At first glance, Dubai embodies conspicuous consumption and glossy artificiality — everything I stand against. And so, I was curious: in the 48 hours I had to explore the city, could I scratch away its bling veneer to uncover the real and the surprising: experiences antithetical to the clichés of shopping centres and theme parks — neither of which I was interested in visiting? My accommodation for two nights was a promising omen. As the newly opened sister to the original in London’s Mayfair, it’s only fitting that Dukes Dubai offers hints of British restraint and gravitas in a metropolis where both are in short supply. Dukes is positively understated by the city’s standards: a luxurious yet low-key respite from clogged highways and seething malls. Having dumped our bags and downed a gin and tonic, we head to Dubai Opera House to watch Mary Poppins, on tour from the West End. The show is beautifully executed, but what really is entrancing is its setting. The Atkins-designed opera ho...

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