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March 2020

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The sport of kings

1 March 2020

A private getaway with polo at its heart awaits at Dubai’s Meliá Desert Palm

Holistic centres, corporate breaks, meditation retreats... as more travellers clamor for experiences over amenities, properties are increasingly looking at ways to differentiate themselves. Sometimes the transition is seamless, other times somewhat forced – so it’s a coup when a hotel can naturally step into its niche.

That’s the enviable position Meliá Desert Palm finds itself in: a serene 160 acre estate dedicated to the sport of kings.

Arriving at Desert Palm, which the Spanish chain Meliá Hotels International took over two years ago, is a little like stepping onto a South American ranch.

A sweeping, curved drive leads to the main property, home to Desert Palm’s restaurants, bars, pool and hotel rooms. A Jordanian white stone terrace lures guests out to a mammoth polo field (one of four), and private villas flank either side.

The property is full of touches that evoke the feeling of grandeur at an old polo estate. Hidden at the furthest end is Rashid Museum, a cottage adorned with murals and filled to the brim with trophies and Steinbeck prints. On a morning run, one might encounter a pride of peacocks pecking their way through the grounds, or grooms leading strings of ponies that kick up dust in their wake.

Back in the rooms, one can book either a hotel room in the main property, with views of the polo field, or one of the villas. Rooms are all spacious, designed in an Arabic contemporary style, with a nod to equestrianism as well as modern features like touch screen lights and Nespresso machines. With high walls, rain showers and their own temperature-controlled pools, the villas are ideal for a small wedding party or couple.

For breakfast head to Epicure, by the pool, which serves up Arabic classics like shakshuka or European specialties like eggs florentine. From October to April, one can sit and listen to the click of mallets as players gallop up the long stretch of lawn – not a bad way to spend a morning.

Three things to try

A polo lesson
Galloping up a field whilst aiming a mallet at a miniscule ball – even if one has been to the polo before, the experience whilst mounted is a whole other story. The sport comes with a dizzying array of terminology – chukkas, divot stomping, stick and ball – all of which can be explained in a private lesson with an Argentinian player, many of whom live on-site over the season. With riding experience required, learn the ins and outs of one of the fastest and most exhilarating games in the world on sensible and responsive ponies.

Rare
At night, head to South America for an evening at Rare, where the Argentinian chef serves up wagyu steak aged for a month and a half and seared on an oak-wood-fired grill, as well as hot churros for dessert. After dinner, occasionally players will gather at the polo bar for a single malt and chat about the morning’s chukka.

Field dining
For a special occasion, a private dinner can be booked right next to the polo field – a three course meal with wine and one’s own waiter costs AED1,500 for two people.

Words: Georgina Lavers

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