Hotels by definition are ‘establishments providing accommodation, meals, and other services for travellers and tourists, by the night’, not my words but those of the Oxford English Dictionary. To me those are mere words and do not represent what hotels of the 21st century achieve. Lets throw the dictionary out of our imaginary window and define what a hotel is with the injection of a little reality and emotion.
Regardless of what you are traveling for, work or leisure, to visit friends on the other side of the planet or even just a mandatory stop beside a fast flowing highway – to me a hotel is part of the tapestry of a journey or an adventure. Hotels are places foreign to us and with that there is always a sense of trepidation and excitement. Then there are hotels that strive to be more than beds to sleep in, hotels that are themselves a destination. It is a fine art to balance a space that is comfortable and homely that can still conjure excitement and anticipation of being somewhere new. Many succeed at accomplishing the former but struggle with the latter. My latest GTspirit Lifestyle assignment took me to the UAE to find out if one of the worlds most instantaneously recognizable hotels can strike a balance.
When you think of Abu Dhabi, images of sand dunes and a jagged skyline may be conjured in your mind. For me, being a Formula 1 fanatic, the instant the city is mentioned I picture the sun setting and sparks flying as twenty or so cars dodge and dance around one another at the Yas Marina Circuit, a recent addition to the race calendar but one that immediately stunned. It is not difficult to see why it has been praised as a success. It is more than a race, it is a spectacle like no other with the worlds largest super yachts parked in a billionaires row, the night sky and the center piece – The Yas Viceroy Hotel.
Opened in 2009, the hotel is made of two twelve story towers that are joined by a steel and glass bridge. As impressive as that alone would have been, designers Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture, principals of New York based Asymptote Architecture, went on to blanket the structures in a 217-meter expanse of sweeping, curvilinear glass and steel covering known as the Grid Shell that features an LED lighting system incorporating video feeds that are transmitted over the 5,389 pivoting diamond-shaped colour changing LED panes. What sounds complex and technical on paper translates into something mesmerising that intrigues and fascinates to such an extent that the structure is globally recognised – the Eiffel Tower of Abu Dhabi if you will.
Whether or not you are a fan of the architecture designed to look like a fish from above, it is hard to deny that it is impressive. Things are no less attention grabbing inside. Head into the lobby with its classy clean finish and things seem a little understated. It is the same in the lift lobbies and hallways. There are not many hints that give away the gems that this hotel hides or the luxury that awaits behind each of the 499 doors to guest rooms and suites.
Scan your key card, swing the door open and the first impression is one of openness and freedom. No room is smaller than 55 square meters in floor space. That’s mighty impressive and allows space for the huge bed and cleverly integrated table that runs almost entirely around the room. The decor does not seem dated given that it is almost a decade old and the room is fresh and welcoming. The hotel staff were clearly expecting me, a plate of chocolate complete with GTspirit.com logo was quickly devoured.
The real surprise reveals itself when you peel back the curtains, having arrived in the darkness they were already closed. The marina with boats large and small came into view, stepping out on the balcony I can see more, the thick blue lines that border the circuit come into sight followed by the harsh coarseness of Formula 1 grade tarmac. There are no cars, not tonight, just hundreds of bicycles. Fearing my Sprite on the seven hour flight from London had been spiked, I immediately called concierge to see if I was tripping, apparently I was not – you really can hop on a pedal bike and cycle around the circuit that the worlds fastest drivers battle world championships on.
The levels of surrealism hit new heights over the next two days at the Yas Viceory. Having arrived late into the evening I skipped the bath and headed into the glass shower cubicle that housed the fantastic monsoon shower. Discovering the lighting controls on the television remote, something every human should have, I turned in for the night.
Seeing the Marina and the circuit in the natural light of the sun was a sight that I will not forget any time soon. From my balcony you can follow the track that plays hide and seek behind yachts, the paddocks and grandstands. What is remarkable is just how neat and tidy everything is. As mentioned, the hotel is almost a decade old, but it does fantastically well to hide its age. Breakfast took me down to the ground floor for an opulent spread of almost every conceivable breakfast treat you could envisage. A guided hotel tour awaited me and it began at one of the most iconic features of the hotel – the rooftop pool in reaching distance of the canopy.
Pictures struggle to do the pool area justice, it is marvelous and tranquil. As the tour continues we walked over the glass bridge that hovers over the circuit and connects the two parts of the hotel and into the Spa. The lighting is soft and again, tranquility again is the overwhelming theme that carries through to a small pool that is an adult only zone – there will be no cannon balls here. It is apparent that the hotel has it all, but I wanted to explore something more natural. I was pointed in the direction of the Palm Garden on a terrace that hosts one thousand guests for the Formula 1 but is all mine under the scorching noon sun.
I planned an escape and the concierge staff suggested I take the shuttle bus to the Yas Beach Club, a beach three minutes away that is open to the paying public but free to Viceroy guests. Upon my return the tranquility I mentioned was erased from my mind. Stepping out of the shuttle I see crowds hugging the guard rail followed by an almighty shriek of a race tuned engine. Catching a glimpse of a Ferrari 488 GT3 car I rushed to my balcony and witnessed yet another experience that shattered all expectations.
The sun was setting and the track lights worked with the purple glow of the LED canopy to illuminate the tarmac below. This spectacle is like nothing else on the planet. A hotel that in the morning showed how peaceful and comforting it could be was now alive, buzzing with an atmosphere that no other hotel in the world can emulate. After 20 minutes with my jaw agape like a child at Disney Land, I headed back into my room, donned my swimming trunks and headed to the pool on the ninth floor. It was scarcely believable to be able to swim in the darkness of night washing away the heat of the day with the bark of a V10 Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo unashamedly shattering the quiet of night.
When you want to get some fresh air and a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo screams past – V10 #Eargasms. The @yasviceroy hotel is like nothing else. Magical. #GTspiritZaid #YasViceory #AbuDhabi #Lamborghini #Huracan #SuperTrofeo #YasMarina #BecauseRaceCar @mason_rose
A video posted by GTspirit.com Cars & Luxury (@gtspirit) on
Dinner followed as the cars still lapped the circuit, they would continue until midnight. Angar was the venue, a traditional Indian restaurant that offered a fantastic selection of culinary delights laced with spice and heat was a pleasure for the pallet.
As I write this piece I have my bags packed beside me. I am sitting on my balcony for the last time as Cayman GT4 Clubsports lap beneath me. This is the longest it has ever taken me to write a review as I keep putting my Mac to one side and laugh as the drivers play, the sounds of their exhausts reverberating off the glass and inducing butterflies. I think i’ve only ever missed one or two hotels in my short life – The Yas Viceroy will be joining that list.
As an experience, a place to create and take away memories this is a place like no other. Whether you love cars or not, the excitement of the track in the evening combined with the stark contrast of the hotel being so comfortable and hospitable in the day is exceptional. If you took the track element away the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi would be a good hotel, add the track back in and this alien species of a building surrounded by hard tarmac becomes a unique and magic place. I don’t want to leave.