Winter in the UAE means a few things: a drop in temperature, the opportunity to spend time outdoors, and an influx of visitors in search of sunshine and an antidote to the post-Christmas blues. Having friends and family to stay is a treat, but it can also feel like a lot of pressure. With that in mind, here's our guide to being the host with the most (and doing so with a smile on your face).
While you're certainly not operating a hotel – and your guests need to remember that – it's natural that you'll want your home to look its best when visitors arrive. Leanne Moss is the founder of White Moss (www.white-moss.com), a Dubai-based interior decor webshop, and is something of an expert on the subject.
She says that if you’re lucky enough to have a guest room, you should keep your base colours neutral and add character, flair and a personal touch with soft furnishings – a natural wooden ladder for hanging fresh towels, or a large wicker basket that’s perfect for displaying plants or storing toiletries. Moss is also a fan of “anything to do with pineapples”, particularly lamps, ornaments and pictures, as they symbolise warmth, hospitality and luck.
If you can, Moss advises investing in a good-quality mattress, duvet and bed sheets for the guest room, but, for a quick-fix solution, she says that fresh flowers or a simple palm leaf or sprig of eucalyptus in a glass vase are an easy, beautiful and affordable way to add a homely touch.
Her next tip may not have occurred to you before, yet it makes perfect sense: “I would recommend you try and spend a night in the room yourself before your guests arrive, to test it out and see how you feel in there. What do you see when you’re lying in bed? How is the light? Is the bed comfortable? Are the mirrors at the right height? All too often guests rooms look lovely, but they’re not practical at all.”
When preparing for the imminent arrival of her guests, interior designer, stylist and blogger Kathryn Hawkes begins by giving the entire house a general clean-up and declutter. While most people are unlikely to have a home as stylishly curated as hers, she notes that scented candles, flowers and an array of amenity-sized toiletries will go a long way towards making your guests feel welcome.
“Small things can make a world of difference. It may seem like a no-brainer, but always ensure that your guest bathroom is well stocked with loo paper and clean hand towels. I try to put some local magazines or a city guide in the bedroom and a welcome note with the WiFi password is a nice touch, too.” Hawkes adds that making sure the bedside area is equipped with practical items like a bottle of water, sufficient lighting and a charging point for electronic devices, will help to make guests feel settled.
Food and mealtimes – both in the home, and out and about – often become an area of focus when you have guests. This is especially true if the visit is a long one and you, the host, are juggling normal life (work, the school run, extracurricular activities) with entertaining. Once again, it’s well worth remembering that you’re not running a hotel; guests are perfectly capable of fending for themselves and might even like a night out on their own.
Having a couple of meals stashed away in the freezer is brilliant for days when the last thing you feel like doing is cooking; next time you’re preparing a freezer-friendly dish such as a curry, stew, tagine or soup, make double and freeze the extras for later. Grazing-style spreads constructed from ready-made items are also an effortless way to feed a group without going to a huge amount of effort. The trick to making these feel like a well-planned, thoughtful dinner, rather than a thrown- together mess, is to theme them slightly. So one evening offer a nod to the region with a Middle Eastern mezze (buy hummus, tabbouleh, moutabel and the like from the supermarket deli, add warm flatbreads and a big salad and you’re done); the next night, go Italian with a selection of cured meats, olives, stuffed peppers and cheese.
It would be a shame for your guests to spend time in the UAE without eating out at all, but as we know, doing so is expensive, so select your spots with care. Zoe Bowker is a fine-dining and luxury travel reviewer who, as an official "Tastemaker" for the World's 50 Best Restaurants, certainly knows her stuff. She suggests a trip to Weslodge Saloon, the restaurant on the 68th floor of the JW Marriot Marquis hotel in Dubai for excellent views, Canadian food and great music. Also recommended is a visit to Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera for oysters, a look inside this architectural icon and a glimpse at the Burj Khalifa from the open-air terrace.
The problem with all that dining out and entertaining in general is that it can play havoc with plans for eating healthily, as well as throwing exercise regimes into disarray. Carly Rothman, a personal trainer and founder of the hugely popular food and healthy lifestyle blog Lean Living Girl (www.leanlivinggirl.com), insists that this needn't be the case, though.
"Food is such a big part of my life, and of the UAE's culture, so that's actually where I usually start exploring with guests," Rothman says. "I love taking them for lunch at Comptoir 102 – their seaweed and guacamole salad is amazing – and BB Social Dining in DIFC serves the most amazing healthy food, including vegan options, which is pretty rare here."
In Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, the latest outpost of the popular (and homegrown) Nolu’s concept, Nolu’s Raw near Al Seef Village Mall, serves bright, wholesome, nourishing dishes that taste great and do you good at the same time.
When it comes to staying active, Rothman advocates organising activities that have some sort of exercise element to them, whether that be renting Cyacle bikes and exploring the Abu Dhabi Corniche, heading out to Al Qudra Cycle Path in Dubai for a more arduous ride, spending a morning paddleboarding or running around one of the UAE's many parks, with a pit stop at a cafe for breakfast or lunch. Her top tip – and it's a good one – is that many workout classes here offer the first class for free, meaning that you can bring your visitors along at no extra cost.
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. After all, your guests are here to see you; the sunshine is just a nice added bonus.