#2 ABU DHABI

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Travel -

Abu Dhabi is a grow­ing des­ti­na­tion, with nat­u­ral in­flu­ences of sea, river and ma­rina. And while the city, like Dubai, is per­haps bet­ter known for its 21st-cen­tury trans­for­ma­tion than for its his­tor­i­cal or cul­tural sites, there is still plenty to see.

A visit to the re­fined Grand Mosque is a must, with its white mar­ble, in­laid dec­o­ra­tion and ex­quis­ite car­pet – the largest of its kind in the world. Swarovski chan­de­liers adorn the build­ing, and vis­i­tors are asked to cover them­selves in the lo­cal abaya; hap­pily, th­ese tourist cov­er­ings have re­cently been up­graded to stylish an­i­mal-print soft cov­er­ings with bright emer­ald or cerise pat­terns!

The Al Hosn Fort and Her­itage Vil­lage gives a glimpse into the his­tor­i­cal cul­ture of the re­gion. Like the mosque, en­try is free – you’ll need about half an hour or so here. Out­side, we mar­velled at the gi­gan­tic over­sized flag and tow­er­ing flag­pole of which the coun­try is most proud.

My brother lives in Abu Dhabi, work­ing in the con­struc­tion con­sul­tancy in­dus­try, and he was a val­ued tour guide, point­ing out ground-break­ing build­ings, and ex­plain­ing in­no­va­tions in ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign. He also took us to lo­cal spots, such as Bent­leys for din­ner on the wa­ter, and a quirky stop at the dim and peace­ful lit­tle in­te­rior of the Hid­den Bar, be­hind an in­con­spic­u­ous closed door, in a brightly lit shop­ping mall. Tips from lo­cal ex­pats are price­less when trav­el­ling!

Stay: Eastern Man­groves Ho­tel & Spa by Anan­tara

Sur­pris­ingly for such a sandy coun­try, Eastern Man­groves Ho­tel & Spa is set along river frontage over­look­ing a 1.2km stretch of pro­tected man­grove re­serve. It’s 20 min­utes from the air­port.

Spread over five lev­els, the 222 gue­strooms and suites are triple-glazed to en­sure a peace­ful stay. Ara­bic ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage is ex­pressed in the arch­ways, mashra­biyas, in­tri­cate mo­saics and trel­lis, with sub­tle touches of 18-carat gold, and you get a full sense of the Emi­rati in­flu­ences on ar­rival, through the aro­mas of burn­ing bakhour oils, and the com­pli­men­tary dates and tra­di­tional cof­fee (not for the faint-hearted!).

Our rooms had wa­ter views; oth­ers look to­wards the city lights and the glass fa­cades of count­less sky­scrapers. The ho­tel’s ter­raced wa­ter fea­tures and pools in­vite re­lax­ation, while more en­er­getic guests can ex­plore the man­grove re­serve by kayak, or walk, jog or cy­cle along a prom­e­nade that bor­ders the wa­ter­way.

Live mu­sic at night, al­fresco din­ing and a rooftop bar; what more could you want from a balmy des­ti­na­tion like this? Oh, yes – a spa! The Anan­tara Spa of­fers lux­u­ri­ous and au­then­tic treat­ments, in­clud­ing the highly rec­om­mended Sig­na­ture Turk­ish Ham­mam Rit­ual, which uses flower oils and essences read­ily as­so­ci­ated with this part of the world – jas­mine, mint, car­damom and fig. The rit­ual in­cludes use of a sauna and steam room, bask­ing on warm stone, var­i­ous scrubs and cleansers, a full body mas­sage, skin re­hy­dra­tion and more.

Stay: Four Seasons Ho­tel Abu Dhabi

Newly opened on Al Maryah is­land, this “ho­tel of the mo­ment” em­bod­ies ur­ban chic, with two tow­ers of rooms, and di­rect ac­cess to the high-end Gal­le­ria Mall. The views of the city skyline and Ara­bian Gulf from the rooftop pool looked even bet­ter af­ter I’d taken ad­van­tage of my first-ever sun­glasses-clean­ing ser­vice!

My sis­ter and I also took great plea­sure in our hus­bands be­ing un­able to call us away from com­pli­men­tary use of the spa, as we were safely en­sconced in the women-only sec­tion where we in­dulged in the ham­mam, sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi plunge pools, be­fore re­lax­ing on tile-clad, heated re­clin­ers shaped to the con­tours of our backs.

All six din­ing out­lets and bars have wa­ter frontage. My favourite was the 1940s-style Chicago steak­house, Butcher & Grill, themed to re­call the pro­hi­bi­tion era with leather lounges, pic­tures of Al Capone, and re­strooms with clas­sic pull-chain fa­cil­i­ties. An­other in-house din­ing op­tion, open to non-ho­tel guests, is Café Mi­lano, an Ital­ian restau­rant with stun­ning silk scarves framed and adorn­ing the walls.

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