The weather was a prelude to what we were about to experience at the Shangri-La, Abu Dhabi – it was cool and the wind was wet with impending rain. The one-hour drive from Dubai was a breeze and the hotel appeared to live up to its name at first sight.
Set on the 8.5-hectare Qaryat Al Beri complex – which also accommodates Traders Hotel and The Souk – the Shangri-La was, in a sense, an approximation of the mystical valley described by James Hilton in his 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.
Not far from the Abu DhabiAl Ain Road and its roaring traffic, the Shangri-La stood as an oasis of calm in the middle of the maddening rush of daily life.
Our premier room was large enough to comfortably accommodate an extra bed for my son. There was a small terrace that opened out to the landscaped pathway running around the property, and provided direct access to the lap pool – we could just swim and laze around on the sun beds, before walking back to our terrace for a cup of tea. Ah, this was getting to be addictive!
The best part was the view – a small private beach, the sea beyond and the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the distance. It was a real postcardperfect image. Who needs a suite?
Idid take a peek into one of the suites though – and except for two bathrooms and two sinks (always welcome) and more expensive toiletries, there wasn’t much of an improvement on our premier room.
The hotel had five restaurants – the Chinese Shang Palace, Bord Eau (French fine-dining), a Vietnamese restaurant, Hoi An, the all-day dining Sofra bld, and the seafood specialist, Pearls & Caviar, which is where we dined the first night – and loved it.
My wife, who’s vegetarian, and my son, who hates seafood, had a limited choice from the menu. But what they ordered – gnocchi for my wife, and fish and chips, with the emphasis on the chips, for my son – was more than satisfactory.
We were especially impressed since they allowed my son in wearing shorts – which is against house rules! The buffet at Sofra bld, the only other restaurant we ate in, was humongous, and covered almost all cuisines – Indian, Chinese, English, Mexican, Japanese…
There was always a variety of seafood, the salads were delicious – especially the roasted aubergine, hummus, tabbouleh and couscous – and dishes were grilled to order.
The sheer amount of food would be enough to amaze anyone. The three chocolate fountains were, of course, very popular with children.
My wife investigated the Chi spa, opting for the Arabian date body wrap, then the hammam with its steam room and jacuzzi. In her words: “The spa opens into a world completely unlike the one you have just left behind, and my masseur almost lulled me into a blessed sleep.”
While my wife was chilling out in the spa, my son and I explored the property, walking along the paved pathways, across the beach, and over the wooden bridges of the canal that runs right through the property into The Souk next door.
When it was all over and we had to return to Dubai, we found ourselves yearning to go back. Now, that was a new one for me!
A canal runs right through the Qaryat Al Beri complex
The hotel has stunning views of the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque