The United Arab Emirates offers sun-starved northern Europeans that most precious of commodities: all but guaranteed sunshine, but also an ever-increasing amount of activities to enjoy under that sun. The tiny Emirate of Dubai lead that particular charge, and has seen a seismic shift in growth over the past 30 or so years, and it is now an archetypal winter sun holiday destination. Abu Dhabi - the largest emirate - watched and took more than a few notes during neighbouring Dubai's meteoric rise. So what does their strategy involve? Well, for starters, far more emphasis on culture. Yes, there are plenty of shopping malls flogging luxury goods,
just as in Dubai, but also immaculate architecture such as an outpost of the Louvre, a spanking new mosque that cost a cool $545 million and the (hopefully) soon to open Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. The good news is that Abu Dhabi has even more to offer the luxury traveller, from cultural attractions to some extremely beautiful (and entirely natural) landscapes, from offshore islands to the dunes of the Empty Quarter, making it another great short(ish) haul winter sun destination.
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The portfolio of quality luxury hotels and desert resorts is ever expanding, as are the dining options. With a large expat community and international flavours influencing the cuisine, Dubai now hosts a number of fine dining establishments, including Michelin star and celebrity chef hosted restaurants. Café culture is also something of a lifestyle adaptation in Dubai with a number of great ice cream parlours, cake shops and sheisha bars dotted throughout modern city - not a bad way to spend your luxury holiday.
Modern Dubai is a cosmopolitan society with a wide range of attractions, from watersports, golf and tennis to international sporting events such as horse racing's World Cup. Dubai's legendary tax-free shopping ranges from traditional Arabic souqs to opulent, marble-clad malls, where the choice (and price) of products are unrivalled.
The past hasn't been completely erased by the present, however. Dubai's old heart can still be found in the Bastakia area around the Creek, from where wooden dhows still trade across the Gulf and further afield. And not every modern building is a hotel - the Jumeirah Mosque is a striking example of modern Islamic architecture and well worth a visit.
For that burst of much-needed winter sun, a Dubai holiday isn't easily beaten. Our Middle East team are here to help with every detail of your trip whether it's a high tea in the Burj al Arab, ascending the 163 floors of the Burj Khalifa (Dubai's tallest building to date at 2,717 feet tall) or the best spot to dine whilst watching the famous water fountain show at the Dubai Mall.
Abu Dhabi Holidays
Ponder the concept of 'first mover advantage', i.e.: that there is innate benefit in embracing boldness and being first out of the blocks. There are plenty of examples where this proved the correct strategy, but occasionally it can prove a costly mistake. Exhibit A - Dubai. Of all the United Arab Emirates, Dubai was the first to realise that oil was a finite resource and that life after fossil fuel revenue would be pretty bleak unless they diversified. Admittedly, the fact that they had considerably less of the black stuff than neighbours Abu Dhabi might have forced their hand, but in the blink of an eye Dubai morphed from a sleepy fishing town into a major tourist centre, investment property centre and serious transport hub. Then, as we all know, the bubble burst in spectacular fashion in 2008.
And who came riding on a magnificent arab stallion to the rescue? That's right, neighbouring Abu Dhabi, who bailed out their profligate neighbours to the tune of $10 billion, but Abu Dhabi has learnt lessons and plotted its post-petroleum future far more strategically, with far more emphasis on culture. Abu Dhabi is also blessed with a far more interesting natural landscape than its neighbour. Where Dubai has had to build islands, Abu Dhabi has over 200, none built from scratch, nor obviously man-made when viewed from space. In addition, where Dubai has scrubby desert, Abu Dhabi features part of the fabled Empty Quarter, the largest dune sea in the world, where Thesiger experienced the harsh but beautiful simplicity of Bedouin life.
Add a fast growing clutch of seriously luxurious hotels for families and couples alike, some excellent restaurants, and some superb activities from desert camping to visiting those art galleries and museums, and we suspect Abu Dhabi might become a serious player in the holiday stakes in the none too distant future.