Ever wondered what it looks like if you combine Dubai's wealth, ambition, coastline and climate? Well, it looks like floating villas with submerged bedrooms that provide views of the surrounding sea-life off a reclaimed island archipelago shaped like a map of the world in the Persian Gulf.
Along with its Palm Islands, work began on Dubai's The World in the early 2000s. What seemed like ridiculously ambitious projects were, in fact, driven by a need for more real estate, with undeveloped land in the UAE city becoming increasingly rare, and a desire for more beaches.
The World sits 4 km (2.5 mi) off the coast of Dubai. Once complete, the Nakheel development will comprise an archipelago of 300 islands built from dredged sand. Six of those islands make up "Europe" and their owner, the Kleindienst Group, promises that the continent will become a "first of its kind, out-of-this-world island holiday resort."
Together, the islands are known as the Heart of Europe and are individually named Main Europe, Monaco, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and St. Petersburg. They cover an area of 6 million sq ft (557,000 sq m) and will be able to accommodate up to 16,000 people at a time.
Although the islands will all be connected via bridges and will be accessible by boat, seaplane and helicopter, no traditional fuel vehicles will be permitted on them, so as not to detract from the idyllic island experience. Among their features will be climate-controlled streets, over 100,000 natural corals and a dedicated coral nursery, cafes and restaurants representing 51 European different countries and 14 hotels and resorts, ranging from five to seven stars.
If hotels aren't your thing, though, then Sweden Island will be home to 10 luxury seven-bedroom beach-front villas. Sitting on plots ranging from 15,794-19,157 sq ft (1,467-1,780 sq m), they will each boast an infinity pool, a sauna, a gym and spa, a snow room (literally a cold, snowy room purported to have health benefits), floor-to-ceiling windows, large balconies and landscaped gardens. Owners will also apparently have the option of adding a "party and chill-out floor" to their villa.
As you'd expect on Sweden Island, the villas will feature Scandinavian design, with their structures mimicking upturned Viking ships. The interiors will be furnished by Bentley Home, the interior design arm of the premium carmaker, and residents will have views of the Dubai skyline. The first show villa is said to be close to completion and all 10 villas are expected to be completed this year.
For accommodation that is more exotic still, there's the fleet of Floating Seahorses. The concept was was unveiled at last year's Dubai International Boat Show and takes the form of a villa-cum-boat, with propulsion so that it can be moved around.
Looking at the original renderings, one could have imagined the idea remaining a concept. They looked at once spectacular and impractical, but if Dubai has taught us anything, it's that this needn't be a problem. Indeed, the initial AED 5 million (US$1.4 million) price that was attached to the Floating Seahorses was raised to between AED 7 million ($1.9 million) and 10 million ($2.7 million) by the end of 2015 following "an overwhelming amount of interest."
Subsequently, construction of the first Floating Seahorse began last year and was completed this February. That unit is now located at the Heart of Europe islands as a show villa for prospective clients to visit and a larger Signature Edition for families and groups has also been launched.
Each Floating Seahorse will weigh around 188 tonnes (207 tons) and, at sea level, features a fully-fitted kitchen with a dining area, an open plan living area and an outside sun deck that becomes an extension of the living space. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide views out across the ocean.
An upper deck, meanwhile, provides a space for alfresco dining and sunbathing, with loungers, a mini bar, a kitchenette and a glass-bottomed jacuzzi. This space can also be converted into a bedroom when the additional sleeping space is required.
The coup de grâce of the Floating Seahorse, however, is the submerged master bedroom and bathroom, with 25-sq m (269-sq ft) underwater glazing providing views of the surrounding marine life. To ensure those views are up to scratch, a 46 sq m (495 sq ft) coral garden outside the master quarters provides a habitat for coral, seahorses and other sea life to live and breed.
Initially, St Petersburg island was to be home to 42 Floating Seahorses. Given the demand, there are now a planned 131 due to be located across the Heart of Europe islands. The first phase of the Heart of Europe project is due to be completed later this year, with additional stages to be completed up until 2018.
The below video provides an introduction the Heart of Europe.