By Hillary Latos
As the UAE was established in 1971, it may not have UNESCO Heritage sites, but it’s capital does have beautifully ornate cultural centers, palaces, mosques and landmarks to learn about the country’s culture. Abu Dhabi is a truly extraordinary and utopian destination where respect for the past informs the present and shapes the future. This is a diverse emirate with desert escapes, oases, mountains, white sand beaches with warm clear waters and desert islands that balance ancient heritage monuments within a modern, cosmopolitan capital city that will exceed your wildest expectations.
In partnership with the Louvre in France, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a modern architectural marvel designed by Jean Nouvel on Saadiyat Island that opened in November 2017. This breathtaking building is surrounded by water and was inspired by traditional Islamic architecture with interconnecting buildings and a central area topped by a central silver dome. Light is diffused in such a way that bathes the space in a shower of thousands of stars. The collection’s theme celebrates the universal creativity of mankind and invites audiences to see humanity in a new light and explores expressions of communication and art from ancient times to today while transcending civilizations, geographies and time. https://www.louvreabudhabi.ae/
Qsar Al Hosn is the oldest and most significant fortress in Abu Dhabi that contains the Watchtower and was built around the 1790’s. This commanding structure was formerly the home of the ruling family where the most important meetings were held to overlook the costal trade routes while protecting the growing settlement established on the island and tells the history of the city.
No expense has been spared in building Abu Dhabi’s newest attraction, Qsar al Wattan. This gorgeous and opulent palace is adorned with intricate inlaid marble mosaics and regal stately rooms that also house priceless artifacts that offer guests an intimate insight into the Arab heritage and the governing principles that shaped the history of the United Arab Emirates and its vision to the future. Take the time to explore the different galleries for an enriching journey into Arabic culture and history.
The majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand mosque is the largest mosque in the world and one of the most important architectural treasures of contemporary UAE society. It was commissioned by the late UAE President and ruler of Abu Dhabi, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and can house more than 40,000 worshippers, many of whom kneel to pray on the world’s largest hand-made carpet, which measures 5,627 square metres and took 1,200 women two years to make. This gleaming beacon of culture is one of the most beautiful landmarks in the world with its artisan tile work, breathtaking setting, and striking architecture which also came second in TripAdvisor’s list of the world’s top 25 landmarks.
The modern Yas Island is home to the Marina, adventure activities, and the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 race track. With its sinewy twists and turns, the track is shaped like a pistol and attracts thousands of fans during the annual Formula 1 race.
Where to Stay
For a luxurious beach vacation stay at the gleaming new 5 star Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort that sits majestically on the island’s prime beach. The light filled lobby brings sweeping ocean view vistas indoors with its impressive multi story glass wall that fills the room with the sky and beach. The sophisticated and sprawling suite sized rooms are awash in a soothing palette of light blue and beige that reflect the stunning exterior while embodying soothing understated luxury. Relax in the soaking tub in the serene bathroom or enjoy an alfresco aperitif in the ensuite terrace overlooking the beach and pools. Cool off in one of the resort’s serene infinity pools that are designated for children or adults only. Or spend the day on the floury white sand beach and dip into the shallow and warm aquamarine waters for a truly sublime getaway.
Stay in the center of action at the newly minted Abu Dhabi Edition hotel in the downtown district on the waterfront of Al Bateen marina. This modern and chic five star hotel features 198 guest rooms and 57 exclusively serviced residences that reflect Ian Schrager’s inimitable style. The striking and modern exterior was inspired by a fishing net that is cast on this curved building. The minimalist rooms are luxuriously appointed with plush beds and pillows, Egyptian cotton sheets, a chaise lounge and private balconies overlooking the marina for a stylish home away from home that will also afford a deep rest. Three signature restaurants two pools, two state-of-the-art fitness centres and spa with 7 treatment rooms are also available for hotel guests.
Where to Dine
The only place to consume alcohol in the UAE is in hotels, and the majority of restaurants catering to foreigners are located in hotels. For traditional Emirati cuisine dine at the Emirates Palace award winning restaurant Mezlai that was designed to recall an airy Bedouin tent with a décor and vast menu inspired by the heritage and geography of the UAE. Mezlai creates dishes with ingredients derived from the sea, mountains, oases and desert that are sourced from the region. The menu features decadent updates on staples of the Arabian diet accenting expected ingredients, such as za’atar, camel and dates, and introducing the unexpected flavours of saffron, rosewater and hand-picked wild oregano.
Indulge in perfectly grilled steaks and international fare at the sophisticated and elegantly appointed Oak Room in the Edition Abu Dhabi. Despite its oak paneled walls and old world décor it sports a rock n roll edge with artwork inspired by British rock icons. Helming the kitchen is one of Britain’s youngest rising chef, Tom Aikens, who received his first Michelin star at 26. The crown jewel of the menu is the thick cut steaks hailing from around the world served with mouthwatering mains, yet the seafood fare is also exquisitely prepared.
Board the elegant blue agate lined glass elevator as you ascend above 63 floors above Abu Dhabi atop the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers to reach Ray’s Grill. Enjoy 360 degree views over Abu Dhabi to witness the growth of this futuristic city that embodies modern opulence. Not only is Ray’s Grill known for their view but also their range of aged steaks sourced from the finest producers around the world but they also offer a breadth of international dishes that define the meaning of fine dining.
One of the best Thai restaurants in Abu Dhabi is Pachaylen at the Anantara Eastern Mangroves. This critically acclaimed restaurant blends East and West serving authentic Thai cuisine in a beautifully refined setting that will feel as though you have been transported to Thailand. Enjoy Anantara’s signature Thai classics such as their spicy papaya salad, grilled Tiger Prawns with a lemon grass chili dressing, Thai curries, grilled satays, stir fried Thai basil and chili dishes, grilled fish in banana leaves, and one of the best Tom Yung Kung (spicy sour prawn) soups you will ever taste. Enjoy a zen moment in this soothing oasis enhanced by the traditional Thai instrumental music as you savor fine Thai cuisine.
About three hours outside of Abu Dhabi is the world’s largest sand desert – the Empty Quarter. Literally translating to ‘A Mirage in the Desert’ is the 5 star Qsar al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara in the Liwa desert that emerges from the amber hued sand dunes and captures the exotic spirit of Arabia.
As you wind your way through the endless and ever changing landscapes of vast sand dunes you will feel a sense of serenity while stepping back in time to the adventurous spirit of Lawrence of Arabia and then you have reached your destination at this mecca of paradise designed as an Arabic medina.
Relax in the sanctuary of a deluxe terrace room that overlooks endless sand dunes. By day relax on the sun loungers in a spacious room awash in hues of ochre with Moroccan and Arabian inspired décor. By night sit under the stars and relish in the sanctitude of an open desert.
For those looking for privacy, book one of the standalone villas with a private pool overlooking the desert with plenty of sprawling indoor and outdoor living areas. Luxuriously appointed bedrooms and spacious common areas make this an ideal option for families or friends traveling together.
The most exhilarating way to explore the open dunes is to take an adrenaline fueled dune bashing ride, but this is not for the faint of heart. Traverse the Liwa Desert’s tallest and changing dunes as you cascade down these ever shifting sands while admiring the breathtaking landscape. Stop on top a crest where Star Wars was filmed for a photo of this iconic and majestic scenery that hasn’t changed much since the beginning of time.
One of the most magical experiences in the desert is the Bedouin style dinner under the stars at Al Falaj. Become mesmerized by the hypnotic sound of the qanun playing in the open desert as you recline on cushions and carpets under the starlit and peaceful open skies. Feast on freshly barbecued meats and seafoods and savor the aromas and flavors of traditional Arabic side dishes. This is a once in a lifetime experience that you will remember long after your trip.