Anyone seeking something very different ought to try the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, which has just celebrated its first anniversary. This $3.5 billion monument to oil wealth is also symbolic of the transformation now underway in the UAE with its blend of modern sophistication and traditional values.
In the rush of oil development in the 1960s and 70s Abu Dhabi neglected to build any truly grand public buildings, the kind of oversized national statements that are found in the great cities of the world.
Step forward the Emirates Palace Hotel, an expanse of marble and gilt that could be straight out of the empire days of Paris or New York in the gilded age. Ceilings are high, and the decor curiously understated although gold and marble figure prominently. No less than 114 domes, all covered in mosaic glass tiles greet the eye.
This is truly a stately hotel. Pubic spaces are the size of football pitches and yet still comfortable with subdued lighting and softly toned colours. But the very long walk to your room through endless corridors of thick carpet and colonnades is a reminder that this is no ordinary hotel.
Opulent fine dining
The restaurant interiors follow the opulent theme of the architecture. These are very fine dining spaces indeed, with old-style proportions and new-age technology to allow chefs from around the world to prepare the best cuisine.
We tried the excellent Italian restaurant presided over by a formidable chef with a temper whose remonstrations in the kitchen just pervaded the calm of the salon. His voluminous voice was not in vain, the dishes were done to perfection.
Breakfast is in the French Brasserie, another salutation to global cuisine, while the seafood restaurant served a splendid lunch, this time in a bold, ultra-modern glass interior. But there are many other choices: Iranian, Arabic and international and shortly Spanish.
This gastronomic addition to the capital of the UAE has been well received and the massive public spaces also include enough shops to create an up market shopping arcade.
Guest rooms are super deluxe with 50-inch plasma screens for the 302 rooms, all with large marble bathrooms; there are 92 suites, and for the ultimate experience book one of the sixteen 680 square metre Palace Suites with 61-inch plasma TVs in each room.
The Emirates Palace has its own 1.3-kilometre stretch of sandy beach with safe swimming, and 85 hectares of well manicured gardens. There are also swimming pool complexes at either end of the hotel with water-slides and a current to help you swim around the river-like circuit; and a first-class gymnasium.
In short, this is a hotel that is equally suited to business or leisure. The most ambitious corporations will find this a magnificent backdrop to entertain and display.
But then again somebody staying for a long-weekend break will not go away disappointed as this hotel is both impressive and indulgent with the very best in modern facilities combined with the ambience of a bygone age.