Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Abu Dhabi Defies Gravity; WEEKEND AWAY ABU DHABI

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Abu Dhabi Defies Gravity; WEEKEND AWAY ABU DHABI

Article excerpt

Byline: simon calder

ARE all Gulf cities basically the same? Given the ferocious battle of the skylines between Dubai and Doha, and the artists' impressions of planned developments in Bahrain and Kuwait City, it's tempting to con-clude that there's little difference between these thickets of steel and glass taking root across the region. High-rise hotels, upmarket malls and intercontinental airports tend to agglomerate into big, shiny aberrations on the shores of the Gulf.

Yet while Abu Dhabi would never cede defeat in a bricks 'n' bling contest against its near neighbours, the largest of the United Arab Emirates has distinctive dimensions that warrant closer inspection on a weekend away from London. And thanks to intense competition between the home-town airlines British Airways and Etihad return fares for the 3,400-mile haul are in the PS300-PS400 range for much of the winter holiday season.

The main attraction this coming weekend is the Formula 1 World Championship. The climax of the 2016 Grand Prix season will be fought out at the Yas Marina Circuit (yasmarinacircuit.com), which I know from experience weaves a tangled course with many sharp bends, a tricky hill and a stretch that cuts beneath the swanky Yas Viceroy Hotel. I've not driven the course, but cycled it: on two evenings a week, at least when the F1 circus is not in town, you can borrow a bike for free and enjoy as many circuits as you can manage in the warm evening air.

Also on the splodge of territory known as Yas Island is Ferrari World (ferrariworldabudhabi.com), a theme park celebrating the Italian supercar brand. The Formula Rossa goes so fast up to 149mph that you have to wear special glasses to protect your eyes against high-velocity impacts with flying insects.

But Abu Dhabi isn't just for petrolheads it's also an epicentre of innovative modern architecture. Taxis are abundant and absurdly cheap a three-mile ride costs less than PS2 so take one to admire the Aldar HQ, a shiny new giant coin beside the Gulf, and then another to the Hyatt Capital Gate. Just another five-star hotel? No, this is the Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi, which seems to sway as it stretches 520 feet into the sky and 170 feet from east to west. From the terrace of restaurant 18 Degrees (named for the angle with the vertical), your eyes can wander and your mind can wonder at a sprawling city that appears to defy the laws of physics.

Bed down: extreme sleeping Cheap and practical? The Premier Inn (global.premierinn.com) at the airport does just fine, and is particularly well suited to the 11.05pm arrival of the BA flight from London. But for luxury of a different magnitude, the Emirates Palace hotel (kempinski.com) delivers: elegant gardens provide the overture to an extravagant property with a footprint around the same size as a minor emirate. This Kempinski-run pleasuredome has a winter special of 2,220 dirhams per night (just under PS500) for a room of implausible indulgence.

Fed & watered: global flavours Emirati cuisine is difficult to find in Abu Dhabi but that's partly because the cuisine of the majority of the population is from the Indian sub-continent. …

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