Abu Dhabi is booming, so Olivia McEwan checked into one of the best hotels to get the lowdown
THE WEEKEND: The Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri occupies a private stretch of beach on the Khor Al Maqta canal, positioned to offer views over the main island of Abu Dhabi from each of its 213 rooms. Its design boasts Arabian architectural detail and each of the hotel’s individual villas have their own pool. The hotel is part of the Qaryat Al Beri complex, which includes a Souk offering shopping and dining experiences. You can walk there, but you should take the Shangri-La’s Abra boat, which steers you along a charming mini canal weaving through the complex.
WHERE? Abu Dhabi is the second most populous city in the UAE after Dubai. Its government has been consciously investing in industry, real estate, tourism and retail in recent years, meaning it is rapidly becoming a go-to international destination. Visitors immediately feel the expansiveness of the land, with new developments mushrooming up; in its centre gleaming modern skyscrapers designed by Norman Foster share the sunny blue skyline with the ancient walls of its oldest rampart, the Qasr Al Hosn, now an excellent museum sharing the historical traditions of Abu Dhabi. The feeling of tradition remains strong; if cosmopolitan Dubai is party-central, Abu Dhabi is a more family-oriented affair.
THE FOOD: The Shangri-La hosts six different restaurants and bars spanning classic French to authentic Chinese. It hosts a Culinary Master Series which invites celebrity chefs from around the world for short-term pop ups, with each bringing their own signature menu. 2022 welcomed Chef Chatchai Klanklong from L’Orchidée based in Alsace, the only Thai restaurant with a Michelin star. There is a pretty unreal breakfast experience hosted by Shangri-La at the Aquarium, where before opening hours you can enjoy a gourmet meal served in the aquarium’s tunnel, the longest in the Middle East, where thousands of glittering fish swim over your head.
ASK ABOUT: New developments and urban plans so you can be first to see how the city is changing. The Al Qana is an enormous 2.6km long waterfront destination featuring new eateries, wellness centres and attractions for kids – notably the Middle East’s largest aquarium – reached via picturesque walkways. For art lovers, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is located in the Saadiyat Cultural District on Saadiyat Island. Opened in 2017 it operates in conjunction with its namesake in Paris, with its collection of both permanent pieces and rotating loans from Paris museums. The building is as much of an attraction as its contents. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, a breathable ‘floating dome’ roof of eight layers of geometric metal star shapes allows the sun to shine through in dappled effect onto the courtyards and waterways below.
MUST SEE: Most impressive and humbling is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a dazzling architectural feat conceived by Sheikh Zayed to symbolise peace, tolerance and coexistence. Built between 1994 and 2007, it is an extraordinary display of gleaming white marble and ornate Arabic decoration. Marble inlay work represents flowers from around the world and chandeliers imported from the company Faustig in Munich, Germany incorporate innumerable Swarovski crystals, and what is considered to be the world’s largest hand-woven carpet made in Iran. The space can accommodate 55,000 worshippers; anyone can feel the deliberate openness and welcome of its intent, regardless of creed or background.
NEED TO KNOW: Direct flights via Etihad airways depart from London Heathrow; rooms at the Shangri-La cost from £100 per night.
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