Spend more than a day in the United Arab Emirates and you’ll soon learn that everything is either the biggest or the best. Abu Dhabi, for example, is home to the world’s biggest hand-knotted carpet – weighing 35 tonnes and measuring 5,627 square metres – in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. At the less spiritual end of the scale, it also has the world’s fastest rollercoaster (the 150mph Formula Rossa at Ferrari World).
And now it’s also home to the Louvre’s first museum outside France – a multi-million pound deal which has set Abu Dhabi well on the road to becoming the biggest cultural hub in the UAE. An offshoot of the Guggenheim Museum – the largest in the world, 12 times the size of the New York gallery – is set to follow.
And so it is that the Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri has its own claim to fame: it has the best view of the mosque in the whole of Abu Dhabi. It is the only hotel with a front-on view, in fact – and it is stunning. Arrive, as I did, at night, and once you’ve been plied with dates and Arabic coffee in the lobby, you see the mosque through the windows, shimmering across the water, its 82 white marble domes lit up in blue and purple. The view gives the hotel a resonant sense of place, which can be hard to find in the UAE.
The hotel’s other claim to fame is its brunch. Restaurant ‘Sofra bld’ is home to – you guessed it – Abu Dhabi’s best brunch in 2017 (as voted by local magazine, Fact). It is, indeed fabulous: mountains of fruit, fresh smoothies, 20 types of bread and baskets of bite-sized pastries and cakes. Hummus, shakshuka and salad? Sure. Eight types of ice cream? Why not?
Sofra bld’s lunch offering is no less impressive, though the real indulgence is at Shang Palace, one of the hotel’s four restaurants (there’s also a French classic, Bord Eau, and a Vietnamese offering, Hoi An). The bottomless dim sum (around AED90 or £18 a head) has nothing to do with Emirati culture, but then again, not much does around here, and it’s delicious. Plus, there’s a “kung-fu tea master” who can do things with green tea that will make you choke on your duck soup.
The CHI spa offers Arabic coffee body scrubs and Arabian date body wraps alongside more standard facials and massages. There is also a gym and three pools, including a smaller rooftop one; towels and a coolbox of iced water are provided. The best is the 27m infinity pool; swim in it and you feel as though you’re floating out towards the mosque.
The price that the Shangri-La pays for its fabulous view is that it is located slightly away from the main ‘action’ of the Corniche – where the majority of the hotels and the market and main beach are situated. However, since Abu Dhabi has no real ‘centre’ – it is a cluster of separate islands, each with their own character and attractions – and nobody walks anywhere, it’s not a problem.
The airport is 20 minutes’ drive away, Shangri-La’s cheaper sister hotel, Traders, is next door – and there’s a tiny souk that you can reach via the hotel abra (a kind of gondola) or a five-minute walk. Otherwise, the main attractions are all a drive away: it’s 20 minutes to the Corniche, 20 minutes to Yas Island with its giant mall, Ferrari World and Formula 1 circuit, and half an hour to the beach on Saadiyat Island. Saadiyat Beach Club is the only place to lounge on a sunny day as house music pumps out over its white and turquoise daybeds. Its five-plus miles of white sand, home to hawksbill turtles, is said to be the best beach in the United Arab Emirates. Of course.
Each of the 213 rooms and suites at the hotel (there are six private villas, too, which range in style from family friendly to party friendly) has a roomy terrace or balcony with sun-loungers, a view across to the mosque and, for light sleepers, a built-in early morning alarm, thanks to the call to prayer.
This is one of 99 Shangri-La hotels around the world, including one in London’s Shard. It merges eastern flavour – an ornate chest containing a warm pot of green tea greets you in your room – with local details. The rooms have elegant lattice screens and Arabian archways. The style is traditional and luxurious – dark wood and marble sunken baths. There is air conditioning and free wi-fi in all of the rooms.
Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi, Khor Al Maqta, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Doubles from AED830 (£170) in low season (June to September); AED1280 (£260) in high season (October to April), B&B
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