The United Arab Emirates has a reputation for being a luxurious playground. But like the beautiful coastlines along Abu Dhabi, the nation runs much deeper than that. As more and more visitors to UAE are realizing, Abu Dhabi offers everything from film festivals to pro golf tournaments. And the excitement is only getting started.
“The natural beauty of Abu Dhabi, the rare combination of expansive and untouched deserts and a city by the sea, complemented by key activities and cultural attractions…ensures the growth of luxury tourism in Abu Dhabi for years to come,” says Pep Lozano, the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, a new hotel that’s accepting reservations starting March 1.
One of the most noteworthy of those new cultural attractions is the Louvre Abu Dhabi. In January, Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) announced it signed a contract with Arabtec to begin construction on the long-awaited museum, one of three to be built in the new mixed-use development known as the Saadiyat Cultural District. The pilings of the fine arts museum — which is described by its architect and designer Jean Nouvel as an “island on an island” — were completed in 2009, but the project was delayed. Some began to question whether it would actually become reality. Now TDIC projects the $653 million museum will open in 2015.
And a remarkable structure it will be. Hugged by ocean, the “floating” museum will include a complex of art galleries, plazas, alleyways and canals shaded by a white lace-like 590-foot-diameter dome. The museum will feature a permanent collection of works from around the globe, as well as some on loan from notable Parisian institutions like Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou and the Louvre itself.
But the Louvre Abu Dhabi is just one component of the Saadiyat Cultural District. Planned for completion in 2017, the District will also include high-end shopping and dining venues, and will be flanked by two additional state-of-the-art museums. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, is slated to open in 2017; and Zayed National Museum, which honors the late United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is scheduled for a 2016 debut.
In the meantime, luxury travelers who visit Saadiyat Island can test the greens at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. The 18-hole, 317-acre, par-72 course designed by Gary Player was one of the first beachside golf links in the region when it opened in January 2010. For access to the course, stay at the new Mediterranean-style St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, which offers 5.5 miles of beach. Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas joined the scene in November 2011 with a pristine beach; several restaurants offering Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean cuisine; and an elegant, ancient Arabian-inspired beachside spa.
And there are additional upscale accommodations to come. This year, both The Ritz-Carlton and The St. Regis will open hotels. The St. Regis Abu Dhabi debuts April 15 on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, occupying 16 floors in one of the two sleek Nation Towers high-rises. There’s even an over-the-top suite inside the sky bridge linking the two towers.
The Renaissance architecture-inspired Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, opening in late February, will have a vast 17,222-square-foot outdoor pool, European-style gardens and guest rooms with views of the nearby Grand Mosque. Also close to that mosque will be Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, which debuts in the spring.
And speaking of the Grand Mosque, it’s one of several attractions you shouldn’t miss. The gleaming white marble mosque conceived by the late Sheikh Zayed boasts a 61,354-square-foot hand-knotted prayer carpet, 82 domes of various sizes and several reflective artificial lakes surrounding the structure.
But not every attraction here is cultural—some are about just having fun. Ferrari World, an enormous, family-friendly theme park on Yas Island, offers thrill rides that imitate the g-forces of Ferrari racing, and Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi just opened this in January with epic waterslides and wave pools.
The Middle Eastern city is also hosting several events to check out in 2013, including the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (March 2), Gourmet Abu Dhabi (a culinary festival taking place at various venues Feb. 5-20) and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (last year it took place in October). They are just a few things that will help Abu Dhabi build a reputation for itself as a luxe must-visit locale.
Photos Courtesy of Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi-Kempinski Hotels