By Julia Wheeler
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.
Winter sunshine and Arabian hospitality await you in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. More self-assured and less frenetic than neighboring Dubai, largely due to oil wealth, it has taken a more leisurely and measured approach to tourism. The result is a considered, confident city that melds traditional with state-of-the art, luxury with tranquility and full-on excitement with an evolving restaurant scene. The city is made up of dozens of islands (not man-made like Dubai’s) and this geography is being used cleverly to focus on the different aspects the city has to offer.Whichever you choose, you are assured of a warm welcome – as the locals say bayti baytak (my house is your house).
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: YES TO YAS
Speed, excitement and fun provide thrills on Yas Island, nestled to the east of the city and home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each November, and the fastest rollercoaster on earth at Ferrari World.
STAY: Five-Star car fans can be trackside for high-speed races and practices year round at the Yas Viceroy. This iconic hotel sits astride the route of Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Kimi Räikkönen and others. F1 Grand Prix options in November include a four-night stay in an Island Suite with wraparound balcony and a panoramic view of the track, Grand Prix tickets, a pit-lane walk among the drivers and crews, plus invitations to on-track concerts and entertainment. $38,400 per couple, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/abudhabi.
If you plan to arrive by water, Yas Marina has fully serviced berths for superyachts up to 150m. This is a great option for staying close to the track during F1 race week. Berthing rates include guest passes to concerts and a pit-lane walk, although not the grandstand. Express early interest from April. yasmarina.ae/berths.
EAT: Executive chef Cesare Romani oversees all food offerings at the Yas Viceroy including Angar and its Indian cuisine – try the signature butter chicken and salmon tandoori, followed by the Desi Opera dessert. Pineapple carpaccio sets the taste buds tingling at Italian Amici. Party later on the terrace at Iris or at MAD, the biggest indoor nightclub in the UAE. Alternatively, try the urban roof deck and club at Skylite and Rush and dance above the F1 track.
ENTERTAINMENT: At Ferrari World you will be pulling 4.8Gs and traveling faster than an F1 driver on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster, so goggles and a serious seatbelt are essential. After reaching 150mph in 4.9 seconds, put yourself back in control of the wheel at the Karting Academy or zip around the professionals’ track in a Ferrari California. Safe from the roar of the engines, you can cycle the track on Tuesdays.
There are 18 holes to try at the Yas Links Championship Golf Course and shopping at YasMall. Yas Waterworld has free-fall slides, a hydro-magnetic tornado raft and special women-only days.
Amal Salameh, a.k.a. @amalshine is a self-styled UAE socialite and fashion lover who shares ideas with her 29.8k Instagram and Snapchat followers in the Middle East and beyond. This is her guide to Abu Dhabi’s
WHERE TO SHOP
S*uce Boutique, Marina Mall Award-winning, multi-brand concept store for contemporary clothes aimed at your quirky side and accessories to ensure you stand out. shopatsauce.com, @sauceloves.
Ingie Paris, The Galleria, Al Maryah Island High-luxury evening wear, designed and manufactured in Paris by fashion icon and entrepreneur Ingie Chalhoub. ingieparis.com, @ingieparis.
The Galleria Is the spot to find many designer brands – all under one roof. thegalleria.ae, @thegalleriauae.
The Luxury Arcade,World Trade Center Mall Men’s and women’s clothing and accessories from the most coveted international and streetwear brands. theluxuryarcade.com, @theluxuryarcade.
Tryano, Yas Mall Three floors of high-end labels for men, women and children, including handbags, shoes and makeup in Abu Dhabi’s first department store. tryano.com, @tryanostore.
WHERE TO CHILL
Tamba Upscale Indian-inspired restaurant and bar with beautiful interior of copper and bells and spacious outdoor terrace. Friday cocktails are special. tambarestaurant.com, @tambarestaurant.
Saadiyat Beach Club The best place to unwind under super cool cabanas, either beside the pool or on the Saadiyat Island beach. Safina Restaurant’s Friday brunch more than hits the mark. saadiyatbeachclub.ae, @saadiyatbeachclub.
THE CULTURAL COLLECTION
Pick up a date – the sweet and sticky type – at Bateel in several locations around the city. Presented in an ebony box, with a pearl photo frame and in any number of combinations, these fresh and delicious Arabian treats are filled with nuts, chocolate or jellied fruit. Combine with handmade chocolates for the perfect gift. bateel.com
Oud and bukhoor, the traditional fragrances still used by Emiratis to perfume themselves, their clothes and linen can be found in The Souk at the World Trade Center Mall. You will also find henna, spices and the black abaya robes worn by Gulf women. wtcad.ae
For an Arabian Nights experience with a shisha pipe, try Smoke, the outdoor terrace beside the Rosewood’s Sambusek Lebanese restaurant. Unwind beside a fire pit as you try the different fruity flavors and take in the Abu Dhabi skyline. rosewoodhotels.com/en/abu-dhabi/dining
Named after the founding president of the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a work of art capable of welcoming 40,000 worshippers. Other numbers; 82 domes, 1,000 columns, 24K gilded chandeliers and the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world. Reflective pools surround the mosque and after dark a unique lighting system reflects the phases of the moon. Spectacular at sunset and if you are in town on the first day of Eid, don’t miss the crowds at morning prayer. szgmc.ae/en
The long-awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel, is scheduled to open this year on Saadiyat, the natural island which is slated to make Abu Dhabi the cultural capital of the Gulf – Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim, Foster + Partners’ Zayed National Museum and others are due to follow. louvreabudhabi.ae/en