Stun­ning jewel in the desert

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - LOVING MEMORY -

Abu Dhabi’s many at­trac­tions now make it much more than a stopover on a long jour­ney,

writes Anne Fus­sell

GRAND Prix time and Abu Dhabi has laid on a glam­orous, op­u­lent party. No ex­pense spared. Dur­ing the day­time the Yas Ma­rina Cir­cuit, which curves right through the mid­dle of the Yas Viceroy Ho­tel, vi­brates to the roar of the elite of the mo­tor-rac­ing world.

At night, the du Arena is vi­brat­ing as rap­per Jay Z, flown in for the event, blasts the crowd with such fe­roc­ity he lit­er­ally blows up the gen­er­a­tor.

In be­tween, there are glit­ter­ing gath­er­ings on mas­sive mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar yachts berthed in the ma­rina. Celebri­ties min­gle with the rich and the royal and the rest of us.

The GP is just one of a se­ries of in­ter­na­tional events – from golf and power­boat rac­ing, Mo­toGP bikes to arts – that Abu Dhabi is stag­ing to at­tract in­ter­na­tional tourists. But th­ese head­line events are only half the story.

Less than 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was empty desert, in­hab­ited by no­madic Be­douins, and a large group­ing of dis­con­nected is­lands.

But as the oil dol­lars be­gan rolling in, Sheik Zayed, the founder of the United Arab Emi­rates, de­vised an am­bi­tious but care­fully con­sid­ered plan to de­velop his coun­try.

Even just a few years ago, Abu Dhabi was for most trav­ellers a brief stop on the jour­ney from some­where to some­where else, a cou­ple of hours of sump­tu­ous duty-free shop­ping while the plane re­fu­elled. To­day, it’s an ex­cit­ing fu­sion of glit­ter­ing moder­nity and the cul­ture that has been at its heart stretch­ing back through time: a desti­na­tion in its own right with at­trac­tions for all the fam­ily. It’s a story be­ing told in many parts, each equally im­por­tant to the coun­try.

The city of Abu Dhabi is the cap­i­tal of the United Arab Emi­rates and the coun­try Abu Dhabi has the largest land mass of the UAE’s seven mem­ber states and a pop­u­la­tion of about 1.6 mil­lion. Al­though ar­chi­tec­turally strik­ing high­rise build­ings are be­gin­ning to ap­pear on the hori­zon, Abu

Dhabi is de­lib­er­ately aim­ing for a more sub­tle na­tional per­sona than its close neigh­bour, Dubai.

It is com­bin­ing its nat­u­ral as­sets — its an­cient cul­ture, pris­tine beaches and net­work of is­lands, its shift­ing sand dunes and en­vi­ron­men­tally rich man­groves, coast­line, its na­tive wildlife — with in­no­va­tive man­made at­trac­tions such as a world-class white­wa­ter kayak­ing and raft­ing course and Fer­rari World, to de­velop a coun­try that will of­fer some­thing to for ev­ery­one. All with­out chang­ing its ba­sic na­ture.

You’ll see plenty of ve­hic­u­lar bling on the beau­ti­ful Cor­niche but you’ll also see fam­i­lies out pic­nick­ing or just strolling dur­ing the balmy evenings. While mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar power­boats do bat­tle in the har­bour, as the day fades you can step back in time and en­joy the sun­set from an an­cient dhow. There is some of the best fine din­ing in the world, par­tic­u­larly at the grow­ing of­fer­ing of 5-star plus ho­tels like the glit­ter­ing Emi­rates Palace, which is more than 1km from end to end, and the newly opened Ritz Carl­ton with its views out over its own pri­vate palazzo. But there is also a grow­ing range of “lo­cal” restau­rants that rep­re­sent not

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