The Other Emirate

MT
With prominent ads for its airline and investment forums airing on major international television channels, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, has been engaging in a campaign to boost its profile and its tourism industry. While not as well known as its neighbor, Dubai, Abu Dhabi boasts the same expanses of sparkling sand, shiny high-rises and elite shopping, but in a less overwhelming setting.

Although Abu Dhabi has been positioning itself as a modern business center, the city has several elements that increase its appeal for tourists. The Al-Hosn Palace (the White Fort) in the center of town is the city's oldest building, constructed for the ruling Al-Nahyan family in 1761. The emirate was governed from this palace until 1966, and the palace now shares its territory with the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, the home of several museums and the National Library. Out on the Breakwater, a man-made island, the Emirates Heritage Club maintains the Heritage Village, a cultural center where visitors can learn about traditional Bedouin life.

The Breakwater is also a great place to take in a view of the city's ever-developing skyline -- modern towers with an Arabic flare broken up by minarets. For a more intimate look at the city, take a walk along the Corniche, a recently completed series of public parks set along the waterfront, or go on a cruise in one of the traditional boats known as dhows. The Corniche ends at the massive Emirates Palace, a luxury hotel from the Kempinski group that doubles as an exhibition and conference center.

As a shopping destination, Abu Dhabi features several large Western-style malls with popular American, British and European chains, but for more local flavor, the Women's Handicraft Center is worth a visit. Along with a small shop selling traditional craft items, the center includes an exhibit of hand-woven textiles and palm-frond baskets along with several workshops, where it is possible to observe local women demonstrating their skills at these crafts. And of course there are the ever-popular souks, including the Iranian souk, known for carpets and the Madinat Zayed gold center.


Lara Mccoy Roslof / MT
Modern office towers mix with ancient minarets in the center of Abu Dhabi.
The city of Abu Dhabi is also a good base for exploring the rest of the emirate -- 80 percent of the territory of the Emirates is part of Abu Dhabi, and trips into the desert bordering Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter are popular among tourists. The ancient oasis city of Al Ain, a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi on the border with Oman, provides a refreshing green break from the sun and sand. The birthplace of both Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the Emirates and his son, the current president, Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, Al Ain is known as the cultural and educational center of the Emirates and is the home of the United Arab Emirates University. The city also boasts some interesting archeological sites due to its long history as an oasis, including the excavation of a Bronze Age settlement inside the Hili Archeological Gardens.

Of course, the main reason to go to Abu Dhabi is the beach, and most major hotel groups have resorts in the city. The chain hotels are supplemented by local "boutique" resorts that boast large guest rooms and a range of amenities. A recent addition to the scene is hotels that follow sharia customs, making them more appealing to Muslim tourists.

Because the city is built on an island, the hotels are spread out, rather than being situated together in a single row, giving sunbathers more space on the sand.

Although the Emirates is culturally conservative, travellers in Western dress feel comfortable in multinational, cosmopolitan Abu Dhabi, and communicating in English is not a problem. Most hotels have Russian-speaking staff as well, and it is not unusual to find

Russian-language menus at restaurants. Sales of alcoholic drinks, however, are limited to restaurants in hotels.

How to Get There



Although Abu Dhabi has its own airline, Etihad, the company does not yet fly from Moscow. It is possible to fly into the emirate's international airport, but only with a layover in Doha, Qatar. The easiest way to visit the city is to fly into Dubai on one of the many weekly direct flights and then travel the remaining 120 kilometers to Abu Dhabi by car. A flight from Moscow to Dubai on Emirates Airlines runs about $1,000 (www.emirates.com); a ticket on Aeroflot (www.aeroflot.com) goes for about $700. S7 and Transaero also fly the route, but tickets must be bought in person at their offices rather than online.

What to Do



Cultural Foundation/Al Hosn Palace, Sheik Zayed the 1st Road, www.cultural.org.ae

Emirates Palace, West End Corniche, www.emiratespalace.com

Arabian Adventures, a respected local tourism company, offers excursions into the surrounding desert as well as to Al Ain. A day trip to the oasis runs 195 dirhams ($50) per person. www.arabian-adventures.com

Where to Eat



While many familiar Western restaurants can be found in the city, local chain Automatic offers tasty grilled meats and hummus at reasonable prices. Shisk taouk, grilled chicken, goes for just over 20 dirhams ($6) and both chicken and lamb shwarma are available on a platter (also 20 dirhams) or in a sandwich (5 dirhams). Hummus costs 13 dirhams ($3.50). Located around the city, including in the Al Raha Mall.