XVA Art Hotel Dubai’s best kept secret
Dubai - It is quite wrong to think that Dubai is all about bling and being the biggest and the tallest. All one has to do is visit the historical neighbourhood along the banks of the famed creek known as Al Fahidi in the heart of the city and wind through the pathways dotted with shops selling knickknacks, craft items and spices to XVA Art Hotel and Café.
Often called Dubai’s best-kept secret and consistently top rated by the international travel media, the tiny hotel charms a visitor beyond words.
Occupying a former merchant’s home, with additions over the years, XVA Art Hotel, which has been voted the best boutique hotel in the Middle East, exudes a magic and creative buzz that stays with a person long after departing.
With its three original wind towers, three courtyards, 14 individually themed rooms of various sizes, a lounge and rooftop, guests enjoy the feeling of being part of an intimate but friendly communal space that radiates local culture and insights from the vibrant regional art scene.
The XVA Gallery is well-known internationally, focusing on contemporary art from the Arab world, Iran and the Indian subcontinent. Exhibitions by established and emerging artists from the region run throughout the year. The gallery promotes its roster of artists internationally, tying up with other galleries and taking part in international art fairs.
Priding itself as an alcohol-free hotel, guests and visitors can indulge in a range of Middle Eastern-inspired vegetarian options at the café. At the concept store and gift shop, they can pick up fashions, accessories and lifestyle products from talented designers.
It is not only the ones seeking art who frequent this boutique hotel. XVA, with its shaded courtyard and rooftop, is a sought-after venue for advertisement film shoots, product launches, film screenings, television episodes, yoga workshops, artist talks and corporate get-togethers.
XVA was ahead of its time when it was conceived in 1999. The Dubai municipality was restoring the area then, recalled hotel owner Mona Hauser.
“The idea to have a gallery has been my dream since I was a child,” she said. “I grew up in rural Arkansas longing for art and culture. In 1993, my husband’s job led us to Dubai. I was inspired to see the ruin of Al Fahidi — then known as Bastakiya — as the perfect location for my gallery and hotel project.
“The concept included a hotel and café since the space allowed more of a hospitality environment. It has been my dream come true.”
The concept of promoting art was almost non-existent at the time in Dubai but for someone who lived and dreamed about art, it would provide an impetus for creating something new. “When I arrived in Dubai I found two art galleries but I felt there was a niche unfilled and the need to exhibit contemporary art made in Dubai or the region,” said Hauser.
In 1999, she decided to open a gallery and selected the heritage area of Bastakiya and building 15A as her choice location. “Hence the name, XVA, that also means position, velocity and acceleration in physics terms,” she said.
Hauser’s academic background and passion for art, creativity and open-mindedness found expression in the way the XVA Art Hotel has been conceived and functions.
“As the house was under renovation by Dubai municipality I had to wait four years. It was like being pregnant for four years,” she said, “but, like a pregnancy, it was a gestation period. I learned about the artists of Dubai and more about the work of operating a hotel and café.”
The boutique hotel has undergone additions and alterations over the years.
“When I first opened in 2003, I occupied two houses,” Hauser said. “These houses were formerly the Seddiqi family home. After four years, I took two more houses, now using four.
“Except for making some openings to link the houses and adding bathrooms and the kitchen, there have been few changes. It is very important to respect the heritage aspect of the buildings in this protected site.”
It is not a typical tourist who seeks out XVA. When queried about the memorable feedback and experiences she can share, Hauser stated: “Our guests know when they book that they will not be getting a standard hotel-chain experience. There are many memorable XVA experiences but discretion forbids me to tell you.”
One night’s stay including breakfast ranges between $110-$190, excluding tax, depending on the size and location of the room.
Are there plans to extend the XVA brand into other areas?
“I have dreams of expanding XVA but nothing is being planned immediately,” Hauser said. “At the moment, the new projects, workshops, art fairs, events and our fashion XVA label are keeping the team very busy.”