Just a seven hour flight from increasingly chilly London, and a mere ten minutes from probably the most tranquil airport on the planet, traffic filters over two bridges that cross the Khor Al Moqta waterway, before racing on into downtown Abu Dhabi city, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Travellers, looking to rest and recharge, end their journey between those two bridges crossing the Khor Al Moqta. On the sun-bleached white beaches of the Khor A Moqta, warm waters gently flowing from the Arabian Gulf, you glance up from your sun-lounger – whilst your beach butler adjusts your sun umbrella and offers another chilled towel – to watch traffic race over those distant bridges.
At Qaryat-Al-Beri, Shangri-La has created a sophisticated 21st century Garden of Eden, a green oasis of calm running east from Traders Hotel. Guests can opt for a traditional abra, coasting through Venetian-inspired canals and heading for the Arabic arches of the enticing Qaryat-Al-Beri souk. With its warm textures, gentle aroma of incense and mysterious dark recesses, it is the very antitheses of the usual blindingly bright Emirati mega-mall of global brands.
Journey’s end is an Arabian Nights date-and-orange-juice welcome at the aptly named Shangri-La Hotel. Between the Shangri-La’s restaurants and those of the Souk you can select from the best of world cuisine. Arabic, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese and Vietnamese are just some of the menus offered.
A Kung Fu tea master, athletically pouring the Jasmine Tea, provides theatre too at the Shangri-La’s Shang Palace while Hoi An offers a lightly spiced taste of Vietnam with magical views across the shimmering waters to the Grand Mosque lit by moonlight.
Inevitably visitors are drawn to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Completed in 2007, inspired by Persian, Mughul and Moorish influences it is one of the wonders of the world. Water mirrors intensify the beauty of a mosque built for over 40,000 Muslims to pray at any one time.
As you are guided on your free tour, past the Qibla wall featuring Allah’s 99 names, a door quietly opens on a spiritual life where devotees take time out from the demands of family and work to pray five times a day. No surprise that many visitors never stray from the quiet banks of the Khor, resisting the testosterone charged appeal of Ferrari World, resisting the temptation to drive a high-performance car on the Yas Grand Prix circuit, resisting the thrills of the 15 hectacre Waterworld – all on buzzing Yas Island.
Things may change.
The future is being built on Saadiyat Island, a blissfully beautiful white-sand shoreline where Hawksbill Turtles nest and thrive. Although falling oil prices have delayed their opening, one day the Zayed National Museum, The Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will open on the island strengthening the Emirate’s proposition as an upmarket tourist destination.
Maybe Abu Dhabi is a stop-over on the international playboy’s global circuit with its F1 racing, Kylie gigs, horse-racing, one-day cricket internationals, rugby sevens and top-ranking golf tournaments but it is all done with tasteful discretion.
The hawks still fly over the sand dunes as they did just seven decades ago when Thesiger explored and photographed that desert.
Etihad flies direct to Abu Dhabi three times a day.
For more information visit 4* Traders Hotel and the 5* Shangri-La website. Details of restaurants including the French Bord Eau, Chinese Shang Palace and Vietnamese Hoi An will be found there.Last modified: June 10, 2021