Stylist’s acting editor Alix Walker visits a forward-thinking hotel in the Arabian Gulf.
There are certain things you expect when you visit a luxury resort in Abu Dhabi. A lobby so shiny and vast it makes you want to drop your suitcase and do a Strictly-style waltz across the floor. Three infinity pools that blend so perfectly with the Arabian Gulf that it feels as though, if you just swam far enough, you could touch the bottlenose dolphins you occasionally see dotted on the horizon. The kind of spa that’s genuinely worth getting on a seven-hour flight for, with hydrotherapy pools, ice baths, a salt room and massages that leave you floating a good two inches above your holiday companions all day.
There are others that come as a welcome surprise. Like the fact that said resort is a short Uber ride to Abu Dhabi’s impressive restaurant offering, where you can feast on salmon ceviche at Coya, crab burgers at Catch (the very popular outpost of the first food truck in the Emirates) and grilled halloumi and dill kashmiri at Milas.
Or that it’s even closer to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the £1 billion museum designed by Jean Nouvel that opened in 2017 and is a surprisingly brilliant little sister to its Parisian sibling, with pieces by Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse. (The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum are other recent additions to a rapidly blossoming cultural scene in the Middle East.)
Then there are the things you expect to compromise on in a destination more typically known for its guaranteed sun and luxury than its eco credentials. So I’m shocked when I’m handed a refillable water bottle as I check in to the Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island resort, which opened last year.
“There are stations around the resort with still and sparkling water. We don’t sell plastic bottles, so keep your bottle with you,” says the receptionist. Impressive. And I soon realise that the bottles are far from a token gesture. Plastic straws are banned, as are balloons and other single- use plastics for celebrations. Little touches like the automatic curtains to reduce the use of air-con show that this is a hotel taking its eco sensibilities seriously.
The resort sits on 400 metres of protected sand dunes, home to hawksbill turtles, sand gazelles and dugongs (similar to manatees), and they all take priority over sunbathers. Special lighting and a noise ban are in place to encourage turtles to nest.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting was the beach: a million miles away from the manmade beaches in neighbouring Dubai, with icing-powder sand, clear turquoise sea and dusty pink shells at the water’s edge. The hotel’s position on the far end of Saadiyat Island, away from the other mega-hotels, means I barely cross paths with another person. It made the holiday feel like the kind of restorative escape you’d expect from a week in the Maldives. I’ve always been a sucker for a good surprise, and the Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island is full of them.
Prices start from £275 per night in an Ocean Deluxe room on a bed and breakfast basis; visit jumeirah.com
Images: Jumeirah, Writers own