While 2020 has been a difficult year for the travel industry, to say the least, some interesting travel books have continued to appear. Regular guide books aren’t much use to most of us right now, but we can still browse coffee-table books with beautiful photography and be inspired for the future, whatever that might look like. One recent release that fits this description is Lonely Planet’s Secret City: The Insider’s Guide to the World’s Coolest Neighbourhoods, edited by Anita Isalska.
It’s easy for would-be visitors to find information on the most popular attractions in travel destinations. But sticking to the most popular attractions is limiting, and in a post-Covid world (whenever that might be!) doesn’t sound very appealing. To really get to know a place it’s helpful to have tips from insiders, people who live in the city and know it intimately.
One of the cities included in Secret City is Dubai, somewhere I’ve never been. If I ever do make it beyond the airport in this Emirate, I’ll certainly be following Dubai travel expert Sarah Hedley Hymers‘ suggestions for places to eat, stay, and visit. Sarah wrote the Dubai chapter of Secret City, and includes the neighbourhoods of Al Satwa (known as “Little Asia”), Deira (known for its souks and the creek), the Jumeirah Lakes Towers, and Al Quoz 1 (an ex-industrial estate that now houses trendy warehouse galleries).
I recently had a chat with Dubai travel expert Sarah about her work on this book, as a travel writer, and why Dubai should stay on the radar of international travellers.
What’s your connection to Dubai?
I have homes in both Dubai and London and have spent more than a decade in both.
You describe yourself as an armchair travel expert. Could you explain what you mean by this?
I’m a travel expert who’s been confined to my armchair since Covid-19 hit – before that I was very much out and about!
How did you become a travel writer?
I started my career in journalism, and my personal passions eventually drove me to specialise in travel and hospitality. I’m obsessed with hotels and restaurants.
Secret City focuses on out-of-the-ordinary recommendations for eating, drinking, partying, and delving into local culture. How did you go about researching your chapter on Dubai?
I’m a full-time travel writer and TV presenter. My current show on Euronews, called Postcards, visits a different Dubai neighbourhood each episode, and I’m the Dubai Destination Expert for The Telegraph. I put all that experience to use in compiling the book’s Dubai chapter.
How did you come to contribute this chapter? Were you approached by the editor or publisher, or was it something you pitched?
I was approached by the lovely people at Lonely Planet, having already written for them as a contributor.
This is a challenging time for the travel industry, and there’s the danger that books being launched this year might be out of date once the world re-opens for travel after the Covid crisis. Why should Dubai stay on the radar of international travellers?
Dubai is ever-changing – that’s part of its appeal, but some of its assets are cherished too much to be lost. For example, the Pakistani restaurant Ravi’s that I mention in the book was struggling during the lockdown, but locals mounted a campaign to save it with Virgin Radio DJ Kris Fade rallying residents to go and dine there. There were even Ravi’s T-shirts created that people could buy to show their support. As they say, the cream always rises.
Other cities I’m excited to read in Secret City are some of my favourite global cities: