When Palazzo Versace Dubai first opened its doors in 2016, it was to much fanfare. On opening night, a party was held for 800 people, Donatella herself breezed into town, and Instagram bared witness to a quartet of supermodels cavorting around the property, clad in Donatella’s signature designs, celebrating long into the night. Then again, a hotel launch belonging to Versace was never going to be a quiet affair.
On entry, the lobby grandstands for all the right reasons; and it’s a sweeping invitation with its vast 1,000 square-metre mosaic floor
Exactly three years on, and the hotel has settled into itself, and while models, dignitaries and VIPs are still de rigeur of the guest list, the allure of the elaborate, neo-classical property reaches far wider. Plumped pretty on the now thriving Al Jaddaf Waterfront, the hotel is in good company with its neighbours; namely the critically-acclaimed Art Jameel institute opposite, and the almost-finished book-shaped Mohammed Bin Rashid Library, which is set to house over 4.5 million books when it opens next year. Here, location certainly counts. Reminiscent of a 16th-century Italian Palace, Palazzo Versace is a sprawling 55,570sqm neoclassical masterpiece that blends subtle traces of Arabian architecture, with a grand impression that hits as you soon turn up its driveway.
Those who know the fashion company behind the hotel – Versace, a seriously va-va-voom fashion brand first founded in 1978 by late Italian designer Gianni Versace, and now spearheaded by his sister, Donatella – will be aware of the importance of the Medusa icon in all things Versace. The Greek mythological character who made people fall in love with her is synonymous with the House of Versace, and looms large throughout, but perhaps never quite as imposingly as under foot on the driveway, as mosaiced tiles form her face, and she welcomes and lures you inside like a siren.
On entry, the lobby grandstands for all the right reasons; it’s a sweeping invitation to the property, with its vast 1,000sqm mosaiced floor by Fantini Mosaici, using 1.5 million pieces, hand-cut and laid piece by piece. But the peacocking doesn’t stop there, because above you sways one of the most beautiful chandeliers I’ve ever seen; named ‘Golden Breeze’, it’s a 3,000kg amber-tone, glass-blown installation by Lasvit that is based on a classic Versace arabesque pattern designed to appear as if moved by a soft breeze, and it is genuinely quite breathtaking.
Further into the lobby and the power of Versace takes hold – everywhere you look you feel the essence and presence of the ‘rock baroque’ vibes Gianni was so famed for. There are lavish gold and red swirling patterns bedecked on furnishings, bespoke furniture and textiles decorated with peacocks, falcons and horses, framed illustrations of Donatella’s designwork lining each corridor and just an over-riding sense of subtle grandeur.
The hotel is a visual masterpiece that combines the beauty of Italian craftsmanship with the elegance of a fashion-branded space. With Donatella’s aim to refresh the Versace vision and make it more contemporary, the opulence isn’t over-whelming – certainly more than just implied, but toned down and, more accessible, perhaps.
Stunning parquet flooring, medusa-motifed tumblers, mosaiced bathroom tiling and vivid baroque prints... there is much for the eye to see
Following check-in, a corridor lined with plush, purple carpet and the ‘wall of fame’ fashion illustrations leads me to my Grand Suite, a 130sqm thoughtfully-designed space that brings that subtle splendour to the fore again. Stunning parquet flooring, Medusa-motifed tumblers, mosaiced bathroom tiling, and vivid baroque prints on everything from furniture to bedlinen to chaise longue... There is much for the eye to see. But the suite is spacious, and not engulfed by over-furnishing, so there’s an easy breathability. Plus, the muted hues of turquoise, yellow and salmon that feature across the house’s legendary prints throughout refuse to overwhelm either, resulting in rooms that land somewhere between homely and majestic. Having curated each and every element of the interior décor herself exclusively for Palazzo Versace Dubai, Donatella hasn’t missed a beat, and with the hotel housing a Versace Home store (alongside Versace Kids and Versace Jewellery), your suite is shoppable, too.
I could stay here all I day, but the light flooding in from outside lures me to the window, and the twinkling azure waters below, courtesy of one of the hotel’s three pools. My view takes in the central infinity pool, that I learn is only available to hotel guests – rather than those with a day pass, as is popular in Dubai – and its sweeping views of Dubai Creek, and the Al Jaddaf Waterfront below. It’s a view that demands to be explored up, close and personal.
I meander outside via lunch at Vanitas. One of eight restaurants in the hotel, it is the place that perhaps feels most akin to the hotel founder, with its intimate Italian elegance and charm. With a menu brimming with Italian classics, I settle on Burrata with avocado, heirloom tomatoes and pickled shallots – a dish that tastes oh-so-right with the freshness, flavour, and richness of the cheese so on point; followed by Spaghetti alla Chitarra – a classic pasta where little else is needed bar fresh tomato, chilli and basil. Simple and divine.
An al fresco afternoon is called for, and after I spend an hour gently lapping Capri pool in the company of Medusa on the tiled floor beneath me and Al Jaddaf winking in the background, I retire to the quieter Portofino pool, in the West wing of the hotel, where I doze in a cabana amid birdsong from the surrounding Frangipani trees, sip on fresh-fruit mocktails, and drink in the very last of the afternoon sun.
Having stayed at the brand’s sister property on the Gold Coast in Australia (which opened first in 2006), I’m akin to the restorative powers of Palazzo Versace’s spa, and once the sun has set, I spend a few delicious hours there in its dark and sumptuous grip. With black Granito Nero Assoluto marble floor and grey degrade mosaic tiles with mother-of-pearl detailing, the interiors feel like dark, cavernous warrens of indulgence and wellbeing. Here you can try everything from a ceremonial hammam to a hot stone massage to a gold and caviar facial that embraces the power of Swiss anti-ageing excellence, all before sinking into a thermal suite post-sauna. A few hours here feel decidedly and decadent, and you emerge as if from a chrysalis back into the light with renewed vigour for life.
Dinner takes me to Engima, the hotel’s immersive restaurant concept, in which there’s a rotating theme that changes every three months. Each chef, selected from one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, takes guests on a culinary adventure through their preferred cuisine, and I’m fortunate enough to try ‘Taste of Persia’, inspired by the Iranian origins of Palazzo Versace’s two-Michelin-starred executive chef, Mansour Memarian. All dark and broody, the décor of Enigma has rich overtones that at once feel rooted in history, and while it’s perhaps the journey through Persia I’m about to embark on, I feel transported to a bygone time. A sharing concept that allows guests to dip in and try myriad dishes, highlights include Kashke Bademjun (charcoal grilled eggplants with kashk), Mirza Ghasemi (grilled eggplants with fresh tomatoes, roasted onions and garlic) and pan-fried seabass with kuku sabzi herbs. So fresh, so enticing, and so befitting of the setting I’m in. For dessert, the ‘Brownie in a treasure box’ is exactly what it says and delivers quite possibly the most heart-stopping chocolate brownie I’ve ever tried. It certainly feels like I’ve found treasure.
After dinner, a surprise lies in a wait next door – a jazz bar founded by the legendary American music producer, singer and musician, Quincy Jones. Q’s Bar & Lounge isn’t perhaps what you’d expect at Palazzo Versace, but it has proved incredibly popular since its launch, in part due to the calibre of the acts that Quincy hand-picks acts from all over the world, and it is absolutely packed. I pick a table in the corner and spend the next few hours listening to the full-bodied vocals of an all-girl jazz quartet who hit all the right notes, with crowd-rousing covers and laid-back love songs. There are no clocks here, and time seems to stand still, so when I emerge late, late into the night, I’m grateful for the crisp Donatella-approved bedsheets and capacious king-size bed waiting for me.
Morning brings with it the chance to sit al fresco overlooking the La Piscina east pool on the terrace at Giardino – a cheerfully-decorated restaurant with marble ‘terrazzo’ flooring, and wallcoverings inspired by the jungle motif of Versace’s wallpaper collection. The vibe is happily upbeat, and I fuel myself for the day on freshly made omelette, freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice and still-warm homemade bread, all eaten off the restaurant’s exclusive line of ‘Rosenthal meets Versace’ crockery collection, inspired by Les Reves Byzantines.
Lunch here later brings with it a day crowd who gather to revel in the vibrant Versace energy, and languish on a long leisurely brunch where sushi stations meet curry corners and donut walls vie for attention with chocolate fountains. The mood is contagious and spills over into La Piscina, beyond the terrace, where sun-worshippers linger from morning to night. Recently transformed into a destination for hotel day-guests, it’s for over-21s only, and with the swim-up bar, private cabanas, sunken pool loungers and day-long DJ sets, it’s the kind of place that halcyon holidays are made of.
What Donatella has created here is a hotel that masterfully conjures up a sense of belonging, a feeling of home, amid a design that teeters perfectly between intimate and regal. Whilst there are elements throughout the property that feel museum-like, it’s more playful than staid, and takes guests on a visual journey through Versace’s long-history with art and fashion, all whilst embracing the Italian house’s now-iconic, visceral spirit. It’s an immersive experience to stay here, that allows you to see the Versace lifestyle through the contemporary eyes of Donatella, where history is made modern. Elegant, convivial and queenly... quite the triumphant tour de force. Ciao, bella.
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