Opulent, Arabian-inspired elegance is a style that UAE hotels do exceptionally well, with lavish carpets, grand Moroccan lanterns and lashings of gold leaf shining as hallmarks of some of the most highly-regarded properties in the region. What is rare, though, is contemporary sophistication, and it’s because of this that we fell in love with Fairmont’s Bab Al Bahr hotel in the capital. The vast, 1,015sq m lobby, with its striking silver pillars, distinctive ‘rope’ chairs by Italian designers Fernando & Humberto Campana, hanging pendant lamps from Flos and crystal-encrusted sofas (also sourced from Italy), and the hotel’s interior and exterior (clad in glass and featuring an LED light show), all ooze modern chic.
And we’re not the only fans. Celebs from the worlds of music, movies and sport, including Nelly Furtado, Marisa Tomei, Britney Spears, Stevie Wonder, Rafael Nadal and Topher Grace have checked in during their stays in the UAE.
The Pools, Gym and Beach
Translated from Arabic, Bab Al Bahr means ‘gateway to the sea’, and as the name suggests, it’s situated on the creek, near the opening to the ocean. As a result, the hotel boasts two private sandy beaches, with a dedicated kids’ play area so you don’t get disturbed as the little ones let loose. Hire a paddleboard or a kayak to explore the surrounding waterways, or a snorkel set to check out the marine life below.
If, like us, you’re more at home by the pool, you’ll be spoiled for choice. There’s a lap pool as well as a vast swimming pool divided into different areas – shallow sections, waterfalls to cool off beneath and an all-important swim-up bar with ample seating. There are plenty of sun loungers to choose from, but we recommend nabbing a spot on the grassed area, which even in the summer, is cool enough to comfortably allow hours of relaxing.
If you overindulge at the hotel’s restaurants (trust us, it’d be hard not to!), head to the well-equipped gym, which is open 24 hours, to burn some calories.
The 369 guest rooms feature rich textures, marble, walnut panelling and bamboo flower-inspired soft furnishings, plus the convenience of in-room internet and the luxury of some of the most lush bathrooms we’ve ever seen. We recommend paying a bit extra to guarantee a creek view room, where you’ll get spectacular vistas of the swimming pool and beach below, as well as the striking Grand Mosque in the distance. Better yet, many of the extra-deep baths benefit from the same view – so you can look out while relaxing in the bubbles.
The hotel’s seventh floor is dedicated to its gold experience, where guests enjoy a private check-in area, a well-stocked library and reading room, complimentary afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks and canapés and some of the most attentive yet discreet service around.
See Ahlan!’s video tour of one of the hotel’s gold view rooms:
The Bars and Restaurants
The hotel’s A-list associations don’t stop at the guests, with not one, but two celeb chefs overseeing the property’s restaurants.
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill: Marco’s first steakhouse in the region is a must-visit. While the interiors are spectacular, with warm wood panelling and a high-impact backlit flame wall, the food is the main event. We recommend starting with the Scottish smoked salmon, served with a fingerling potato salad, crème fraiche and dill (Dhs75), so you can tempt your taste buds while leaving room for the signature and oh-so-succulent New York strip steak (Dhs220). Rich marbling equals strong flavours, but we couldn’t help trying the huge range of accompanying sauces anyway.
Frankie’s Italian Restaurant & Bar: Marco Pierre White also pairs with renowned jockey Frankie Dettori to bring diners the famous Frankie’s combination of consistently satisfying Italian cuisine and warm, lively atmosphere courtesy of a talented pianist and friendly wait staff. Chef de Cuisine Andrea Biccini is “good friends” with Frankie, and says he’s passionate about serving up creative dishes with unexpected twists. The homemade tagliolini with spider crab, green peas, ginger and crispy beef bacon (Dhs130) is the perfect representation of this and is a must-try.
Chameleon: Popular with local expats, who flock to the stylish watering hole for after-work drinks and weekend shenanigans, Chameleon features an impressive range of cocktails, vintage bubbly (if you’ve got the cash to spare!) and bar bites that are a cut above the usual fried fare. Every Thursday and Friday, unlimited sushi and drinks are served from 8pm to 10pm for Dhs250.
The Chocolate Gallery: Watch chocolatiers at work in the atelier as they create not only standard pieces but veritable works of art – we loved the stilettos made of milk chocolate! You’re bound to be tempted by the sweet stuff, so enjoy a 24-carat afternoon tea (Dhs125), where many of the treats are sprinkled with edible gold
Room rates: From Dhs1,899 for a Fairmont gold view room
Buffet breakfast at CuiScene: Dhs85
Daily health club pass (including access to the pool, beach and gym): Dhs100 (Sunday to Thursday), Dhs160 (on weekends); or Dhs160 and Dhs300 respectively for a couple
Daily gym pass: Dhs100
INFO: Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, between the bridges, Abu Dhabi, 02 654 3333, email@example.com, www.fairmont.com.