Dubai has been a popular holiday destination for a number of years now. Big brother Abu Dhabi is now seriously working on catching up. You can of course stay in Dubai and visit Abu Dhabi, but the latter also has lots of super luxurious hotels. We tested a few unique hotels in Abu Dhabi, and are happy to share our experience.
Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
When you think of the United Arab Emirates, you probably think of rushing people, glitter and glamour and city noise. That is of course correct, but the Emirates also have a completely different side. Near Abu Dhabi lies the so-called Empty Quarter or Rub-Al-Khali, the largest sand desert in the world at 650,000 km2. It is one of the driest deserts in the world.
At 2 hours’ drive from Abu Dhabi airport lies Qasr al Sarab, , one of the most luxurious hotels in Abu Dhabi. The last half of the journey is kilometres of just desert - beautiful orange sand dunes left and right as far as the eye can see. So impressive!
Eventually the desert resort appears in the distance, like a fata morgana. A small oasis in the middle of the absolute emptiness. You’ll have not seen such an atmospheric, serene location before. It's one of the most unique hotels in Abu Dhabi.
Qasr al Sarab is part of the Anantara group and it lives up to all expectations. The stylish hotel in sandstone fits in with the surroundings beautifully.
A warm welcome awaits you in the inviting lobby, and you immediately enjoy a great view over the desert. The rooms are spacious, decorated in local style and cosy with all modern comforts. The bathrooms are also wonderful, and the bath would fit a pool party! You wander straight into the desert from your terrace.
The restaurant serves an amazing breakfast. I would spend good money for the freshly prepared noodle soup, the light omelette or the delicious dim sums.
At night you can enjoy a large Arabian and international buffet in Al Waha. In the rooftop bar Suhail they serve wonderful dishes from the grill. The last evening, we planned a dinner in Al Falaj, a restaurant in the dunes, in true Bedouin style. But a small sandstorm put a stop to that unfortunately. They serve wonderful burgers, salads and heavenly cocktails poolside.
You might wonder what the heck you’ll do all day in the large sand pit. Of course, you can enjoy the pool and the spa, but there is a lot more to do.
With an experienced driver you take a 4x4 into the desert for a spectacular drive. To the top of a mighty sand dune and then in superspeed down into the depths on the other side. Mighty!
Tip: do you get car sick? Be sure to take a tablet against travel sickness before you go.
You can also venture into the desert on foot with a guide. He will tell you anything you would like to know about this enchanting environment. This is an especially magical experience during sunrise or sunset.
And, of course, you can go for a camel ride. In small groups you wander through the dunes on the back of this “ship of the desert”. Small children can also come along.
Riders (both amateurs and professionals) can take a horse out for a ride, but only in the cooler months (from October to May). It is too hot in the other months. The horses are kept in air-conditioned stables.
Yoga in the desert
At 6 in the morning you walk with your yoga instructor to the top of a dune. And while the sun rises you enjoy an intense yoga session. I have never been more zen in my life.
Visit a camel farm, go hunting with falcons, visit the horse stables and hug little rabbits.
During a day trip you can visit the nearby Liwa oasis. You explore the Liwa Fort, visit a palm tree plantation, a vegetable grower and a camel farm.
A couple of fat bikes are available for the sporty types among us. On a bike with extremely wide tyres you conquer the sand dunes.
There are no lifts like in the ski resorts, so you climb to the top of a dune on foot and then slide down at full speed on your sandboard. There are some sleds available for the little dare-devils.
If your visit to the desert coincides with a full moon, be sure to do a night excursion. On foot, in the car, on the back of a camel or a horse. It sounds like a magical experience.
We stayed in the desert for two days, but this was far too short in hindsight. The surroundings were straight from a fairy tale and there were so many things to do that we could have enjoyed ourselves here a lot longer. Staying in this unique hotel in Abu Dhabi is a must if you’re in the area.
St. Regis Abu Dhabi
The St. Regis hotels are part of the Marriott group. An older hotel owned by the group is located on Saadiyat Island, but we stayed at the St. Regis at the Corniche (the “sea dyke” of Abu Dhabi).
The hotel is located in the Nation Towers, one of the iconic skyscrapers. These two towers are connected by a suite on the 48th floor. The part between the two buildings has a glass floor which means that you’re looking 100m down.
The rooms are located on the 33 to 49th floor. The lobby and restaurants are located on the ground floor and the first three floors. The other floors contain offices.
The lobby is magnificent and has a spectacular staircase. It also features a cosy bar and coffee and dates are always at your disposale. Delicious! Breakfast is served inside and outside. During rush hour (9 am) it is very busy, and you might have to wait at the bar. There is something ready for you to snack on, but we thought this was a negative point.
Restaurants in St Regis
- You can get a lovely buffet at The Terrace on the Corniche.
- Villa Toscana serves, as the name suggests, Italian specialities. The restaurant looks like a Toscan villa on the inside. Really nice.
- Azura Panoramic Lounge serves local food on a wonderful terrace with view over the corniche.
- Our favourite, however, was the Cabana Beach Bar & Grill. Lovely and relaxing on the beach, with the feet in the sand. They serve simple but tasty dishes. The service is super friendly and the atmosphere is laid-back.
Tip: it is Happy Hour for alcoholic drinks between 5 and 8 pm. In a country like Abu Dhabi that is really worth it as cocktails cost between 15 and 20 euro, a beer 10 euro and a soda 6 euro.
We booked two double rooms. When we arrived, there were no two rooms available on the same floor. This was apparently a problem – and later we found out why, as you need to scan your key card in the lift, and you can only get off on your own floor. But luckily, they had a solution. They had a room available on the 48th floor. An enormous living room, dining room, kitchen, office, bedroom, walk-in wardrobe and bathroom. And another one of those baths in which you can get lost, as well as an enormous shower. All fabulous, but the view was simply phenomenal.
THe hotel on the picture is the new Fairmont Marina Hotel, opening soon. It's a maller version of the Atlantis hotels .
The concierge of the hotel is ready to organise all sorts of activities for you. Things like sightseeing tours through Abu Dhabi, a trip to Dubai, day trips into the desert, dhow dinner cruises and so on.
St Regis is on the beach, but it takes a bit of effort to get there. You finally reach the sand after 3 lifts and a long underground tunnel as the hotels are separated from the beach by a four-lane motorway. The sunbeds at the beach are great and the beach boys are very friendly. The hotel’s large pool is also on the beach. For a quick dip you can use the much smaller pool on the third floor of the hotel.
Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi
If you really want to stay somewhere ultra-decadent, then this is the place to be. The hotel is so spectacular that it draws in buses full of tourists on a daily basis. It is one of the highlights of Abu Dhabi besides the white mosque and the Louvre.
This super luxurious hotel in Abu Dhabi is frequented by royal families and dignitaries from all over the world. These special guests are hosted in the main building. The “normal” guests stay in the side wings.
Emirates Palace is located at the end of the corniche. From the beach at St Regis you have a perfect view of this hotel.
Inside it is all gold that shines. It is massively big and kitschy, but they managed to keep it nice and cosy.
If you don’t want to stay here, but you’d like to see where the rich & famous hang out, go for an Afternoon Tea at the palace. If you have less time, enjoy one of the following specialities in the bar:
- Palace Cappuccino: The perfect cappuccino sprinkled with 24-carat flakes of gold. A cappuccino will never be the same afterwards.
- Camelccino: You can’t drink your cappuccino any more Arabian, as this is served with camel’s milk. The chocolate topping is also made with camel’s milk.
- Cosmopolitan: You prefer to drink a cocktail? Have a Cosmopolitan, complete with 24-carat flakes of gold.
Did you stay at a different luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi? Share it in the comments below. If Abu Dhabi is on your wish list, be sure to consider a stay in the desert!
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