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Dubai is a city where the impossible is possible

MD Staff

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Dubai is one of the world’s most exhilarating destinations: a glittering city that offers swathes of golden beaches; world-class shopping, dining and nightlife; hosts electrifying events and sporting championships; and, for all the family, is one big adventurous playground. Where tradition meets ambition and renowned for its futuristic architecture, this visionary city is also proud to display its rich heritage and culture. Welcome to Arabia and welcome to the destination that has made it its mission to become “the world’s most visited city”.

Extraordinary images of Dubai’s skyline have been seen around the world, but this is a city that must be experienced to be believed. Where else can you spend the morning on the beach, the afternoon snow skiing and the evening camel riding in the desert? Where else can you dive with sharks in a shopping mall and watch dancing fountains at the base of the world’s tallest tower? Whatever your passion, whatever your age – Dubai will never disappoint. And with many more hotels and attractions in the pipeline, no-one can ever truly say they’ve ticked off Dubai. With changes constantly afoot, Dubai is a city that can be visited year after year, after year.

The pace of progress has been phenomenal and it takes some believing to imagine that just 50 years ago Dubai was little more than a fishing village beside the Dubai Creek – a must-visit that is currently being assessed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

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It is this very spot that the Bani Yas tribe and the forefathers of the Maktoum dynasty settled back in 1800. Even in the 1950’s when the rest of the world was exploring space and New York’s Times Square had been illuminated for a good 50 years, Dubai still sat in darkness without electricity. But it was also here that the Vision was set. The seeds of ambition were sowed and that small fishing village blossomed into the modern, multicultural and dynamic metropolis we see today.

Dubai dares to dream big – and then turns that dream into reality.

Having welcomed 10 million visitors during the course of the year for the first time in 2012, the emirate’s Tourism Vision was declared in May 2013: to welcome 20 million visitors a year by 2020 and to treble tourism’s contribution to the economy.

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One year later, having won the bid to host the World Expo in 2020 during which His Highness Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai promises to “astonish the world”, Dubai is building on that declaration by pursuing its ambition to become The World’s Most Visited City – but not just a city to be seen but a city ‘to be experienced’.

For example, shopping in Dubai is not just about making purchases – it is more about amazing leisure and cultural opportunities, such as bartering for silk in a historic souk; meeting a colony of King and Gentoo Penguins in a shopping mall, and picking up hand-crafted trinkets from a market.

Dining in Dubai is not just about eating – it is more about sampling the cuisine from the 200 nationalities that live here. As a culinary capital not only regionally but increasingly globally, Dubai has long caught the attention of Michelin-stared chefs and is home to some of the best tastes in the world – whether that be in its five-star hotels or its pavement cafes.

For the sportsman and adventure seeker, Dubai is about sand boarding down a 300ft sand dune, camping in the desert, deep-sea fishing, skydiving above Palm Jumeirah and playing camel polo. And for the night owl, Dubai is about enjoying some of the hottest, trendiest and most creative nightspots imaginable.

For culture vultures, Dubai is a city that’s rich in heritage and increasingly it’s making its mark on the world stages for art, film, literature, comedy, theatre and music. For all these genres the city hosts dedicated festivals and events and this all adds up to create a calendar that is literally bursting at the seams, whether it be joining the crowds at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre to see A-list chart toppers perform such as John Legend or Sting, or watching Federer or Djokovic battle it out for the title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Throughout the year, city-wide festivals add to the fun, from the legendary Dubai Shopping Festival which celebrated its 20th year in January 2015 to the hugely successful Dubai Food Festival, now an annual month-long event since its launch in 2014.

And for families, Dubai vows to be the world’s premier family destination, continually building on its portfolio of attractions and events. Few cities offer as many attractions that appeal to all ages as Dubai does. It’s here that families can dash from the ski dome to the desert; from the beach to the parks (whether that be theme parks, water parks or sprawling green parks); and from the multi-screen cinemas where butlers serve popcorn to Olympic-sized ice-skating rinks.

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It’s upon these propositions (Family, Events, Art, Heritage, Gastronomy and Nightlife, Shopping, Beach and Marine Life, Outdoor Adventure) coupled with Dubai’s winning formula as a global Business hub and its winning Hotel and Spas sector, that the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing is confidently able to base its tourism ambitions.

And with hotel guest numbers growing year-on-year by 5.6% per cent in 2014, equating to a total of more than 11.6 million hotel guests over the course of the year, the pace has been set. To host all these guests, the total number of hotel establishments has increased by 7.8% to equal 659 properties or 93,030 rooms and flats – spanning all categories from standard to five-star and from city, to beach resort and desert. The portfolio is impressive with hotel companies such as the local Jumeirah Group and Emaar Hospitality setting the global standards for luxury and service. It’s a service mentality to which all hotels adhere, whether five or two-star, a serviced apartment or a guest house.

Where else in the world can you have a 24-carat-gold facial in an award-winning spa, swim with dolphins, watch a world-class act on the beach at midnight, dine on Michelin-starred cuisine and feed sharks all without leaving your hotel resort? The answer is a resounding ‘only in Dubai’.

Dubai is a city where the impossible is possible. Where you cannot help but be impressed, awe-struck and mesmerised. It’s where holiday dreams come true and where remarkable memories are made for a lifetime.

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The Art of Travelling Alone: How to Make the Best of Your Solo Trip

MD Staff

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We are currently celebrating Singles’ Day — now one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year — which encourages people to relish their singlehood and pamper themselves silly! Whether you are single or not, we think it’s definitely important to engage in some #selflove — and solo travelling is one of the best ways to do so. 

There’s no doubt that solo travel can seem pretty daunting at times. Won’t I get bored and lonely? What if I get lost? The short and honest answer is yes, that’ll probably happen at some point. At the same time, that’s really all part of the experience — these ups and downs make up the most exciting adventures you’ll ever have and form memories that will stay with you for a lifetime. More importantly, solo travel brings about opportunities for you to discover and love yourself. You’ll finally have the chance to spend uninterrupted time with yourself and grow comfortable with your own company.

Don’t wait any longer and make your solo travels a reality! Here are three tips to help you make the best of your trip:

Plan ahead

While one of the best things about traveling alone is the freedom of spontaneity, it doesn’t mean that you should show up without a plan. Take some time to research and understand the location you’re visiting and identify some main attractions that you’d like to visit. It really helps to have a rough outline of what you’ll be doing and how to get there. Additionally, make plans to meet people! Whether it is signing up for day tours or simply striking up conversations with strangers, seize the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and connect with people from all over the world. Not only will these interactions help to quell any loneliness, but you may even meet your next best friend!

Pick a comfortable location

If it’s your first time on a solo trip, your choice of location is key. Perhaps you’d like to revisit someplace that’s tried and tested, or you may prefer to explore a new destination that’s less frenetic — just so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. To get you started, we’d recommend: 

Perth, Australia
The capital of Western Australia offers the perfect blend of a trendy urban life and relaxed nature vibes, catering to all your travel needs. Head on to DoubleTree by Hilton Perth Northbridge to have a taste of their signature warm DoubleTree Cookie welcome, and leverage its convenient location to access attractions in the city. Stuff yourself silly with the fresh produce at the Food Markets, and, while in the sunniest city in Australia, be sure to check out the amazing beaches!

Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is one of those fail-safe destinations where everyone always has a great time! While there may be a bit of a language barrier, the locals are always quick to extend a helping hand to guide you on your way. As a solo traveler, you do have to be more mindful of where you’re staying — pick trusted hotels that are close to the main roads, such as Conrad Bangkok, to make your stay as fuss-free as possible.

Shilim, India
For a truly #EatPrayLove experience, look no further than Hilton Shilim Estate Retreat & Spa. A one-and-a-half-hour drive from Pune, this retreat is nestled in an unspoiled mountain range and offers a sanctuary for your body, mind and spirit. It offers some of the most comprehensive wellness facilities in Asia, with programmes like ayurvedic therapies, jungle treks and yoga sessions. While out in nature, you’ll definitely get to spend quality time with yourself and find peace of mind.

Pack light, and right

We all have a tendency to overthink and pack unnecessary things, but this time, there won’t be anyone else to help you wrestle with the bags. Keep your bags light and portable by packing just basic and solo-travel essentials — aside from functional items like a portable charger and Wi-Fi router, also remember to take along a selfie-stick to capture all your solo adventures!

Now that you’re all set, get ready to discover the world and yourself!

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Five Reasons to Discover Kyoto’s Magic in Winter

MD Staff

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Discover the hidden secrets of Kyoto in winter – the magical but least-known season that the locals love. From enchanting illuminations in beautiful temples to seasonal dishes bursting with flavour; vibrant New Year celebrations to “onsen” hot baths beneath snow-capped mountains, here are five favourite Kyoto winter warmers as curated by the team at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto:

1. Ume (plum): Winter’s Secret Blossoms

Despite spring being the best-known season of blossoms in Japan, winter visitors are in for a delightful surprise with Kyoto’s profusion of delicate ume (plum) flowers.

Decorating the city’s plum trees in shades of snow white through to verdant pink, ume blossom’s sweet fragrance and pretty five petalled composition inspired ancient nobility from the Nara period (AD 710–784) to write haiku while gazing at them.

Blooming plum trees, once a prosperous trade with China and now savoured for their unique beauty, can be seen across Kyoto from mid-January. Kitano Tenmangu, just 25 minutes from the Hotel, offers some of the best viewing, with 1,500 plum trees blossoming through to mid-March.

2. Warming Winter Dishes

Warm up from within with Kyoto’s wide variety of steaming hot pots and sizzling Yudofu 湯豆腐.

The Japanese have long adapted their diet to the country’s dramatically different seasons, and winter offers up plenty of delicacies. Try Kaburamushi かぶら蒸し, a fragrant composition of grated turnip, egg white, lily root, gingko and mushrooms atop a white fish – locals liken its appearance to a melting snowball.

Originating in Kyoto, Steamed Sushi 蒸し寿司 is a hot dish with unique seasoning while Tanuki Udon calls on the spicy warmth of ginger on a base of chopped fried tofu with thick ankake sauce.

Celebrate new year in Kyoto with festive favourite Mochi ぜんざい (Zenzai), a dainty, chewy rice speciality available in tea houses and traditional cafes across the city.

3. Inspiring Illuminations

As the sun sets low on the wintry horizon, Kyoto comes alive with twinkling lights.

From January to February, lanterns are lit only on snowy days at Kifune Jinja Shrine, making it a rare but exquisite experience to see the shrine’s pretty red steps and tree boughs aglow.

Discover an illuminated Hanatouro Bridge in Arashiyama (from mid-December for about ten days) and explore the nearby Kimono and Bamboo Forests, where LED lights create a magical woodland trail.

From the end of January for a week, marvel at the mountainous heritage site of Kayabuki-no Sato as the entire village of thatched houses gets festive with handmade snow lanterns, food stalls, dance performances and cultural activities from mochi pounding through to traditional handiwork.

Bringing seasonal enchantment to Kyoto from late November through to late December, electrical company Rohm is behind the city’s largest illumination event featuring over 800,000 lights and loved by locals and visitors alike since 1995.

4. Dive into Kyoto’s Bathing Culture

An integral part of Japanese culture, bathing is considered a daily ritual of both purification and pleasure.

Guests at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto can enjoy a complimentary soothing “ofuro” hot bath and sauna on the hotel’s wellness floor, B2 as well as at THE SPA.

Bathing has long been considered a social activity with locals heading to one of the city’s “sento”銭湯 or public baths to catch up with neighbours. A few sensational sentos remain in Kyoto, such as art-rich Funaoka Onsen Sento and Goko-yu Sento with its scalding hot sauna, perfect after a long hike.

Chase away winter’s chill with an invigorating soak in one of the city’s nearby “onsen”温泉, a natural hot spring. Kurama Onsen, 40 minutes from the Hotel, offers the exquisite experience of being surrounded by forested mountains while Arashiyama Onsen, just 30 minutes away, has views of Arashiyama.

5. Exclusive Winter Activities

Make winter your season of discovery in a country rich with specialities.

Fushimi, a sake-brewing district fed by the pure clean water of the Horikawa river, is a great place to start your winter Kyoto experience. From December to January, the breweries make fresh sake from the newly harvested Fall rice, and offer sake tastings, perfect for warming the body on a cold day. Ask our Concierge to recommend and reserve the best sake breweries at the time of your visit (there are 50 to choose from in Kyoto, including 19 in Fushimi!)

Throw yourself into the jubilant spirits of Hatsumode – Japan’s first shrine visit of the new year – by joining with locals in beautiful traditional dress Kimono to pray for a good year, enjoy food stalls and play games with prizes. Japanese people traditionally go to temples and shrines from January 1-15 – a unique experience to be a part of, if your trip allows. Our Concierges will be happy to share their insider knowledge on the best places to go.

Marvel at nature’s majesty from the comfort of a heated boat on the Hozu-gawa river: winter views include intriguing geologic formations covered with snow alongside colossal boulders, glimpses of the surrounding mountains, mysterious deep pools, and local flora and fauna.

Soak up the splendour of rare Japanese art at the ‘Kyo no fuyu no tabi’ (means Kyoto Winter Trip, 京の冬の旅) exhibition held at fifteen different city temples every year over more than 50 years. It is a unique opportunity to see each temple’s secret treasures, usually hidden from private view. Open from mid January to mid March.

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Hilton’s Hidden Gems Series: Bentonville, Arkansas

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The first Hidden Gem of the series is Bentonville, Arkansas (yes, the home of Walmart, though that wasn’t a factor in choosing), where visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and embrace the natural beauty of the Ozarks. Here, small town charm and rich cultural experiences combine. Bentonville offers something for every type of traveler, from the nature-lover to the art connoisseur. The city is a scenic drive from Little Rock, Tulsa or Kansas City if traveling by car, or accessible through the nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Excellent fall foliage and favorable weather make autumn one of the best times of year to visit, when leaves turn shades of gold, red and orange, inspiring locals and visitors alike to get outdoors.

Things to Do

Cyclists and runners will enjoy the more than 40 miles of hard and soft surface trails in Bentonville. Try the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile, primarily off-road, mixed-use trail that travels from north Bentonville to south Fayetteville and passes through dozens of community destinations, including historic sites, shopping areas and numerous parks.

There’s plenty to see for art and museum lovers, too. Art connoisseurs can admire the local arts scene at the world-renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where a permanent collection of American artwork, from famed artists like Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol, is supplemented by a rotating array of temporary exhibits. Bentonville visitors can also explore the popular Walmart Museum — located in Walmart founder Sam Walton’s original five and dime store — and the little ones can get some hands-on learning at the Scott Family Amazeum, which is 50,000 square feet of interactive exhibits.

Foodies can treat their taste buds to the unique high-South cuisine of the Ozarks, described as traditional Southern cuisine with a modern twist — think cheese grits made with smoked gouda, pan-seared trout served with a side of Hoppin’ John (a dish made with black-eyed peas and rice) and catfish dip made with crème fraîche. The cuisine typically includes local and seasonal ingredients, with many restaurant menus changing every season. Try restaurants like Tusk & Trotter, The Holler and Louise.

Bentonville Square, located in downtown, is lined with shops, restaurants and museums. The square is also home to events and activities year-round, featuring everything from a monthly concert series to goat yoga. Over the holidays, the square transforms into a winter wonderland with holiday lights, ice skating and an annual winter market and Christmas parade.

As part of the northwest Arkansas region, Bentonville is also close to many cities that are perfect for a short daytrip. Try a visit to Fayetteville to tour the University of Arkansas (about 25 miles away), or take a trip to eclectic Eureka Springs (less than 40 miles away), where the entire downtown is listed as a National Historic Site.

Where to Stay

Unwind from a day of adventures at Homewood Suites by Hilton Bentonville-Rogers, located near many of Bentonville’s notable attractions, including the Crystal Bridges Museum, Razorback Regional Greenway and Bentonville Square, all less than five miles away. Relax poolside year-round at the hotel’s indoor pool or unwind in a spacious suite with the whole family, even the furry ones (yes, they’re allowed).

Guests can attend a complimentary evening social Monday – Thursday with snacks and drinks. Wake up the next morning and enjoy a free, hot breakfast (or even just a grab-and-go snack) before starting on your next adventure.

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