The Hedonist: Abu Dhabi

What to see and where to be seen

Mouna, my adorably incorrigible Lebanese partner in crime, meets me upon arrival at the gleaming airport. We've been great friends since my first trip, when Abu Dhabi was still prim and proper compared to wild child Dubai next door. We hop into her tiny red Mini and begin the white-knuckle ride that passes for driving in this part of the world.





We head for the Corniche, Abu Dhabi's showiest boulevard, which runs along the sparkling waters of the Persian Gulf, where mega-yachts glide past palm-fringed beaches and the cityscape flashes by in a blur of futuristic skyscrapers, swanky five-star hotels, glittering shopping malls and the occasional Arabian footnote, such as a shisha café or kebab house.



Cosmopolitan, upbeat and culturally aspirational, Abu Dhabi is thinking big. Maybachs and Rollers pass by in stately splendour, buzzed by speedier rivals in sports cars.



We pull into the Hiltonia Beach Club (00 971 2 681 1900; hilton.com), an Abu Dhabi institution, to enjoy sundowners on the beach at Escape – a quintessential beach and poolside bar that attracts a lively local crowd along with tourists showing off their sunburn. We shamelessly bag the last two beanbags on the terrace and flop down. Arabic pop music floats out over the sound system: it's Egyptian heart-throb Amr Diab. "So good-looking," sighs Mouna, as she sips an icy mojito. Alas, that cannot be said for the men posing poolside... a couple of beefy Russian businessmen sporting loud new Vilebrequin swim shorts and barking into gold-plated mobile phones. We decide to make a move.



The Havana Café (00 971 2 681 00 44) is a popular shisha café overlooking the breakwater. In Abu Dhabi, shisha cafés are places where locals can have a smoke and a chat. They are the last bastions of traditional Arabic social life in a city being Starbucked into submission. Emirati men in their spotless white dishdasha robe and headdress, and women in graceful long black abbayas sit around the low tables while their kids run about. The rumble of fast-paced Arabic is punctuated by laughter, and the air is scented with aromatic flavoured tobacco. Taking a puff, I get carried away and inhale too fast, spluttering and coughing like a total tourist. Time to seek out the bright lights of town.



Souk Qaryat Al Beri (00 971 2 558 1670; soukqaryatalberi.com) is an elegant shopping and nightlife enclave done in Arabian style, overlooking the waterfront. Current hotspots include Sho Cho, which serves Asian fusion cuisine and evolves into a lounge bar with a DJ in the evenings; The Noodle House, the UAE's answer to Wagamama; and trendy Left Bank (00 971 2 558 1680), where we pop in to see Abu Dhabi's young professionals at play. The sexy red leather banquettes are all occupied by media types chatting up glossy female companions, so we drift out to the terrace and gaze at the magical white domes and minarets of the Grand Mosque glowing like a mirage in the velvety night.



I'm looking forward to Abu Dhabi's famous seafood at Finz, the restaurant at The Beach Rotana Hotel (00 971 2 644 3000; rotana.com) where the grilled local hammour (a meaty fish similar to sea bass) is always in demand. The atmosphere is chic and sleek, all glass and wood, and if you sit outside under the stars, you can hear the waves rushing up the sand.



The evening flies by. At 11pm, it's time to hit the dance floor. We opt for the pretty party scene of Pearls & Caviar (00 971 2 509 8777; pearlsandcaviar. com) at the lush Shangri-La beach resort. Abu Dhabi's beautiful people are draped over the modernistic white sofas that run the length of the terrace while the DJ spins Ibiza chill-out tracks. A trio from an Italian F1 team wearing tight black T-shirts with "Enzo" emblazoned in red offer to buy us cocktails. Never one to hurt feelings I agree to a lychee martini, while Mouna poses like an extra from La Dolce Vita with a Campari and soda. ("There are designated clubs and restaurants in hotels that are allowed to serve alcohol to non-Muslims," is the official line on drinking.)



The boys are in town to promote the opening of Ferrari World (yasisland.ae), a theme park boasting the world's fastest rollercoaster. A few hours later we have invitations to meet next day at the F1 circuit at the surreal new Yas Hotel (00 971 2 656 0700; theyashotel.com) for some hands-on driving lessons. Abu Dhabi does it again.



A Hedonist's Guide to... ( Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz