Dune Bashing, Persian Carpets and a Spectacular Outpost of The Louvre: A Weekend in Abu Dhabi, Part II

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(Continuing on from Part I of our Abu Dhabi story…)

 

Peckish from sightseeing, we headed back to The Grand Hyatt where we lunched at Verso, a stylish Italian trattoria, that serves outstanding pizzas, pastas like pappardelle ai gamberi, and squid ink risotto – and as New Yorkers, we’re not easily impressed with Italian food. The property will actually boast a total of six international dining options (just two were open when we were there), so you’ll never go hungry. Sahha, an “adventurous market,” is the spot for made-to-order and buffet breakfast and dinner options – don’t miss the big-as-your-head pastel-colored meringues at the dessert station. Pearl Lounge in the lobby provided a sophisticated little stop off when we were feeling parched, as our minibar seemed to be a work in progress (um, empty).

And for those feeling a little more motivated than were we, there was a Dynamic TechnoGym fitness center open 24-hours, with a steam room and sauna to sweat out the night-before’s partying on the hip and happening Yas Island. (N.B., you can drink openly at hotels and nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, but public drunkenness is of course very much frowned upon.)

Never hearing of dune bashing before we visited Abu Dhabi, the daytime sport courtesy of Land Cruisers and their agile drivers, provided some raucous fun. We were told to buckle up, because off-roading amongst the sand dunes gets hair-raisingly bumpy. If you book a tour with Abu Dhabi Desert Safari you’ll also get up close and personal with a herd of very cuddly camels, available for short rides and lots of petting. As part of our excursion, we got to partake in sand skiing, a Bedouin-style BBQ dinner, belly dancing and Tanoura (traditional folkloric dance) performances, henna painting, and even the chance to hold a falcon for the ultimate photo op.

For anyone who might be wondering where Whistler’s Mother is currently on view, it was right there at the spectacular, Saadayit Island located Louvre Abu Dhabi. The name is on loan from its Paris counterpart, which was incidentally paid $525 million to license the name for 30 years. Here, the Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel has again outdone himself – the sprawling design is actually comprised of 55 detached buildings.

With a giant overhead canopy ‘woven’ out of 7850 metal ‘stars,’ the structure ingeniously anchors sand and sea. Waterfront views from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s many terraces are breathtaking, while visiting day or night promises dazzling light shows under the dome. And the art? We especially loved the cosmography room and the well-curated collection of artifacts from early civilizations. Currently showing is Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, through the end of February.

Of course, when they go big in the U.A.E., they always go really big. And the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was no exception. Designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdekly, the glistening white-marble stunner is one of the world’s largest. A massive undertaking at over 20 years to build (2007 saw the completion), a collective of highly skilled artisans using only the finest materials were enlisted from around the globe, coming from India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia…the list goes on.

It should be noted that visitors are required to respect the dress code, traditional Abaya dress for women, or Kandura for men. For us ladies, this meant loose pants (so please do leave your athleisure at the hotel), loose tops covering arms and chest, and head scarf with no hair showing. Our Isabel Marant tunic was deemed too sheer by staff, so we were loaned a hooded, pinkish-colored Abaya, which are available before entering the mosque. And after all, who doesn’t look good in mauve?

Resplendent with the world’s largest Persian carpet (woven by women, we were told by our lively guide, with 2,268,000,000 knots) and the third largest, brilliantly colored crystal-encrusted chandelier in existence, the humbling, grandiose main hall can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. Its benefactor, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted to establish a structure uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, and its historical and modern values of architecture and art. His Highness’ final resting place is actually located on the grounds beside the mosque.

Before we departed from Abu Dhabi, we were determined to visit one of its beaches (and not one of the many man-made ones). Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the shores of Saadiyat, boasted an invitingly pristine, natural beachfront, where gentle waves beckoned us in. A quick dip provided perfect refreshment before winding down and washing up before dinner. The sleek, minimalist rooms here offer our favorite Le Labo products, which will soon become standard across all of the Hyatt properties, we were told.

Reserving a table under the stars at the award-winning Park Bar & Grill, we were thankful for the simplicity of a menu of charcoal-grilled seafood and fine steaks. Dining al fresco on a clear, we took in one last magnificent view, before normal life would take us back to Gotham.

(N.B. ideal travel times to the UAE are December through March, before it gets too hot and humid.)