Abu Dhabi

by Anna Streatfeild on 14 November 2012, 18:11PM Abu Dhabi

Anna, our PR Manager, reports back on a recent press trip she took to Abu Dhabi


Dubai is known by many to be a wonderful year-round holiday destination but have you thought about visiting its neighbour Abu Dhabi?

The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi lies just over an hours drive from the centre of Dubai. Although tourism development has been slower in this Emirate, there are some fantastic cultural and entertainment facilities already in place and a large number of hugely exciting plans for the future, not to mention the plethora of accommodation options.

I have visited Abu Dhabi about five years ago so was very excited to be returning, this time taking six journalists who will be covering the trip for both national press and online publications. We had a hugely busy three days- cultural, adrenaline fuelled, gastronomic and luxurious and I can definitely say that Abu Dhabi is the place to watch. If you haven’t been yet, start planning your trip as you will not be disappointed.

We stayed in two different properties, the first being the relatively newly opened five star St Regis Saadiyat Island. This property really has the ‘wow-factor’, opulent, elegant and peaceful with top facilities including seven dining options, a spa, golf course, ‘Sandcastle kids club’ and a number of pools.

Although I didn’t get a chance to have a treatment, we took a tour round Iridium Spa and it looked incredible. If you want something even more exclusive, you can take your treatment in one of the three private spa suites that have their own private terrace and pool!

The resort's living spaces range from the intimate to the grand, from 55 sqm Superior Rooms and 85 sqm suites to a majestic 2000 sqm Royal Suite, each with its own private balcony. My room had a spectacular view of the pristine Saaidyat beach, which incidentally is looked after with upmost care by the hote, who adheer to strick guidelines to preserve the natural environment and wildlife. Rooms on the other side of the hotel have views of the Gary Player designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Course.

On our first night we had dinner at 55&5th, The Grill, the resort’s signature restaurant, which is inspired by the address of the original St. Regis New York. This is the perfect place to come for a romantic meal. It’s a trendy and glamorous setting serving the most mouth watering dishes, make sure you check out the private dining room within the wine cellar- my group were like kids in a candy store, eyes popping open at the choice of wines on offer.

W didn’t have time to dine there but Sontaya restaurant is another one not to miss for if you are planning a trip to Abu Dhabi. Serving Southeast Asian food, which from all accounts is some of the best in the Emirat, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and has floating glass walled pavilions amidst a series of interconnected ponds and pools. I could definitely imagine spending a couple of hours sipping cocktails on their floating terrace, and if their food tastes half as good as it smells, then you wont want to leave for a few hours more.

Any motor racing fan will know that Abu Dhabi hosts the Formula One, which took place a couple of weeks ago and just after our visit there. We had a tour of the Yas Marina Circuit, the home to Abu Dhabi Formula One and just a 25 minute transfer from  St Regis Saadiyat Island. Although it was empty when we were there, you can just imagine the noise and excitement when F1 comes to town. There are plenty of different racing experiences on offer at the Yas Marina Circuit, for both adults and kids, have a look at their website for more information.

From here we had a short transfer to Ferrari World, a Ferrari themed amusement park on Yas Island. The central park is situated under a 200,000 m² roof making it the largest indoor amusement park in the world. Not being a car enthusiast I wasn’t  sure I’d enjoy it, however, being a big fan of amusement rides I was pleasantly surprised. With a mixture of simulated rides and ‘roller coasters’ there are lots to choose from dependent on age or daring!

My favourite motion based simulator was ‘Driving with the Champions’, where you appear to try different cars, tracks and drive with famous racing legends. However, the ‘piece de resistance’ has got to be ‘Formula Rossa’- the fastest roller coaster on the planet. I’m normally pretty blasé about rides but must admit I was feeling slightly nervous as we made our way towards the front of the queue and were told to put on our safety goggles. One strapped in you wait for the countdown, which seems to go in slow motion then, all or a sudden you accelerate up to 240km/h and see what 4.8 Gs really feels like. After you’ve just about recovered from that shock you’re launched up and down the tracks and 52 meters into the sky before flying through the chicanes. We all emerged off the other end with huge grins on our faces and I think the few that chickened out actually regretted it as we all longed to have another go.

On to the cultural side of Abu Dhabi and a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque is definitely a ‘must do’. This architectural work of art is one the world’s largest mosques, with a capacity for an astonishing 41,000 worshippers. It features 82 domes, over a 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world's largest hand knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers –10 metres in diameter, 15 metres in height and weighing twelve tonnes, it is a serious bit of bling! The best thing to do is to take one of the complimentary one hour guided tours, for information on times and how to book, go here.

The Cultural Foundation is also recommended, it’s a reconstruction of a traditional oasis village provides an interesting glimpse into the emirate’s past, If you are in Abu Dhabi with kids I think they would enjoy it. Traditional aspects of the desert way of life, including a campfire with coffee pots, a goats’ hair tent, and a falaj irrigation system, are attractively displayed in the open museum. There are workshops where craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills, such as metal work and pottery, while women sit weaving and spinning. The craftsmen are happy to share their skills, and may occasionally give you the chance to try them out. We had a go at carpet weaving and pottery.

Worth the drive slightly outside of Abu Dhabi is the Falcon Hospital. This is a great educational trip, providing a deep insight into the world of those majestic birds, the history of falconry as well as the life of falcons in modern time UAE. Click here to find out more.

Accommodation offerings in Abu Dhabi are extensive, for a more centrally located family orientated hotel, we also stayed at the Beach Rotana Hotel. This resort is adjacent to the Abu Dhabi mall- great for shopaholics and with a huge range of shops, from designer boutiques to high street offerings, as well as a large number of restaurants, a Cineplex and children’s play area.

The Beach Rotana has a great pool area, with a more informal feel than other hotels in Abu Dhabi. I would suggest this property for those that want to be nearer to Abu Dhabi city centre, the shops and other hotels for nightlife options, although you could easily package up a trip staying at more than one property- so could have the centrally located Beach Rotana for a few nights and then on to the St Regis Saadiyat Island.

Dining options at Beach Rotana are superb, make sure you book dinner at Rodeo Grill- the first steakhouse in Abu Dhabi and widely considered one of the best. For evening vibes you should check out Trader Vics, a French Polynesian restaurant and bar. We got there for pre dinner drinks at around 7pm and it was pretty empty, however, once we came back after dinner it was absolutely packed, with a live band and people dancing around having a great time.

To find out about the ambitious tourism projects planned for Abu Dhabi we took a trip to Manarat Al Saadiyat. It is a 15,400 sqm visitor centre, designed to bring the vision of the island to life through the Saadiyat Story. We were given an informative tour which explained how the Saadiyat Cultural District is set to become the region’s biggest arts hub. It includes Zayed National Museum, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Performing Arts Centre. All incredibly exciting stuff for Abu Dhabi as a tourism destination and set to make this Emirate one to watch over the next few years.

If you are interested in finding out more about holidays to Abu Dhabi, call a Travelbag consultant on 0871 703 4240

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