We rented a car at Dubai Airport and instead of driving into town, where the action is, we head up north towards Ajman, in search of a more authentic Emirates experience — a place where you wake up in the morning and immediately know you’re in the Middle East — not like most hotels in Dubai, which have the same interior design as hotels in Paris or New York.
We enter Ajman and wind our way through the narrow streets of the city centre, passing the Gold Souk and on our way to the fish market where dhows are unloading the catch of the day. We head on through town until we reach the coastal road where large residential towers line the beachfront. Between the high-rise buildings we spot a heritage resort with an unmistakable Emirati feel to it. “This is it!” I say, as I turn into the driveway.
Meeting Sheikh Mohammed, the man behind the concept
We walk into the hallway and look up at the central dome, a common feature in classical Arab architecture. On the left a staircase leads up to what looks like a library, on the right a restaurant with a stunning view of the beach. “Can I help you?” a voice behind us asks. We look behind us and see a man in a stylish uniform. “Oh… yes, hello,” I say. “We’re from CoolBrands and we’re admiring the Arabian architecture. Could you elaborate on the concept behind it?”
The man looks around the lobby area and says, “Maybe I can introduce you to H.E. Sheikh Mohammed bin Faisal Al Qassimi, he is the creative mind behind the hotel.” The concierge leads us to a seating area where a man dressed in an impeccable white dishdasha is talking to two other men. The concierge bends over and whispers something in the sheikh’s ear. The man turns to looks at us and comes to greet us. “Welcome to The Ajman Palace,” he says, “my name is Mohammed bin Faisal Al Qassimi.”
As we stroll down the terrace with him, Mohammed tells us the story of the hotel. “Several decades ago, my family built a holiday home on this exact location, where we would invite family and friends for the weekend,” he says as he leads to some empty sofas that overlook the beach and the calm sea beyond. “Let’s sit down,” he adds with an inviting gesture.
“I was only a little boy, but I remember playing on the beach with my brother and sisters, and the dinners with aunts and uncles.” We sit down and almost immediately a waiter appears carrying a silver tray with small glasses of mint tea. We sit back and look out over the beach where our host must have played 30 years ago. “As the years went by the family grew bigger,” Mohammed continues. “Little kids grow up and get married and have children too. So the family house became too small, and we couldn’t host our family gatherings anymore.”
Memories brought back to life
I picture an abandoned house on the beach, then the construction of hotels along the shore, and other kids playing on the beach where Mohammed and his brother used to play. “It wasn’t that dramatic,” Mohammed says, as if he can read my mind. “A few years ago we decided that we could not lose our family tradition. We decided to build a lifestyle resort where our holiday home used to stand, where we could receive friends and relatives, but also travellers who come to discover Ajman and want to experience Arab hospitality. This is also why we chose a classical Arabian style of architecture. We built a penthouse for my mother where she can receive her friends and family members. You could call it next-generation Arabian hospitality,” Mohammed says with smile. “Wow,” I say. “What a great story! Thanks for receiving me in your family home.”
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