Spread across 200 islands on the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi is emerging as stiff competition to the might of Dubai, and is now considered the cultural heart of this young Gulf nation. As one of the richest cities on earth Abu Dhabi is also the “King of Bling”! There is no doubting, however, Abu Dhabi’s intention of transforming the world’s perception of the emirates, primarily known for its ostentatious hotels and huge shopping malls, than its culture. Contributing to this notable change of direction, was the arrival of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2009, which paved the way for a rich sporting and cultural calendar, attracting big names from around the world of sport.
Positioned outside of the aptly named Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque, one can only wonder at its splendour; a majestic vision of white shimmering marble, it was built in 1996 and named in honour of the late Emarati leader, who united the seven Emirate states in 1971. It is a huge complex of 82 gleaming gold-topped domes that are perched on top of more than 1000 pillars. Being Abu Dhabi’s star attraction, it is not entirely dissimilar to the great Taj Mahal in India. Non-Muslims are welcome to roam freely, (unlike many mosques), except during prayer times. All visitors must of course, dress respectably, women being provided with suitable robes and headscarves.
Away from downtown Abu Dhabi, across the Khalifa Bridge is Saadiyat Island, a corner of the city destined for global acclaim, a new cultural district now swiftly taking shape. The Louvre Abu Dhabi Jean Nouvel followed two years later, nearby the Guggenheim, a masterpiece of architecture designed by Frank Gehry, in a unique conical style building.
Abu Dhabi boasts numerous opulent hotels, the latest being the newly-opened St. Regis. Boasting 377 rooms, all with fine views, attentive butlers, five pools, a spa and seven (yes seven!) gourmet restaurants.
None of this however can compare with the miles of beach, blissfully void of jet skis. The St. Regis has banned all motorised water sports to ensure the protection of its areas fragile eco-system, along with the animals that call it home. Should you visit between April and July, a sight not to be missed, (and indeed you stand a good chance), is watching the hawksbill turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. A vision to behold!