Abu Dhabi – high-end luxury and heritage
Old rusty boats from an era of pearl diving and a Heritage Village, demonstrating the traditional way of life in the desert before the discovery of oil, are immersive time capsules here. Both overlook the famous Cornish Road of modern Abu Dhabi. Sitting comfortably in a speedy rigid-hulled inflatable boat, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a past scenery – An enormous Bedouin village instead. Archaeologists have found evidence of pearling dating back thousands of years here, with the country’s precious sea treasures being traded around the world − from Rome to Venice, Sri Lanka to India. The world’s oldest-known natural pearl, which was 8,000 years old, was also found in Abu Dhabi. Today it is hard to believe that the land in-front was part of poor remote desert.
Today’s Abu Dhabi is all about flourishing the sands with trees, flowers, gardens and parks. However building architecture is the name of the game here. The Emirati capital owns a skyline with a visual beauty and engineering ingenuity of skyscrapers. Still, for my money, the most breathtaking structures have nothing to do with height.
The most impressive one is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, with its 82 domes, sky-piercing minarets and acres of gleaming white marble. Walking around and inside this architectural wonder takes the breath away of its visitors. This colossal place of worship is big enough to accommodate over 40,000 visitors. It’s the third largest mosque in the world. One question remains – when is more breathtaking – at day time or at night? We visited it twice and if I had to make a choice, I would choose the evening tour.
Another monumental structure which is a must visit is Qasr Al Watan. An incredible Palace brimming with knowledge, offering an insight into the country heritage and the governing principles. Its marvel at majestic hallways are breathtaking. Special attention should be definitely given to the monumental golden installation by Emirati artist Mattar bin Lahej, called “Power of Words”. “Wealth is not money or oil; wealth lies in people and it is worthless if not dedicated to serve the people.” These words by Sheikh Zayed, the country’s Founding Father, have been transformed into this impressive sculpture that lies in the center of the structure.
Make sure to visit Qasr Al Watan just before sunset and you are promised with a gigantic bonus. The palace comes alive and lights up the night with a spectacular evening in-motion light and sound show onto its façade that tells the country’s visual story.
The 6 years old Louvre Abu Dhabi is a result of an unprecedented partnership between France and the United Arab Emirates. It is France’s largest cultural project abroad. The structure itself is special. Famous architect Jean Nouvel created a symphony in concrete, water and the subtle play of reflected light. Its design was inspired by the region’s rich architectural traditions. For many the Louvre is a symbol of the United Arab Emirates’ ambition and achievement. As a Leonardo Da Vinci freak, I was enthusiastically impressed by the magnificent oil painting of Saint John. As an Israeli and a Jew, the 1500 years old carved Menorah found in Umm Qeis Jordan, presented in the museum was overwhelming. Who needs better evidence for antique jewish presence in the east part of the Jordan river?
The Abrahamic Family House is the stunning new multi-faith complex, a mosque, a church and a synagogue, dedicated to the pursuit of peaceful coexistence for future generations. To enter the jewish structure, accompanied by an Emirati guide dressed in white explaining the visitors about jewish Jewish law and custom prescribed ritual hand washing, was exciting. To say the list. Was this possible a few years back? Of course not.
Definitely an iconic scenery of Abu Dhabi is the group of skyscrapers that also include the high-end luxury accommodation of the Conrad Towers. It includes 377 rooms and suites and 199 furnished residences. It was our home during our time in the city. No words are possible to describe this pampering hotel, to include the highest vantage point in Abu Dhabi from the Observation Deck at 300, three outdoor heated pools and a private beach. Born in Como, in northern Italy, charming General Manager Alessandro Redaelli is enthusiastic about the city. “Abu Dhabi offers a unique experience with a big focus on culture and museums. There is a lot of greenery around the city which is different from what one can find in the UAE in general. The white sands and the clear crystal water we have, which reminds of the Maldive Islands, are exceptional. Not forgetting there are extraordinary international restaurant brands to be discovered”, he says. I wanted to hear more about the accommodation offered in his Conrad. “Our room’s product is actually very popular in our destination”, he says. “We have residents and a hotel combined. We have apartments on the long stay and a short stay with a kitchen and fantastic views of Abu Dhabi at 360 degrees. We also offer different room types including different suites, but our rooms are the biggest on their own in the city. I would say that people who want to come and enjoy their vacation, we offer exactly the right product”, he says.
This high-end luxury Conrad is definitely amazing. Housekeeping and maintenance are with the highest standards there are. I was bewitched daily by workers washing windows, attached to an anchor that’s mounted on the roof, allowing them to clean the windows as they move jerkily down the skyscrapers. So many windows in such a climate sounds like an everlasting career.
The food options at breakfast are endless and their presentation is unique. Our dinner at the amazingly designed Sole, at the hotel’s waterfront location, was the highest Italian quality there is. No surprises whatsoever, knowing the big boss comes from Lombardia, Italy.
The city of Abu Dhabi portrays endless optimism. The people of the Emirate are proud of their history and preserve it constantly, together with constant innovation and tolerance. Past, present and future are mixed here and visiting travelers will surely be deeply impressed.