Though the pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the tourism industry this year, for The Heart of Europe, a cluster of seven man-made islands (designed to emulate the countries of Europe) off the Jumeirah Coast of Dubai, lockdown has had a surprisingly positive effect.
Not only has the isolated archipelago remained virus-free due to a travel ban since March, but the 1,200 engineers, consultants and workers living there have been able to continue the project in a productive fashion, meaning that Phase One will be completed by the end of this year. It is hoped that the first guests will arrive in October.
Overall, The Heart of Europe – which is part of a bigger $US5 billion ($A7.32b) 'island destination' project by Kleindienst Group entitled 'The World' – will offer 15 hotels and resorts with 3,500 hotel keys, plus 4,000 holiday homes including floating villas and oodles of white sandy beaches when it completes in 2023.
Phase One will include Honeymoon Island, Germany Island and Sweden Island, plus Portofino Hotel and Monaco Hotel on the Main Europe Island. The heart-shaped Maldivian-inspired Honeymoon Island (pictured above and below) will open with 78 Floating Seahorse Villas and Empress Elizabeth Hotel, the first dedicated seven-star wedding hotel in the world.
Germany Island, which curls around a lagoon, will be home to 32 Bauhaus-inspired beach and lagoon villas, a bar, gardens, white beaches and palm trees. Visitors will be able to experience traditional festivals and events like Christmas markets and Oktoberfest with all the appropriate cuisine and accoutrements.
Inspired by Viking vessels, Sweden Island will feature 10 four-storey waterfront properties – billed as luxury palaces – with their own stretch of private beach; gym, sauna and snow room on each ground floor; plus a glass-roofed party room on each rooftop.
Specially curated events will include Swedish Midsummer, Walpurgis Eve and crayfish parties whilst also marking the country's film, music and arts scene. Guests will be able to enjoy traditional cuisine with dishes such as sour herring, meatballs, Raggmunkar, toast Skagen, Snaps and Glὃgg.
Visitors to the Portofino Hotel, the first five-star family-only hotel and resort in the region, can expect to see a mix of traditional Italian and contemporary Mediterranean design inspired by the Italian fishing village, including the harbour, colourful buildings and flower-filled balconies.
Once guests arrive at the marina, Paraggi Bay, they will be greeted in Italian. Four restaurants and six bars will serve organic Mediterranean-style cuisine and will even accept euros as payment.
Each of the 489 Princess and Queen hotel suites will have separate rooms for children, and there will be a children's centre (Kingdom of Portofino Kids' Club), plenty of entertainment, over 500 aquariums and a dedicated snow area to keep them busy.
Furthermore, babysitting services, personal shoppers, beauticians, nutritionists, therapists, personal trainers and a 24-hour concierge will be available.
Also on Main Europe Island, the Côte d'Azur will come to life. Four hotels named after the famous Monaco, Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez resorts will elevate the offering with premium suites and penthouses, French dining, high-end boutiques, white sandy beaches and plenty of water sports including pearl diving – though in this phase only the Monaco Hotel will open, and possibly the Nice Hotel. There's a climate-controlled street where visitors will be able to experience inclement European weather (rain), plus a swish replication of Monaco Marina.
Elsewhere, the rest of the Heart of Europe is taking shape and by the end of 2023 visitors will be able to explore such places as Venice and Switzerland. Floating Venice, Dubai's take on the Italian City of Water is billed as the world's first underwater resort.
Above water, guests will be able to enjoy views of the Dubai skyline from one of the 411 airy rooms or nine restaurants and bars, jump onto a gondola, moor up at the yacht club and witness the odd masked carnival or opera. Below the surface, the unprecedented views of coral and marine life are the big draw. Three of the bars and restaurants are submerged, so is the spa, plus 180 cabins.
Switzerland Island will offer beachfront and lagoon villas all with private swimming pools and lush gardens. The villa chalets are designed using timber, stone, and glass to evoke that Swiss alpine feel, while the lagoon is said to represent the lakes.
In terms of Covid-19 precautions, the islands already observe social distancing, the medical team regularly spray disinfectants, and health checks are routinely carried out. The hotels will aim to be 'touchless' with an app that allows guests to book dinner and entertainment, whilst also customising lighting and temperature in their suites.
With a project of this scale, sustainability is a huge factor for the development. It was designed with 'zero discharge' and 'zero microplastics' policies to protect the Gulf and 514 species of marine life, and is home to the Coral Institute which aims to develop the reefs in the area. Around 500,000 square metres of coral reefs will be planted.
The islands will be car-free, use clean energy such as solar panels and hydro fuels and serve organic food in restaurants, cafés and via room service. Landscaping will be pesticide and fungicide free and use recycled water. Around 31,000 plants will comprise the hanging gardens on the facade of the Portofino Hotel, and Spanish olive trees aged between 100-1,500 years will be re planted.
This concept was the vision of Josef Kleindienst, chairman of Kleindienst Group, who wanted to create an island destination that showcases the best of European hospitality, culture, cuisine and entertainment. It is claimed that some parts will be ready for domestic and international tourists to visit in October, depending on UAE guidelines and wider travel restrictions.
The Telegraph, London