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

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing