The landmark building, whose sail-like structure recalls dhow-trading vessels and is a tribute to the region’s seafaring tradition, stands proudly on its own man-made island some 280 metres offshore and is linked to the mainland by a slender, gently curving causeway. Taller than the Eiffel Tower at more than 1,000ft, and only 200ft shorter than the Empire State Building, it has its own helicopter pad on the 28th floor to receive guests who prefer to fly the 25km from Dubai’s airport rather than ride in one of a fleet of 14 white Rolls-Royces across a bridge that shoots jets of flame to acknowledge the arrival of a VIP.
After the sleek and stylish exterior, the garishly overwrought interior can come as something of a shock; it’s definitely not a place for those with egalitarian sensibilities or an aversion to garish gilding. A triumphant waterfall cascades into the lobby and is flanked by floor-to-ceiling aquariums so vast the staff have to don scuba gear to clean them. Bedrooms are 8,000 square metres of 22-carat gold leaf that covers columns, ceilings, panels and every tap. Huge golden pillars reach up into the atrium: greens, reds and blues all vie for prominence in a colourful reminder that style in Dubai is as much a case of volume as it is of taste.
However, if you have the cash to splash, a night here will earn you unlimited holiday bragging rights – after all, how many people do you know of who have stayed in a (admittedly self-appointed) seven star hotel? Each room at the Burj is a duplex suite and there are 202 in total, including two royal suites on the 25th floor. All are equipped with the latest technology; internet access, a 42-inch plasma screen TV, and, in keeping with the sheer decadence, a remote control allowing you to observe who’s at the door and let your guests in without having to leave the comfort of your armchair.
The management at the Burj Al Arab pride themselves on their hotel’s highly personalised service; an entire army of staff (1,200 no less) to tend to your every need. Each suite has its own butler and each floor has its own guest service desk. An unbeatable view of Dubai’s coastline can be enjoyed from the Al Muntaha restaurant, which is suspended 200 metres (656 feet) above the Gulf and reached by an express panoramic lift travelling at six metres per second.
Be warned: treat yourself to a stay here and you may be reluctant to leave; the real world being too rude an awakening after such magnificence. If you can’t afford a bed at the Burj (a standard room will set you back a whopping Dhs3,850 a night) but still want to see the obscene affluence of its interiors for yourself, book yourself in for afternoon tea or cocktails. There’s a minimum spend of Dhs250 per person, but the Burj is the closest Dubai has to an Eiffel Tower or an Empire State, so it’s just about worth the extravagance.