Stunning jewel in the desert
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