Dubai, the world
is not enough

Le caviste mélomane Olivier Cochard.

Wine merchant and music fan Olivier Cochard.

Choreographed fountains of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai’s tallest building.

A kushti fight, a traditional form of Indian wrestling, in Deira, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

Shop in the Bur Dubai Souk.

City Walk, a trendy new district near the Burj Khalifa

The Deira Souk on the right bank of Dubai Creek.

View from the Dubai International Financial Centre from the city’s driverless elevated metro.

Robot jockey and camels in training, at Nad Al Sheba.

Mall of the Emirates, 223,000 m2 of shops, restaurantsand a ski resort.

Alserkal Avenue, in the Al Quoz arts district.

The Palace downtown Dubai
Sofitel Dubai Downtown

Nothing is too grand, no project too far-fetched for this city-state burnished by an unyielding sun. As the skyscrapers reach ever higher, ski slopes stretch out in the desert. In Dubai, there is no such thing as impossible.

During the Renaissance, Charles V used to proclaim with pride that he reigned over a vast empire on which the sun never set. The Emir of Dubai has taken the opposite approach. His city is the only one in the world where you can see the sunset twice in the same evening: you first watch the sun drop over the horizon between two skyscrapers from, say the extraordinary artificial lake in Downtown; then you race over to the megatall Burj Khalifa building and jump on the express elevator to the 148th floor. There, at an altitude of more than 500 meters, you’ve caught up with the sun again, and can see its last fleeting rays as it sets for the second time.

No holds barred

This is just one of the myriad over-the-top experiences available in a city that seems to have been built to break one crazy record after another. The options are boundless. Want to ski as smug penguins look on, before diving with dolphins? It’s easy: go to the Mall of the Emirates in the morning and buy a Ski Dubai ticket that includes snowsuitwhich looks something along the lines of a Star Trek uniforma pair of socks, ski boots and a set of Rossignol skis. Et voilà, you’ve left behind the 30°C outside and you’re on a Poma chair lift (you know, just like the one at your regular ski resort). Watching young Dubai women skiing with a veil flying up from under their helmets is a strange sight indeed.

A mirage bigger than life

After hurtling down this slope in a bubble400 meters of runs operated by 250 expats from the French Alpsyou only have a few metro stops to reach the automated monorail that will take you to the end of a giant palmnot a tree, but a palm-shaped archipelago, another man-made construction, built atop a polder on land reclaimed from the sea. At the tip of the palm is the fabulous Atlantis hotel, looming up like a fairy-tale castle. You don’t have to be a guest there to enjoy an afternoon at Aquaventure, a water-park paradise. Suited up again, this time in a wetsuit, you swim among the fish, unless you’d rather pet the dolphins. A thrill-seeker? You won’t be disappointed: there’s the breathtakingly steep Poseidon and Neptune water slides, which you shoot down on large rubber rings through utter darkness, emerging into a transparent tunnel surrounded by sharks and raysbut not to worry, you’re safe, the walls are thick.

What next? How about the excitement of a camel race? There’s no betting, but the prizes are as excessive as everything else: some winners come away with a brand new SUV. The most surprising aspect of the races, though, is that the jockeys are electronicrobots with human-like features and gear, wearing the colors of the owners, whisper in the ears of the camels. It’s like a high-tech Palio di Siena, made in Arabia.

The sky’s the limit

By this point, you think you’ve seen it all. But no: imagine a mall, lined in marble from floor to ceiling. This is the famous Dubai Mall, the world’s largest, of course. A place where, to do some shopping, you could walk for three days, or 24 kilometers, without ever passing the same shop twice. All the brands are there. And all the fashionistas make a beeline for it. Crowds like you’ve never seen before, even during sales.

Fascinating, kitsch Dubai: is this the ultimate in glitz and excess or rather the pinnacle of a clear-sighted strategy? You’ll seesaw between these two theories throughout your entire stay. Where is the judicious among all this exuberance? Perhaps in the vision of that emir who, sitting atop a mountain of petrodollars, when oil prices had reached their highest levels, had the foresight to imagine a “post-oil” era, when fossil fuels would no longer underpin the global economy. Sheikh Al Maktoum has been investing in the gold of tourism and finance for years. It paid off: now just 3 percent of Dubai’s revenues are oil-dependent. To achieve this, the city embarked on an incredible quest for the best and the biggest. They still have a long way to go, but competition is fanning the flames. Check out the Burj Khalifa. The building is ten years old and is 2.5 times the height of the Eiffel Tower. Yet no sooner had Saudi Arabia announced a project to exceed one kilometer with a 1,001-meter-high skyscraper than Dubai picked up the challenge with its Dubai Creek Harbor. Construction on this new tower has just begun; it will be shaped like a giant minaret anchored to the ground by cables. It is set to be the world’s tallest building in 2020, the year that Dubai hosts Expo 2020.

Call of the desert

Building this city-state required an influx of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers. Just as oil only represents 3 percent of the country’s revenue, native Dubai nationals account for only 3 percent of the total population. The others are Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Filipino “neighbors”along with Africans and Europeans. They do the jobs that keep the country running. There are 25,000 French people, some of whom come for one year; others for five or ten years, or more. Like Didier Dhommee, who used to work in construction. He left his life in Tours behind to try his hand in the tourism business, and bought a travel agency. Today, Arabian Spirit offers only custom-designed trips, from helicopter flights to champagne-doused safaris in the nearby desert. Something like haute couture travel. And a business that Dhommee fully expects to grow by 40 percent in 2017.

Dream factory

Back to the Renaissance for a moment; to its flourishing cities, its spirit of invention. In a way, Dubai looks like a trading post in a global era. A city through which all the world’s goods transit and where the most famous architects boldly construct in a spirit of one-upmanship. Only two of the city’s hundreds of skyscrapers are twinned. The others all have their own touch of originality: an upward spiral, beveled top, or a crooked or symbolic form, like the seven-star Burj Al Arab Hotel, the world’s only skyscraper built to look like a sailboat. This bulging sail, now the city’s emblem, seems about to set sail from the artificial island on which it stands. Is it heading to the open seas for a round-the-world journey? That’s actually not so far from the truth. Just a few miles out in the Persian Gulf is The World, a series of 300 small man-made islands arranged in the shape of a world map. Viewed from above, they replicate the continents. Each island is a country. And each country is for sale (ranging in price from €7 million to €37 million, it’s said). Heads up: France is still on the market.

A place to write

The irresistible Palace Downtown in uber-urban Dubai, is an oasis of calm, good taste and refinement. In short, the ideal spot for writing and daydreaming. This extremely distinguished Arabian palace, located on the large lake opposite the new opera house, will awaken the Scheherazade that slumbers within us all. Settled in one of the individual tents around the pool, you can sketch out the plot of an Oriental tale, or note down impressions of your trip, as you sample some date and camel-milk ice cream. Unless it’s a children’s story that decides to unfold: Once upon a time, there was a very rich Arab sheikh who dreamed of a city, with immense fountains and skyscrapers in the middle of the desert . . . 

THE Palace Downtown DUBAI

Mohammed Bin Rashid Bd, Downtown. Tél. +971 4 428 7888.

Sofitel Dubai Downtown

The name says it all: the best thing about the Sofitel Dubai Downtown is its location, in the heart of the flourishing, ever-changing business district. Just steps from the metro (with a direct line to the airport) and the Dubai Mall, this five-star hotel has a great view of the Burj Khalifa. Also: spacious rooms, impeccable service and a particularly friendly staff. Not to mention the spa, with a tempting list of treatments; and the rooftop, with a pool under the palm trees and the Mosaic Pool & Loungewith stunning views.

Sofitel Dubai Downtown

The Aquaventure aquarium, on the Palm Jumeirah artificial archipelago.

Sofitel Dubai Downtown

Sheikh Zayed Rd, Downtown. Tél. +971 4 503 6666.


 a world all its own

Carnet d’adresses

THE Palace Downtown DUBAI

Mohammed Bin Rashid Bd, Downtown. Tél. +971 4 428 7888.

Sofitel Dubai Downtown

Sheikh Zayed Rd, Downtown. Tél. +971 4 503 6666.
Address Book

Going There

Flight Frequency

Air France has 7 weekly flights to Dubai from Paris-CDG.

KLM has 7 weekly flights to Dubai from Amsterdam.

Arrival Airport

Aéroport international de Dubai.
À 5 km. Tél. +971 4 224 5555.

Air France KLM offices

Aux aéroports.


— Depuis la France : tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Car rental

Hertz, à l'aéroport.

Further reading

Florence Noiville
a notamment publié L’Attachement et L’Illusion délirante d’être aimé (Stock) ; pour enfants, Bébé Jules qui ne voulait pas naître, un album illustré par Alice Charbin (Gallimard Jeunesse).

Dubai Gallimard,
coll. Cartoville.

Dubai en quelques jours
Lonely Planet.

Dubai Phaidon,
coll. Wallpaper City Guide (en anglais).

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Map for illustration purpose only.