Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, Dubai, best known of the UAE’s seven emirates, delivers an intoxicating blend of Arabian nights and sky-high sophistication.
From rooftop nightclubs to artificial islands, from atmospheric souks to 4WD desert adventures, it’s a city bursting with variety.
Concierge king Cleatus George is the man in the know at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai (read our Checking In interview with George on Marriott Traveler).
Born in Kerala, India, George is a career concierge who’s a member of the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or organization, and has hosted celebrities and business titans alike.
Marriott Traveler Living caught up with George to find out what to bring home from your sandy sojourn.
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For the Heart: Oud Perfume Oil
As an oil, oud is close to sweat-proof, meaning the scent lasts for hours—perfect for the hot, dry conditions in Dubai, where both men and women wear it every day.
“Musky, intense and precious, oud is a scent that’s synonymous with Dubai,” explains George. “It’s a fragrant oil derived from the resin of the agar tree, and it’s been part of Arab traditions since time immemorial.”
While visitors can find oud everywhere in Dubai, from the malls to traditional souk markets, George recommends visiting Villa 515, a boutique that specializes in niche perfumes and fashion brands. It’s owned by Dhaher bin Dhaher, an Emirati who created a contemporary Middle Eastern fragrance brand called Tola.
“The space looks like an Arabian villa and inside there’s a perfume store,” George says. “They have a small laboratory, so if you’re looking to customize something, they can generally do it.”
Whether it’s the scent itself or the hospitality of those in Dubai, locals and visitors—and even some celebrities—are drawn to the aura of oud.
“Gwen Stefani came to town to perform at the grand opening of the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai in December, and I took her to Villa 515,” George recalls. “She loved it! She got a huge collection from there. I don’t even know how many perfumes she bought!”
For the Hearth: A Dallah Coffee Pot
The traditional Arab coffee pot known as a dallah is one of the symbols of the Emirates, and an essential part of traditional Emirati hospitality. “A dallah can be made of absolutely anything: copper, brass, steel, silver—even 24-carat gold!” George says. “You can actually buy thermos flasks styled exactly like a traditional dallah.”
A dallah that is used for brewing has a thick base to withstand the flame, whereas a dallah for serving coffee tends to be more elegant.
For the highest quality, George recommends shopping for either kind at the Dubai Coffee Museum. Alternatively, he encourages visitors to explore the souks to find styles at different price points, including antique copper pots.
Note: In Dubai, as elsewhere in the world, bargaining is an essential element of the joy of souks.
“A good rule of thumb when you bargain is to aim for roughly 75 percent of the initial asking price,” George advises. “For example, if a seller starts at $100, counter with $60 and try to meet them at around $70 or $75.”
For the Family: Al Nassma Camel Chocolates
Camels have been part of the culture and lifestyle of the Bedouin for many centuries—and not only as a means of transport in the desert.
“Camel milk is very rich in minerals and vitamins and lower in lactose with a distinctive flavor,” George shares. “And camel milk chocolate is a true home-grown delicacy in Dubai.”
Manufactured by just one company, Al Nassma, the artisan camel milk chocolate comes in five varieties: whole milk, 70% cocoa, date, macadamia and Arabian spice. Stocked in outlets as far afield as Paris and California, it’s already starting to make waves around the world.
“If you’re looking for something small to take home for the kids, camel milk chocolate is an excellent option,” George says. “Al Nassma even makes some shaped like miniature camels.”