Just south of the Burj al Arab lies the huge Madinat Jumeirah, a vast mass of faux-Moorish-style buildings rising high above the coastal highway. Opened in 2005, the Madinat is one of Dubai’s most spectacular modern developments: a self-contained miniature “Arabian” city comprising a vast sprawl of sand-coloured buildings topped by an extraordinary quantity of wind towers (best viewed from the entrance to the Al Qasr hotel), the whole thing arranged around a sequence of meandering waterways along which visitors are chauffeured in replica abras. The complex is home to a trio of ultra-luxurious five-star hotels (with a fourth currently under construction), the labyrinthine Souk Madinat Jumeirah bazaar, a vast spread of restaurants and bars, and one of the city’s best spas.
There’s an undeniable whiff of Disneyland about the Madinat, admittedly. The vision, according to the developers, was “to re-create life as it used to be for residents along Dubai Creek, complete with waterways, abras, wind towers and a bustling souk”, although in truth Madinat Jumeirah bears about as much relation to old Dubai as Big Ben does to your average grandfather clock. Even so, the sheer scale of the place, with its relentlessly picturesque array of wind towers, wood-framed souks and palm-fringed waterways, is strangely compelling, and a perfect example of the kind of thing – mixing unbridled extravagance with a significant dose of sugar-coated kitsch – which Dubai seems to do so well. The Madinat also offers some of the most eye-boggling views in Dubai, with the futuristic outlines of the Burj al Arab surreally framed between medieval-looking wind towers and Moorish arcading. The fact that the fake olde-worlde city is actually newer than the ultramodern Burj is, by Dubai’s standards, exactly what one would expect.
The obvious place from which to explore the complex is the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, though it’s well worth investigating some of the superb restaurants and bars in the Al Qasr and Mina A’Salam hotels, several of which offer superlative views over the Madinat itself, the Burj al Arab and coastline. Twenty-minute abra cruises around the Madinat’s waterways depart from the kiosk outside Left Bank bar-restaurant on the waterfront.