If you’re heading anywhere on a long haul flight in the near future, chances are a transit through Dubai is on the cards, given it’s now officially stolen Heathrow’s crown as the world’s biggest international travel hub.
Or perhaps after reading this story, you’ll change your route (or your holiday) to make sure it is.
Not long ago, I had the pleasure of stopping through Dubai on my way to a wedding in Europe. I called the emirate home from 2005 to 2010 and as the editor of a well-known luxury fashion magazine, experienced some pretty indulgent things in that time, but nothing on the same scale in a ‘workout-and-spa combination’ sense as my afternoon at the iconic Atlantis The Palm hotel last month.
On arrival at the enormous hotel’s Japanese-themed Shuiqi Spa (shuiqi means flowing water/energy) and a warm welcome from Welsh spa manager Hefina Rees, who spent many years working in Grand Cayman before Dubai, I locked my gear away in the lavish change rooms and was ushered to my personal training session was with Mauritian national Linley, a former pro football player and contemporary dancer.
“It’s the best gym in the Middle East in terms of design,” said Linley, of the space that’s not enormous but is certainly filled with everything you’d possibly need for a really thorough workout. I would argue it’s up there with the best on a global scale (and not just because of it’s lovely view out over the hotel’s pool area, facing back toward Dubai’s spectacular skyline); all of the gear – from cardio machines to resistance area – is the latest by TechnoGym. In fact, I’m told this is the only gym in Dubai with the most current equipment from the brand.
I’d never seen a whole room of ‘weights machines’ quite like these. Rather than standard push/pull standard design, these worked entirely with cables, meaning your body is less stable and needs you to engage more muscles, in a functional training way. (No more old school clunky, one-directional, seated gym machines.) “These machines work more on flexibility and mobility, the principles of all-body functional training, and that’s what people are looking for,” Linley said as we progressed through my resistance workout after a brief cardio warm-up.
My favourite part? The ARKE Core Centric Training area, specifically one piece of gear there that was essentially a medicine ball on the end of a large pole, attached to the ground by a pivot (pictured right). It was something I’d never tried before, and going from a crouch to an extension up at an angle worked core muscles I’d forgotten I had! A close second was the unique crunch machine, which needed just the tiniest movement for huge impact. “You work your core without affecting the lumber spine,” Linley explained.
The gear also lives up to its name in the techno stakes. Using a program called My Wellness, which links to any apple watch (Linley wore one for our session), phone, digital key, Fitbit or Jawbone, amongst other things, you can access a virtual PT wellness cloud that stores all of your past workouts, or guides you through the one that’s been planned by a trainer for you that day.
Over in the cardio area (which boasted some seriously cool high tech sweat machines that synch with My Wellness too) you can run through hilly green countryside or a city beachfront area, courtesy of some fun high definition virtual reality on a screen in front of you.
Once I’d blown away the jet lag cobwebs with my very unique PT session, it was time to head back to the spa for part two of my body-love afternoon (the pamper part).
The attention to detail is this spa is phenomenal and all keeping with the aquatic theme; there are Sheseido products in the beauty area of the change room and even the handles in the bathrooms are shaped like seahorse tails.
The communal spa area next to the change boasts the biggest hot tub I’ve ever seen, a steam room with menthol scent and colour therapy, a giant clam shell ice machine outside the sauna (pictured right) that looked more like a piece of art, and sofa-filled relaxation area where you’re served delicious snacks post treatment (in my case, a carrot/ginger/cucumber juice, mixed berries with seed sprinkle, and a superfood bircher).
As I followed my therapist Evangeline (the name of my daughter, by lovely coincidence) through to the treatment areas, I got the most exquisite surprise of all: a very long, dimly-lit corridor of stepping stones above running water, flanked by a sea white orchids, dotted with the doors of treatment rooms on either side. It was the most beautiful spa design I’ve ever had the fortune to view.
Add to that the 60 minutes of bliss that followed during my Shiseido Stress Massage, which involved long flowing strokes, followed by hot towels and cream after each area, and my previously aching, plane-kinked body and soul felt like new. There’s clearly good reason this popular wellness destination has been nominated in the 2015 World Luxury Spa Awards.
Would I visit again? Of course.
Would I plan to stay at the Atlantis during my next stopover just to treat myself to this world-class gym/spa combo a second time? Don’t tell me family and dearest friend who all live in Dubai and always have a spare room for me, but: yes, absolutely.