Abu Dhabi or ("Abu Zabie" as pronounced by locals). The Capital of the United Arab Emirate, and the biggest Emirate in terms of land.
There are only three seven-star hotels in the world, Abu Dhabi is home to one, Emirates Palace. While the other two 7 star hotels are found in Dubai, Burj Al Arab Hotel and Milan, Town House Galleria also known as the Seven Stars Galleria.
While the international press would have you believing Dubai’s cornered the market on local luxury, Abu Dhabi’s coming up fast on the outside: it might not (quite) be Dubai, but Abu Dhabi is still a destination where you’d best be carrying a wallet full of hefty notes. If you can afford it, though, you’re in for a treat.
Splash the cash on five star resorts, and you’ll find yourself amongst swimming pools the size of lakes, designer boutiques, exuberant restaurants and chandelier-strewn hallways. This is the kind of place where you can easily relieve your pockets of several grand in cash every day, especially once you start indulging in the diverse selection of extra-curricular activities. The most popular of those may be familiar to visitors to nearby Dubai, and include stunning (if sometimes almost unpalatably hot) beaches, the chance to race four-by-four jeeps through the sand dunes and even sand boarding, an adaption on snow boarding that’s best reserved only for those with a serious sense of balance (unless you don’t mind a mouth full of sand, of course).
If you’re after a more traditional taste of the Middle East you’ll have to dig a little deeper then the areas around the hotels, but some of the sights are genuinely different to anything you’re likely to find outside the region, so it’s worth the effort. Al Maqtaa Fort, for example, is a tiny columned building surrounded by a lake, and the city’s key defense 200 years ago. It’s striking how far the city has come since it was built. The array of mosques, meanwhile, both dominate the skyline and give a sense of a more typical local lifestyle – it’s not all champagne and caviar, though the oil money input has certainly made life a whole lot more comfortable around here.
What Abu Dhabi really is best for, though, is the kind of luxurious holiday most of us can only dream of, blended with the odd piece of enticing off-the-wall sport along the way. Make the most of it; not many can afford to come here twice.
Note: best time for a visit is between October and May