In my mind there are two types of hotels – those that adopt and embrace the culture of the surroundings and those that attempt to transport you to another part of the world entirely. When staying in a foreign continent (London being my hometown) I always feel it is a little wrong to stay in a sanitized room that could be a hotel in any part of the world. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with staying in familiar surroundings, it just feels like a missed opportunity to integrate foreign culture into the the adventure of traveling the world.
With this is in my mind, choosing a hotel to occupy for my recent trip to Abu Dhabi was not a difficult choice. The Shangri-La group of hotels that I am so familiar with have a prime spot on one of the most popular stretches of beach in the Qaryat al Beri area. The hotel combines the luxury that you would expect from the Shangri-La with traditional Arabian architecture and feel.
As you ascend the ramp that leads to the open courtyard and drive to the front entrance of the hotel the levels of opulence become apparent. In typical Arabian style, there is a large water feature and the towering symmetrical arches and pillars frame insights into what is to lay ahead. Pass the contrasting modernism of the glass doors and tradition once again greets you with a smile, sweet dates and a shot of hot Arabic coffee.
The lobby is gigantic with wide marble corridors and a warm orange glow. Keep walking straight and the ceiling suddenly doubles in height to accommodate indoor palm trees that tower over quiet meeting areas. Walk further still and you will pass through another set of doors onto a beautiful terrace and look down upon an impressive infinity pool that appears to flow into a body of water known as Khor Al Maqta that is made from the water of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. On the opposite bank is one of the most beautiful modern structures I have ever laid my gaze upon, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque that has globally become an icon in Abu Dhabi. Having arrived just before sunset the view was like nothing else I had seen before with the huge orange fire ball hovering just above the horizon just across from the Mosque and above the pool, all framed beautifully under an arch and two pillars.
Enough of the communal areas, I felt privileged to say in a hotel held in such high regard, it was time to check out my living quarters for the next few days. Swiping my key card I pushed the heavy wooden door away from me and the theme of tradition and luxury continued to unfold in front of me. To my right, under another arch, was the bathroom that reminded me of a hammam with its mosiac patterns bordering the bath and matching the colors of the matching marble floor.
Opposite the bathroom, to my left, were large double doors, concealed by curtains that opened onto my balcony. The view was similar to that shown above but from above the private beach that stretches for a kilometer. As I later experienced, it often feels like you have the entire beach to yourself and are alone with your thoughts to take in the beauty of the hotels surroundings. Having watched the sunset, my room telephone shattered the quiet at 19:00 on the dot, it was time for dinner.
The Shangri-La Qaryat al Beri is known for a few things aside from the stunning beach and impressive architecture. It has a reputation for being a culinary hub for fine dining. It’s a good thing I had MrFineDining in my suitcase to see what was what. With two of the hotels Marketing and PR team hosting me, I was shown to the Shang Palace restaurant.
There are no less than nine different culinary experiences to choose from on the premises. As the name suggests, Shang Palace is the oriental offering – each Shangri-La has such a restaurant as a reminder of the chains roots. Narnia sprung to mind passing through the large black doors – they acted as the gate to another country. From the UAE I walked straight into a Cantonese restaurant.
Being a cool evening by Abu Dhabi standards (31 degrees Celsius) I exited through another door back into the UAE and the night heat. Chinese lanterns and tea lights flickered and sauntered in the nights breeze with the beach just yards from our table. It was a little odd, everything was telling me I was in the desert except my taste buds that would have sworn on my tongue that I was still in southeast Asia. The food was fantastic by any measure, as ever there was room for improvement but dishes that are not the easiest to get right, such as Abalone, were well executed. Adding to the excitement was a Chinese Kong Fu Tea master, the only person to hold such a title anywhere in the UAE. As a result people flock from far and wide to see the master in action. It was quite the spectacle indeed.
The quality and variety of food was reflected at the breakfast and lunch buffets in Sofra BLD (Breakfast Lunch Dinner). I was due to taste the food from p&c Bar by Sergi Arola and his two Michelin stars, but regrettably missed my final dinner as I was stuck at Yas Island – first world problems I hear you mutter.
Aside from fine dining and laying alone on the warm sand, there are dozens of ways to occupy your time at the Shangri-La. Time was not on my side so I cheated a little to try and get a glimpse of it all. On my first night I was chauffeured by golf buggy to get a taste of the spa complete with adult only rooftop pool. On the morning of my departure I took a 20 minute gondola ride on the private canal that ran along the beach and snaked in and out of buildings. Notable stops included the Souk and the apartments, all part of the Shangri-La complex.
I feel I have no choice but to head back to the Shangri-La Qaryat al Beri to do full justice to the activities and restaurants that are on offer to guests. It is apparent that this is a hotel that you arrive at and never need to stray from to enjoy a relaxing few days. The complex is vast, yes there are other hotels that boast similar facilities. I doubt any of them can match the Shangri-La for its authenticity combined with the luxury that Shangri-La hotels are known for – it is a proposition that is tough to match. That being said, it is easy to fall for the glitzy glossy images featured on a more modern hotels website and hit the book now button. As I said in the opening of this review, save the glamour for the hype and madness of Dubai and appreciate the culture and maturity of Abu Dhabi at the Shangri-La.