Abu Dhabi with a hip­ster twist

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

The word­ing of the do-not-dis­turb door­knob sign is suc­cinct: Chill­ing by the pool. All the ac­com­mo­da­tion at Zaya Nu­rai Is­land in Abu Dhabi comes with a pri­vate swim­ming pool, and so it should in the desert-sur­rounded cap­i­tal of the United Arab Emi­rates.

At this time of year tem­per­a­tures are edg­ing well into the 40s and there’s a press­ing urge to float and flop be­fore re­treat­ing to stream­lined white spa­ces with arc­tic air­con­di­tion­ing. Some­one is mak­ing a mint, as it were, from scented re­fresher tow­els.

This oth­er­wise un­in­hab­ited small is­land is a 20-minute speed­boat hop from its ar­rivals pav­il­ion on Saadiyat Is­land but still within easy reach of CBD at­trac­tions. On a map it’s the shape of a jaunty sea crea­ture, like a pranc­ing sea horse, per­haps. Such a car­toon­ish shape seems ap­pro­pri­ate as Zaya Nu­rai Is­land is a playpen for UAE lo­cals and ex­pa­tri­ates alike, many of whom just zip across for meals, cock­tails and beach parties.

For those who spend the night, it’s an oa­sis of sorts, mi­nus tents and camels, and feels up­lifted from more recog­nis­able trop­i­cal re­sort realms such as, say, The Mal­dives or the Caribbean. Cer­tainly the de­sign­ers have ref­er­enced hol­i­day hot spots; a blast of Bali chic has been lay­ered with Cal­i­for­nia cool.

The Smokin’ Pineap­ple beach bar sets the scene with its pineap­ple-pat­terned deckchairs and cush­ions, tiki mugs, shisha pipes, and ham­mocks and swings on the sand. There are groovy little beach huts and the pizza oven is shaped like a pineap­ple, which doesn’t seem so ridicu­lous af­ter a creamy co­lada luca from the beam­ing African bar­man. Belly dancers are on the weekly agenda at this fun hub, along with movies and pop­corn under the stars and beach vol­ley­ball jousts.

The squat, white ar­chi­tec­ture of the 33 one-bed­room Beach Vil­las is sugar cube-like, the blunt­ness of the ex­te­ri­ors soft­ened by date palms, bright bougainvil­lea, suc­cu­lents and frangi­pa­nis in creamy yel­low and scar­let.

These spa­cious one-storey habi­tats are set in a cres­cent arc on the north­east side of the is­land over­look­ing a strip of sand lined with sun-loungers and flat, swimmable water be­yond. It’s a view best en­joyed from bed, floaty cur­tains opened, over­look­ing that pri­vate aqua-tiled pool, big bas­ket of beach tow­els, out­door shower and cov­ered pav­il­ion piled with cush­ions and bol­sters. Ara­bic de­sign ref­er­ences ap­pear in curved arch­ways and lat­ticed screens; floors are limed tim­ber and fur­ni­ture is pas­tel, al­though the bulky suede sofa is re­mark­ably unattrac­tive.

The lay­out is roughly T-shaped with a bath­room, in­clud­ing a free­stand­ing tub, at one wing and a liv­ing and tele­vi­sion area on the other.

The over­all floor plan is 110sq m, so there’s been no stint­ing on space. A kitch­enette is tucked be­hind the bed­head and stacked with treats such as Egyp­tian camomile blos­som and Ara­bian jas­mine tea bags, a Ne­spresso ma­chine and pack­ets of hum­mus chips. The Pen­haligon Quer­cus toi­letries smell of basil and citrus and other thought­ful little touches in­clude a cot­ton cover-up, wo­ven beach bag and pairs of thongs in two sizes. There’s a shelf of pa­per­backs and a pile by the bed. A quick Agatha Christie mys­tery, any­one?

And so to eat. Din­ing out­lets, reached by bi­cy­cle along the sandy ways or via a sum­moned golf buggy, are ar­rayed like a neigh­bour­hood of spe­cialty restau­rants, each with a high-end fitout.

Best spot for sun­set and a seafood sup­per is Hooked, hung with glass globes and kit­ted with mis­matched beachy fur­ni­ture. A sig­na­ture punch with pome­gran­ate, a pyra­mid of crispy cala­mari served in a pa­per cone, a crunchy fat­toush salad driz­zled with lime and al­ready I am half­way through A Mur­der is An­nounced.

Frangi­pani is the all-day diner with ad­join­ing airy spa­ces and a multi-tiered, if not log­i­cally ar­ranged, break­fast buf­fet where the stand­out picks in­clude co­conut quinoa gra­nola or ba­nana and yo­ghurt par­fait with dates and tof­fee. A freshly pulped green ap­ple juice is the go, al­though it tastes even bet­ter in one of those funky tiki mugs at Smokin’ Pineap­ple.

Other res­tau­rant choices in­clude Dusk, for Mex­i­can, or you could or­der a float­ing sushi plat­ter for a pri­vate pool party or de­mand a beach bon­fire with a paella cooked to or­der. Ginger Mer­maid pool bar has beef and wasabi slid­ers, tem­pura fish and chips and the ex­tra­or­di­nary prospect of gin-in­fused pop­si­cles.

Or you could do none of the above and just laze in lux­ury, which is quite the thing at the clutch of Es­tate Vil­las, some as big as five bed­rooms, where Mid­dle East­ern roy- alty re­sides on hol­i­day, rarely ven­tur­ing out. Of sim­i­lar scale are the dozen Water Vil­las on the east point and both styles are part of the real-es­tate devel­op­ment that com­ple­ments the re­sort in­ven­tory.

I take a peek in­side one of the Es­tate Vil­las, with a liv­ing room that looks like an of­fi­cial meet­ing hall and ser­vants’ quar­ters.

It’s a re­lief to head back to cosy Beach Villa 127 where Miss Marple will soon re­veal the iden­tity of that das­tardly mur­derer run amok in Chip­ping Cleghorn.

Su­san Kurosawa was a guest of Eti­had Air­ways and Abu Dhabi Tourism.

Beach Villa, Zaya Nu­rai Is­land, left and top left; spa with a view, above cen­tre; Hooked res­tau­rant, above

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