Unearthing Abu Dhabi; the Richest of the Seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi Is an Oasis of Luxury, Discovers Karl Mansfield
Byline: Karl Mansfield
* HERE are more than 200 stores in the giant Abu Dhabi Mall, the largest in the emirate, and I seem to have found the only trader stunned by the idea of a haggle.
"My boss won't let me," he confesses, looking rather nervously to his left - so we both ponder his starting price of pounds 15 for a beige pashmina shawl.
Shopping is a big attraction in Abu Dhabi - either in designer boutiques or in colourful local souks, the latter of which tell you more about this curious country carved out of the desert.
On my first evening, at the fruit and vegetable souk, I simply couldn't resist Abu Dhabi dates with almonds covered in chocolate, at 45 Dirham (about pounds 9) per box. Tantalising for the tastebuds.
Despite its modern shopping malls, there are small signs of the past here, too. In the Heritage Village, not far from the marina, there is a Bedouin encampment and songs performed by around a dozen men in long white kaftans.
Another carefully preserved building is Al Jahili Fort, with a museum in the centre of Al Ain.
It was built by Sheikh Zayed I in the 1890s and the museum houses a collection of gold coins and pendants beneath its striking tower.
For art lovers, free exhibitions are staged at the magnificent Emirates Palace Hotel, which has gold leaf on its walls and glittering Swarovski crystals adorning its door handles.
Some Britons take one look at the white sands and spectacular buildings in a state sitting on 10 per cent of global oil reserves - and check in for a long stay.
Businessman Peter Samaha, 29, who moved from the UK to Abu Dhabi in 2005 to handle property sales and lettings, told me: "Life here is much quieter and easier. I live five minutes from my office and five minutes from the beach.
"Here we have obvious attractions; the beach and year-round sun. On top of this we have the desert. People go off-road dune bashing, exploring wadis (oases), searching for fossils or camping in the desert."
Two events have transformed the image of Abu Dhabi, richest of the seven emirates in the UAE, in recent years. It led the way in bailing out Dubai, when its neighbour's boom turned to a fearsome bust.
Secondly, it's sinking millions into Manchester City Football Club thanks to its oil-rich owner and member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Wealth on this scale, however, is not immediately apparent on the wide open roads from the international airport to the Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri.
Although large cars and white Toyota Corolla taxis jostle on the bustling roads, traffic jams are a rarity in this part of the world, where daytime temperatures hit 38C in May. Demand is high for taxis, as cheap as 70p per journey, although most drivers restrict their journeys to the limits of the Corniche, one of its main thoroughfares.
High quality food is another feature of Abu Dhabi city: a main meal at a hotel or restaurant costs around 70 Dirham (pounds 12.96) with typical dishes including Arabian bread, salad, houmous, grilled shrimp and the white local fish. Western dishes are included on most menus, particularly in hotels.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Unearthing Abu Dhabi; the Richest of the Seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi Is an Oasis of Luxury, Discovers Karl Mansfield. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales). Publication date: May 28, 2011. Page number: 8. © 2009 MGN Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.