You don’t have to jour­ney far from Abu Dhabi’s dy­namic city cen­ter for a serene desert es­cape.

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - REASONS TO TRAVEL NOW -

Abu Dhabi is be­com­ing a des­ti­na­tion in its own right, thanks to its en­er­getic art scene, clas­sic cui­sine and prox­im­ity to na­ture. The new Jumeirah Al Wathba (jumeirah.com; dou­bles from

US$299), lo­cated a 30-minute drive south, keeps the best of the city within easy reach while of­fer­ing peace and seclu­sion with its desert set­ting. Open­ing this month, the com­plex has 103 lux­u­ri­ous rooms and vil­las, plus court­yards, pools, bars and restau­rants, all built in tra­di­tional Ara­bian style.

Ven­tur­ing into town, start with an art tour at the Jean Nou­vel–de­signed Lou­vre Abu Dhabi (lou­vre­abud­habi.ae), the lat­est high-pro­file ad­di­tion to this bur­geon­ing cul­tural cap­i­tal. Don't miss a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (szgmc.gov.ae), a white-mar­ble be­he­moth that houses the largest hand­knot­ted car­pet in the world. In­die gallery Ware­house 421 (ware­house421.ae) has ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and craft work­shops, and swing by the Eti­had Mod­ern Art Gallery (eti­had­mod­ernart.com), a space for U.A.E.-based artists.

Kayaking tours of the city's in­ner chan­nel is­lands at Man­grove Na­tional Park

(ead.ae) show off the bio­di­ver­sity of the ecosys­tem; you'll spot herons, flamin­gos and even the oc­ca­sional dol­phin. Or stroll along the date-palm-lined paths of the city's new cen­tral green space, Umm Al Emarat Park

(um­male­marat­park.ae). Af­ter a day of ex­plor­ing, you'll find that tra­di­tional Emi­rati foods—like lgeimat, the syrupy car­damom dough­nuts—at Al Mrzab (alm­rzab.com; mains

from US$12) hit the spot. So do the op­tions at Jor­dan ian Le­banese cafe­te­ria Bait el Khet­yar (fb.com/b.elkhet­yar; mains from US$3). Fol­low the reg­u­lars' lead and or­der the moutabbel, a smoky egg­plant dip, with freshly made pita bread. —

The in­ner court­yard of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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