Savour the splendours of Arabian jewel Abu Dhabi

Etihad Towers & Emirates Palace (Saeed Jumoh)
Etihad Towers & Emirates Palace (Saeed Jumoh)

ABU DHABI blows you away – it’s one of the most amazing places in the entire world.

More interesting than Las Vegas, but on the same sort of wow-factor scale, it’s a thriving city that changes in front of your eyes, with new developments on what seems like limitless budgets starting every week.

Sure, it’s not the place to go for history because, until the discovery of oil in the 1950s, there really wasn’t anything much here.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Back then, fishing and pearl diving were the order of the day, but now their Sheik is one of the wealthiest men in the world, with, according to Forbes Magazine, a net £18bn in his bank account.

Abu Dhabi is the largest and most populated of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

It boasts some of Arabia’s finest hotels, most exciting theme parks and greatest cultural attractions. Activities range from sand-surfing to wake-boarding, golf to go-karting and kayaking to camel-trekking.

So, what can you do, apart from gawp at the amazing hotels and shopping malls?

Well, first let’s stick with my favourite shopping mall – it’s in the capital’s new Central Business District on Al Marayah Island and has spectacular views of the waterfront and cityscape.

Called The Galleria it has over 130 of the world’s most renowned brand outlets.

You won’t find bargains here, but go for some window shopping and watch the veiled ladies in black splash their platinum credit cards.

For a bit more culture, head for Heritage Village. This reconstruction of a traditional oasis village provides an interesting glimpse into the country’s past.

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers - Lobby View
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers – Lobby View

Aspects of the desert way of life, including a campfire with coffee pots, a goats’ hair tent, and a falaj irrigation system, are attractively displayed in the open-air museum.

There are workshops where craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills, such as metal work and pottery, while women sit weaving and spinning.

The view along the Breakwater and to the beautiful Corniche opposite is worth the trip alone.

Another place not to miss is the Warehouse 421 – a new cultural destination in Abu Dhabi’s port area of Mina Zayed, just five minutes from where Louvre Abu Dhabi is to open at the end of the year. This project is set to be the future of Abu Dhabi’s art scene.

Having dipped into the culture, the other big thing going on in Abu Dhabi is golf.

The Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is a Gary Player-designed ocean course – the first in the region.

Three salt-water lakes and various sand dunes make for interesting on-course hazards, while more than
60 bunkers force even the bravest to pause for thought on this challenging Par 72.

This is a great place to enjoy a pint with the ex-pats and chat to them about life in this amazing Arabian bubble of opulence.

I stayed in a lovely hotel called Jumeirah at Etihad Towers (see jumeirah.com).

Pearls by Michael Caines, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Pearls by Michael Caines, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers

This striking 66-storey hotel offers breathtaking, panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf and the city skyline.

Its iconic five towers are designed to look like soaring palm frond.

Facilities include a private beach, three swimming pools and a spa.

One of the real highlights is their Observation Deck at 300. Located on level 74 of this massive building, this is the highest vantage point in all of Abu Dhabi and the views are simply stunning.

Entrance is around £12, but if you’re staying in the hotel, it’s free.

The value this five-star hotel offers is truly exceptional.

Rooms (and the super-king size beds) are vast and the bathrooms are totally luxurious.

From the minute you arrive to be greeted with a scented cool facecloth and cup of refreshing Arabian tea, you’re served hand and foot. This hotel really has the wow-factor, but perhaps isn’t as expensive as you might think.

Adjoined to it is one of the finest restaurants in the Middle East.

It’s called Pearls and is run by acclaimed British chef Michael Caines.

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers - BiCE - Terrace
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers – BiCE – Terrace

The food deserves its two Michelin stars and allows diners to sample a range of dishes that draw inspiration from around the Arabian Gulf, all the while enjoying breathtaking views of the capital’s waterfront and offshore islands.

Abu Dhabi is the name of the emirate, as well as the city. If you’ve an extra day or two, check out Al Gharbia and the desert.

This is in the emirate’s Western Region, which is largely comprised of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter), the largest sand desert in the world. Surrounded by enormous sand dunes is the five-star Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, around which scenes from the new Star Wars film were shot.

Activities include camel-trekking, 4×4 dune-bashing, sand-surfing, fat-wheeled biking, falconry and campfire barbecues.

Have yourself your very own ‘Lawrence of Arabia-style’ experience!


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