The United Arab Emirates' capital city, Abu Dhabi, is about to make a big impression on the Middle East corporate tourism scene and could even eclipse its rival Dubai.
As a precursor, the city built the mighty Emirates Palace. Its overall footprint covers the staggering equivalent of 70 football pitches. The hotel itself is a gargantuan sandstone monolith commanding the western end of the city's Corniche, affording views over the Arabian Gulf. Yet this cavernous and opulent hotel (run by the glamorous Kempinski group) has only 400 rooms, each one a mini-palace.
Track it down
A taxi from the airport to the Emirates Palace (West End Corniche, +971 2 690 9000, www.emiratespalace.com) takes about 20-30 minutes. El Ghazal is the more reasonable meter-taxi firm and should charge a flat rate of around dh65-70. Limos are also readily available but more expensive. If you are very important and staying in one of the most expensive suites, you will enter via a separate archway and drive up a private road which enters the hotel at a higher level. Or, make like a sheik and take a helicopter: the hotel has a choice of two helipads.
Demure and softly smiling staff wear black and gold coats and ankle-length skirts, and glide across vast expanses of polished marble.
Room to manoeuvre?
Room for a game of desert polo, more like. The standard Grand rooms measure 55sqm and include gigantic flat-screen TVs and balconies. Under the central dome of the hotel (a mere 42 metres wide and 69m high) are 16 Palace Suites, each offering reception areas, Swarovski crystal chandeliers, king-sized beds which look tiny and insignificant, and 680sqm of velvet-soft carpet and polished marble. Every room and suite has 24-hour butler service in case you need to rustle up a copy of The Independent at 3am, or if you suddenly get the urge to cruise down the Corniche in one of the hotel's snow-white Rolls Royces.
Your room key works on 'transponder technology', automatically unlocking your door when you wave it in an Open Sesame fashion. Inside, everything from the air-conditioning to the TV can be controlled from one portable touchpad. The entire hotel is WiFi, even the beach. The conference auditorium's wizardry includes simultaneous translation into nine languages, digital voting, and broadcast facilities that can beam pictures and sound from events anywhere in the world via satellite
There are two appropriately giant-sized open-air pool complexes, one with adult pools and hot-tubs for serious swimmers and those in need of a post-work de-stress, and the other with adventure slides and swimmable rivers for families. They are at opposite ends of the hotel. If you're training for the Olympics, you can dive into the Arabian Gulf and swim the length of the hotel's 1.3km private beach. There are two fitness centres and an Energy Play Zone, a new open-air facility with fitness equipment.
Raid the mini bar
Enjoy a cold beer on a hot, dusty afternoon (Heineken dh44) or a cool evening G&T (Beafeater dh66). Johnnie Walker Red is dh66 (Black is dh82), a bottle of Western Australia's Sandalwood wine is dh130, and if you have just clinched the deal of the decade go nuts with a bottle of Moët for dh234. If you clean the place out (not advisable given that UAE is a Muslim country and alcohol-breath is not going to win you any friends) it will set you back dh1152 including the taxes. Soft drinks are free.
Breakfast is not included if you book a standard room direct with the hotel but some tour operators have rates inclusive of breakfast. If you're in a suite your breakfast is included regardless. Breakfast is dh175 (without tax) but what a breakfast: an eye-popping banquet of western and local delights. Camel's milk, several varieties of dates, humus and tabouleh, salads, cauldrons of bubbling Um Ali (an Egyptian bread pudding flavoured with rosewater and pistachios), and delicious Zataar croissants.
A double room costs from dh2,900 per night (plus 10 per cent service charge and 6 per cent tourism charge).
Beach Rotana Hotel & Towers in the Tourist Club area of the city feels positively Lilliputian after the Emirates Palace but it's a good example of Abu Dhabi executive-chic, has an attractive beachside location and serves a fabulous fish biryani (+971 2 644 3000; www.beachrotana.com; doubles from dh767 per night plus taxes).Reuse content