sense of grace.