Uncover Sharjah’s rich tapestry of history, culture and traditions
Almost two decades since Fabio Marigliano first set foot in the hospitality business, he starts a new chapter in his career as General Manager of GHM’s stunning jewel, The Chedi Al Bait, Sharjah.
The dashing and debonair Italian native is no stranger to the East, having lent his expertise to the industry across Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and most recently Qatar before, landing in the UAE.
The third largest Emirati city, Sharjah, is home to The Chedi Al Bait, a site inundated with history, where centuries-old heritage buildings are enveloped within the design of the resort.
Once occupied by one of the most prominent families in the region, that of Ibrahim Bin Mohammed Al Midfa, who Sharjah’s first journalist, The Chedi Al Bait was built upon the foundations of centuries-old heritage houses that made monumental impact culturally, intellectually, and politically. The resort carefully preserves these historic structures along with developing new buildings to complement the heritage while catering to the modern traveller, so it’s no wonder that Fabio has found his very own special spots within the property, which have already moved him.
“On arrival, you’re immediately taken aback by the sight, welcomed by the enchanted courtyard,” says Fabio. The first courtyard is complemented by several others dotted around the property; each distinct from the last. “In some, there are trees; in others, there are water features. There is no standardised look; everywhere you turn, it’s different.”
Perhaps it is this unexpected series of surprises which captures Fabio’s heart and attention, or simply the detailed intricacies in each and every enclosure. Or possibly it’s that this is the perfect setting for his version of an ideal vacation – one that involves relaxing, spending time with your loved ones and explore. “It’s the best vacation you can ever have. The fact that you can relax and enjoy your surroundings”.
The Courtyard at The Chedi Al Bait exudes a sense of zen and tranquillity. (Credit: martatucci)
Fabio makes a point of highlighting the uniqueness of the doors at Chedi Al Bait, and it’s easy to see why. The Elephant Door is original to the home of Ibrahim Al Midfa and dates back to 1944 (or 1363 in Arabic calendar).The date is inscribed above the arch which frames the door. Elaborate hand-painted blue detailing lines the door and domed ceiling, transporting visitors to the past. Today, these beautifully wrought doors open up into the Bait Ibrahim Al Midfa, where the hotel’s majestic library and museum are located.
Within the Bait Ibrahim Al Midfa, another set of doors catch Fabio’s attention. The revolving door which separates The Museum from The Library. The former is a glimpse into Ibrahim Bin Mohammed’s life, with artifacts and objects from the Al Midfa family from when they occupied the property. The latter is an extensive collection of hundreds of antiquarian and contemporary books, old and new. Truly a place of respite, The Library holds volumes of some of the most sacred and important literature in Sharjah.
Deeper into The Chedi Al Bait, Fabio leads us to the wind-tower, Maijilis al Midfa. The striking architecture itself is a point of interest as it is the only remaining circular tower of its type in the UAE. But if the walls could speak, the ones here would doubtless tell some lavish tales of the life and times of the legendary Ibrahim Bin Mohammed al Midfa. Through his love for entertaining, his sense of hospitality has trickled down from the early 1900s, and his legacy of hosting friends and family within its beautiful walls remains. He would also receive his guests in the courtyard where he once exhibited his treasured works of art and collectibles for his guests to appreciate.
UAEs’ only standing circular wind tower in the heritage house of The Chedi Al Bait. (Credit: f_alnuaimii)
Located in the heritage house also once belonging to Ibrahim Al Midfa, lies another of Fabio’s hidden favourites, The Cafe. Beneath the Middle Eastern skies, the open restaurant emanates a sense of serenity. The design is “very nice, very new, very calming, and very zen,” Fabio explains. A place where one can find peace and leave troubles at the door or casually entertain. Fabio can often be found here, taking in the views while sipping on locally crafted drinks with an Emirati dessert in hand.
Within The Café lies a secret passageway that leads to the Heart of Sharjah – the Souq Al Arsah – one of (if not the) oldest marketplaces in the UAE. A meeting place for Bedouins and camels from a bygone area, the market is lined with a stretch of quaint stores selling local handicrafts, vintage articles, handmade jewellery, incense, herbs, carpets and more.
Beyond the borders of The Chedi Al Bait, there is still much to discover for the new resident. Adjusting to his new home, Fabio is quickly immersing himself in his new surroundings. “Every location can be home as long as the family is with you.” While navigating this new land, he looks forward to experiencing the culture first hand. “I think the city has so many channels of cultural experience even within a short distance. What is amazing is the exposure that you have to the true Emirati hospitality.” Fabio is especially looking forward to exploring the vastness of the Sharjah dunes and deserts; and the charming Al Majaz waterfront park.