An Arabian adventure in Abu Dhabi
The United Arab Emirates, a unification of seven sovereign sheikhdoms, was formed in 1971 following the British withdrawal from the Gulf area, and as a result of the bi-lateral friendship treaty signed on 22 December 1971 the UAE continues to maintain a close relationship with the United Kingdom.
Ruled by HM, the Emir Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is a modern, prosperous city that offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into the colourful tapestry of Arabian history and culture. Located at the head of a ‘T’ shaped island in the Persian Gulf, the largest of the emirates covers an area of only 375 square miles but there is much to explore.
Al Ain Oasis is a popular attraction and as one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited settlements it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Featuring ruins of circular stone tombs, a number of wells, palaces and towers; the site provides a fascinating insight into desert life dating back to 2500 BC. To learn more, visit the Al Ain National Museum and admire the extensive collections of exhibits including pottery, stone and copper vessels, household objects, weaving looms and musical instruments, which, together, provide some understanding of local traditions and customs.
For those yearning for a true Arabian adventure, consider a thrilling desert safari on board a robust four wheel drive vehicle. The Liwa Oasis, located on the edges of the Empty Quarter, is where you will find 300 metre high sand dunes; ideal for a spot of what is known as ‘wadi bashing’ or ‘dune driving’. Highly skilled local drivers negotiate unexpected hazards in the harsh desert surroundings with ease and for those seeking a high octane adrenaline rush and a very bumpy ride it is the ideal excursion. Wildlife lovers may be fortunate to spot the odd resident including Arabian Oryx, gazelles and hyenas.
To get up-close and personal with feathered residents, visit the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, located on Sweihan Road. The noble tradition of falconry in the Arab world dates back to 3500 BC, when it was practised in Iraq and it is known that the Bedouin used falcons as a means to hunt for meat. The Falcon Hospital, which was established in 1999, provides individual air conditioned rooms for more than two hundred Saqr and Peregrine Falcons. Annual check-ups include precision talon-trimming and particular attention is paid to the bird’s feathers as the loss of just one can result in balance issues during flight. The falcon is a national emblem in the United Arab Emirates and the government initiated the introduction of falcon passports to curtail illegal trade.
Immerse deeper into local culture and wander around the Al Jahili fort, located in the Al Ain area. Built in 1891 to defend the mountain passes and palm groves, it really is a special spot. Take a leisurely stroll around the west wing of the fort, which is now used to house a permanent exhibition of photographs taken by the late Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger. The highly respected explorer and author embarked on the most arduous journey imaginable in 1945, crossing the 650,000 square kilometre Rub’ al Khali (Empty Quarter), the largest desert in the world, on foot and by camel.
Mingle with the locals and visit one of Abu Dhabi’s most spectacular landmarks, the opulent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which features 80 towering domes, sparkling 24 carat gold chandeliers, more than a thousand columns, and the world’s largest hand woven carpet. Constructed over a decade, the Mosque features natural materials including marble, stone, ceramics, gold and crystal and it covers an area of over 240,000 square feet providing ample space for 41,000 worshippers. The structure’s shimmering gold and white hues are flooded with sunshine during the day and floodlit at night by an impressive system of lighting which reflects the phases of the moon and the reflective pools add to the overall beauty.
For weary travellers keen to reside in similarly lavish surroundings, the Ritz Carlton Grand Canal Hotel is directly opposite the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and provides the highest standards of comfort and service. This ultra stylish, Venetian-inspired property is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and features a gorgeous private beach and an impressive outdoor pool covering 1600 square metres. Plump sun loungers ensure that occupants may dine in-situ and the hotel’s Al Fresco restaurant offers a wide range of lunch boxes which are promptly delivered by bicycle. Other dining venues include Giornotte, which presents Italian cuisine served with aplomb. Club level guests are welcome to access the complimentary Club Lounge, which provides concierge and butler services and presents an excellent breakfast buffet extravaganza, midday snacks, a sumptuous afternoon tea, and hors d’oeuvres, cordials and desserts are served with panache.
Accommodations include spacious deluxe rooms and suites, elegantly furnished with comfortable beds swathed in crisp white Egyptian linens. The chic bathrooms feature a spacious bath tub with a separate rejuvenating rain-forest shower and a generous supply of Asprey bathing products. Executive suites also feature private balconies, which is the ideal spot for a pre-dining tipple or two. Or, if you are a dedicated water babe and deserve the ultimate treat, opt for a two bedroom villa with your very own plunge pool.
Ardent sailors will be eager to experience an exhilarating boat ride and to savour the spectacular water side view of Abu Dhabi’s skyline. Hop on board the 60 or 90 minute Yellow Boat Tour, which departs from gate number three at the Emirates Palace Marina. The top-of-the-line rigid inflatable vessels comfortably seat ten passengers and are powered by Evinrude E-TEC direct injector engines, manufactured in the UK. Sailing past the intoxicating sight of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the luxurious Presidential Palace and the adjacent Royal Palaces is unforgettable.
For those seeking their own luxurious residence and a true home from home living experience, the Marriott Executive Apartments, located right in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s downtown area, features fully serviced apartments with one, two or three bedrooms and provides the highest standards of comfort and service. We relaxed in a stylishly furnished two bedroom apartment measuring 132 square metres with enormous windows flooding the area with light. The spacious lounge with plump sofas and a huge flat screen television provided the perfect retreat after a busy day exploring the city and we took advantage of the fully equipped kitchen with every appliance including an oven, hob, refrigerator, dish washer and washer/dryer.
For guests with a preference for dining out, the adjacent Marriott Hotel Downtown offers a number of bustling venues including the very popular Kuzbara, which features an open kitchen and presents a first class international breakfast buffet, luncheon and dinner. Facilities at the Marriott Executive Apartments include outdoor adult and children’s swimming pools and a fully equipped gymnasium.
For an Arabian adventure of your very own explore Abu Dhabi, experience Emirati hospitality at its best and reflect on the words of Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger, the author of Arabian Sands; ‘I tasted freedom and a way of life from which there could be no recall’
Bahrain ‘stop over’
For travellers considering a ‘stop over’ in Bahrain on route to Abu Dhabi, the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay is located on a private island and offers the ultimate levels of comfort and service. Accommodations include a selection of sumptuously furnished rooms and suites reflecting the art deco style and the chic marble bathrooms feature over sized bathtubs with separate showers and an in-mirror television allowing guests to keep up with the latest news whilst bathing.
Hotel facilities include five swimming pools and the fabulous outdoor infinity pool, which measures 956 square metres, is surrounded by enormous parasols and comfortable, plump sun loungers, providing an ideal oasis for an afternoon snooze. Vento, the hotel’s poolside trattoria, offers an extensive choice of delicious Italian dishes including the Ossobuco ‘alla Milanese’, which is slow cooked for eight hours, and accompanied by a glass or two of Amarone Della Valpolicella it is distinctly first rate. Other dining venues include the Bahrain Bay Kitchen, which presents an international breakfast and luncheon buffet and the open kitchen shows a frenzy of chefs creating tempting dishes at ‘live’ cooking stations.
Gulf Air, the national carrier for the Kingdom of Bahrain offers reliable and punctual daily flights from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi via Bahrain, and provides an efficient check-in service, a generous baggage allowance, and the highest levels of comfort and on-board service. Relax in style in the Falcon Gold Lounge prior to departure from London and Bahrain. For more information visit gulfair.com
‘More Top Tips’
For more information on the Ritz Carlton Grand Canal and the Marriott Executive Apartments visit ritzcarlton.com and marriott.com and for Yellow Boats info visit the yellowboats.com
Top Tip for a Bahrain ‘stop-over’.
Abu Dhabi images courtesy of visitabudhabi.ae