Dubai may have hogged the limelight in the region for years – but there’s competition on the spectacular-hotel front. Look no further than neighbouring Emirate Abu Dhabi, where bigger is definitely better, and glitz is good. Swimming pools are more like lakes, lobbies are futuristic “aquariums” of sea creatures made of hand-blown glass, and there are wonderful reinterpretations of classic Venice – one of the world’s original commercial hubs, back when Abu Dhabi was a desert. Where are the best places to stay? Read on to find out, and make that reservation.
Abu Dhabi is all about pushing the luxury envelope, with bigger and shinier new hotels sprouting up perennially. But few resorts – old or new – come close to the pull of a private island. A 15-minute boat ride from the city centre, this sandy speck is an Eden of lush greenery in a mirror-like watery desert of blue. Split into little hamlets of the different accommodation options – from the boutique one-bedroom beach villas to the mansion-like five-bedroom Estate Villas (all immaculately stylish) – it truly feels like your own little world of tranquillity away from the city.
If you didn’t know better, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this hotel for an actual palace. After all, it’s got the sprawling landscaped grounds, kept glisteningly green by hundreds of sprinklers; the grandiose entrance, with a courtyard of fountains spurting 10 feet (3m) into the air; the domed main building and interiors liberally gilded in gold. You’ll certainly feel like royalty when you drop your bags in your room, with its wood-panelled, arch-shaped headboard, velvet-upholstered chaise longue and private balcony overlooking the sea, pool, or landscaped gardens. This place put Abu Dhabi on the luxury hotel map, and it’s easy to see why.
Appearing out of the heat haze like a terracotta-roofed, Arabic-Roman mega villa, there’s certainly no risk of missing the turn-off for this hotel. It’s on Saadiyat Island, 20 minutes beyond the city centre – home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi (that’s right, the Emirates’ offshoot of the Paris original). It’s also bang in the middle of what is, arguably, the nicest stretch of beach in the area, with talc-white sands and playful turquoise waves. Inside, rooms riff on the Mediterranean-meets-Middle-East theme, with tiled, emerald-green feature walls, marble floors and glimmers of brushed gold.
If you’ve stayed in a St Regis resort before, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. If you haven’t, then here’s what you’ll get: sober, solid, quality interiors – think crisp white bed linens, lots of honey-hued wood and carefully curated objects. It’s tasteful, classic and with a colonial twist (the ceiling fan is really just for effect, as the air conditioning is refreshingly frigid). Factor in a spa, an athletic club (a posh gym), four swimming pools (including two lap pools) and a choice of seven restaurants, lounges and bars, and you really won’t need to leave. Oh, and did we mention the fab private beach?
This award-winning place delivers on the wow-factor front: look no further than the lobby’s monumental installation of dangling “jellyfish” made of hand-blown glass. Then, there’s the White restaurant, a dazzling collage of snow-white tones, made brighter by natural light flooding in from the atrium space above. Unsurprisingly, rooms don’t disappoint on the design front either, with wall-mounted hand-woven baskets adding a warm, artisanal accent to the monochromatic palette of whites and taupes.
Stuck on what to do? Discover our guide on the must-visit attractions in Abu Dhabi.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
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