I’ve never really been inclined to visit Abu Dhabi, instead preferring the alluring charms of its sister city Dubai, with its bustling city centre, luxurious beach clubs, obscenely glamorous hotels and impeccable service.
This all changed after a dream-like stay at The Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas – a chic, modern oasis in this mystical desert-like part of the world.
Only an hour away by car from Dubai, This elegant home away from home merges contemporary design with traditional touches – the Arabic tea and dates served in the opulent lobby is the perfect welcome after a long day of travel.
I stayed in this idyllic resort with my brother – who marvelled at the Saadiyat’s beguiling architecture and stylish interiors. Our suite was spacious and boasted luxurious furnishings and breathtaking views of the sprawling outdoor pool nestled smugly just minutes away from a powdery white sandy beach.
We spent our days swimming under the warming desert sun and were particularly fond of the “sunbathing sections” of the pool where it was possible to lie in the cooling water whilst developing the tan of your dreams.
After sunning ourselves to bronzed oblivion, we decided to go on a desert safari tour and asked the eternally helpful hotel concierge which company they recommended for the ideal Arabian desert experience. We were told that Emirates Tours and Safari was the best company in the area so hastily booked an experience departing at 3pm for the half day safari.
Our friendly driver Aris met us in the lobby and escorted us to a shiny white car which we shared with an excited German couple who were also in search of Arabian adventure.
After a short drive past the numerous tourist hotspots of this rapidly evolving city, including Ferrari World and the newly opened Warner Brothers World, we made it to the desert. This is where the tour got interesting as the car sped up and down numerous sand dunes before taking us to a scenic spot where we took numerous photographs to spam everyone’s Instagram feed with.
“Sandboards” were also given to whoever wanted to speed down the highest sand dunes – an experience I highly recommend to thrill seekers with a love of ending up face down in a mound of warm sand. The video my brother filmed will haunt me forever.
After such sandy shenanigans we made our way to a tented area where we were invited to take photos with and ride some camels. I offered one some hay to eat, then ran away squealing like the big scardy cat that I am. Hey, I’m a Londoner and only used to the odd naughty tomcat loitering about.
My favourite part of the whole experience was dressing up in traditional religious clothes and having henna expertly painted on my freshly tanned hands before sipping on hot sweet tea and dates.
500 photographs later, we joined the rest of the group for a traditional Bedouin style buffet dinner before settling down crossed legs on ornate cushions to watch a sensual belly dance show before a traditional dervish dancer whirled around in a haze of colourful lights. We finally returned to our resort, and after a walk around the perfectly-manicured grounds, fell into a deep slumber in our plush king sized beds.
The food at the Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas was verging on otherworldly. Seven on-site dining spaces offer food-loving guests a selection of exquisite dishes inspired from different corners of the globe.
The Turtle Bay Bar & Grill was our favourite of the four. Perched invitingly by shimmering water, this epic eatery served us a memorable dinner one warm, balmy evening in a picturesque outdoor area shrouded in candlelight.
Starters were a merry mergence of flavours. Cauliflower popcorn with truffle tofu and crispy calamari with lime pleased our tastebuds before we devoured glorious Wagyu steaks, hand-shucked oysters and a zesty yellowfin tuna ceviche drizzled with a piquant yuzu soy sauce and adorned lavishly with sliced jalapeños.
The following day, we visited the resort’s Italian fine dining restaurant Si, where we gorged on starters of beef carpaccio drenched in fragrant truffle oil and citrus aiole smothered chargrilled octopus. My brother’s main of braised lamb shank with orange and olives melted in the mouth whilst my cheese and cured Italian meat board transported us to the sunny shores of Southern Italy – on the halal express of course.
Our last meal was a dinner in Hamilton’s Gastropub – the resort’s bustling gastro pub. on the night we visited, British and German jet-setters sat around the industrial-chic bar and dark wooden tables, chatting over pints of beer and glasses of European wine. We found a quiet corner and ordered a menage of exciting “pub grub” – golden scotch eggs, beef brisket laden with melted provolone cheese on crunchy ciabatta and beer-battered cod with chunky chips and mushy peas. It almost felt as though we were back home in England – except for the 40C, sweltering heat outside.
The “build your own” mac and cheese option on the menu was beckoning us with its array of tempting toppings – from bbq pulled chicken to asparagus and crispy chorizo, the choices were endless and equally enticing.
After such glorious gluttony, we felt in need of some essential pampering in the Saadiyat Rotana’s pristine Zen the Spa. After being served quaint glasses of ruby red hibiscus tea, my brother and I were led into tastefully designed treatment rooms and treated to deeply-relaxing full body massages using carefully selected aromatherapy oils.
We made our way to the lobby where an air-conditioned black Mercedes was waiting to take us to the airport. I felt a slight pang of sadness at leaving this inimitable place -my suitcase laden with dates stuffed with plump almonds in an attempt to prolong my Arabian experience amidst the drizzly streets of London.
Stay at the five-star Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas in Abu Dhabi from 1,138 AED (approx. £232) per night inclusive of breakfast based on two adults sharing a Classic Room. To book or for further information, please visit www.rotana.com