Like a lottery player who dreams of the beautiful things money could buy and finally hits the big number, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates revels in its wealth. Abu Dhabi has been on a mission to create a city of incredible architectural beauty ever since oil was found off its shores in 1958. It boasts cultural and educational institutions, healthcare, and luxury accommodations rarely seen these days in any other part of the world. Some call Abu Dhabi the “baby city” because it’s so new, having risen up out of the desert with stunning speed. High-rise buildings seem to appear on a daily basis.
Return to Abu Dhabi after a month away and the landscape will have changed. Beautiful new and original structures will have sprung out of the sand like Jack’s beanstalk. And they’re imaginative. One building looks like an Oreo cookie standing on its side, another — the striking Capital Gate building — has been certified as the world’s furthest leaning man-made tower by Guinness World Records, beating the Leaning Tower of Pisa by many meters. The Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel, which looks from the air like an enormous blue stingray, is the only hotel in the world straddling a Formula 1 racetrack.
Visitors are offered a dazzling choice of hotels, each more luxurious than the last, like the brand new Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Finished just last March, it has a Venetian theme and is the largest Ritz in the Middle East. It is a marble and crystal palace with three gigantic Swarovski crystal chandeliers that copy the spectacular one across the street in the city’s most visited building, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque is itself a work of art that incorporates materials and designs from all over the world, including 24-karat gold trimmings and the largest hand-knotted Dhurrie rug in the world. Muslims here, mostly Sunni, welcome visitors inside to enjoy the splendor, regardless of their faith.
We were greeted upon arrival at the Ritz by the traditional offering of dates and strong coffee. After this pleasant but modest welcome, we were hardly prepared for the munificence of the gigantic Ritz brunch buffet offered each Friday (the Muslim Sabbath), which includes the best of every kind of food imaginable. Not that we needed them, but the desserts filled an entire room and the display was a dream world for sweets lovers.
In the guestroom, chocolate-covered dates continued the orgy of proffered sweet. Once mainstays of the Bedouin economy, date palms have been planted all over the city, and the hotel invites anyone who walks by their palms along the entrance drive to help themselves with a nibble anytime. The property offers guests every luxury known to travelers, and then some.
After dinner one evening on the beach under a full moon, we enjoyed a sociable smoke of fruit-flavored sheesha in the perfect 75-degree temperature. The following day, we took advantage of the swimming pool in front of the hotel that seemed bigger than a college football stadium. Wherever you go on the property, you experience the faint fragrance of a Moroccan Rose scent, which is incorporated even into the air conditioning equipment.
The glittering Emirates Palace is even more luxurious (if that’s possible) than the Ritz. It stretches almost a mile from wing to wing and is filled with gold leaf and marble interiors, 14 restaurants, 1,002 crystal chandeliers, and the world’s only Gold-to-Go ATM, where you can put coins in a vending machine and receive a variety of pure gold mementos to take home.
The gigantic guestrooms at the astonishing Emirates look out on the gardens and the beach beside the Arabian Sea. Among other things, the hotel offers a Butler Button on your telephone pad that rings a personal aide for anything you need, like fixing a broken handbag strap within a few hours. Guest bathrooms are so big you can dance in them. And rest assured, you can also bring your yacht up to the Emirates marina and leave it there while you take high tea in the Caviar Bar.
The Emiratis do not forget their Bedouin desert history either, and invite guests to experience it in its purest form in the Liwa Desert at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. There you can experience moonlight desert camel rides, evening desert walks, sand surfing and more while you stay in elegant villas set around the oasis of a swimming pool. It’s just one more way to enjoy this safe, exotic, luxurious and elegant explosion of futuristic beauty in the Middle East.
Under the guidance of their beloved leader, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, and now his brothers, Abu Dhabi continues to spread outward and upward, bringing museums, resorts, sport parks, restaurants, wildlife centers and civic gardens to life, all the while keeping the best of its Bedouin heritage protected and preserved. Whichever accommodations you choose in this glorious city, you’re sure to be impressed, if not delightfully satisfied with your lodgings.