Emma Cowing, Features Editor at the Scottish Daily Mail, discovers the magical contrast of old and new in Abu Dhabi.

Even in December, the hot Arabian sun sparkles off the cool white marble. Here, amongst the spiralling pillars of the third largest mosque in the world, it is easy to believe you are wandering through time.

Yet Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand mosque is, like many of the most impressive structures in this remarkable Middle Eastern city, less than ten years old. Inside it boasts the world's largest carpet, a dazzling array of chandeliers that glitter with millions of Swarovski crystals, and long high columns inlaid with mother of pearl.

Outside in the lavish green gardens, a permanent rotation of Imams recite the Koran over the grave of Sheikh Zayed, whose vision this mosque was and who died in 2004 without seeing it completed. As with so many things in Abu Dhabi, the mosque blends the old and the new with a distinctive United Arab Emirates flair for glamour.

"Amongst the spiralling pillars of the third largest mosque in the world, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, it is easy to believe you are wandering through time."

Emma Cowing

Abu Dhabi is often viewed as Dubai's more conservative cousin, but just like the city's distinctive skyline, that is rapidly changing. In 2015 the Louvre will open its first ever museum outside of Paris on the city's Saadiyat island. A Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry will follow shortly, as will a performing arts centre designed by Zaha Hadid.

On the same island you will also find long stretches of white sandy beaches and the glorious Park Hyatt Resort, where at night you can dine on fresh seafood by the beach, and by day find time to sunbathe, stroll or have your worries pummelled into submission in the luxurious Atarmia spa.

Then, perhaps, it might be time to see the city. And down on the Corniche, there is always something to see. Here, the young and the rich of Abu Dhabi compete along the city's seafront street in glittering processions of the latest supercars. Ferraris, Aston Martins, Porsches, Lambourginis - the flashier the better.

On the Corniche you will also find Etihad Towers, five silver columns rising towards the sky that contain businesses, apartments, a range of luxury shops (think Cartier, Chloe and yes, even Waitrose) and the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, a breathtakingly luxurious five star hotel with stunning views over the city and the sea (my room had both) and nine restaurants, where I had the best Lebanese food - and wine - I have ever tasted. Find time if you can, too, to take tea on the Observation deck at 300, where you can see the city from its highest advantage point.

And for the ultimate in supercars, Yas Island really delivers the goods. Here you can find the world's largest indoor theme park, Ferrari World, and an enormous and brand new mall with more shopping than this girl could ever dream of all under one, mercifully air-conditioned roof.

"Yet for all this city's glitz, there is still a desire to preserve the old Emirati traditions."

Emma Cowing

For my money though, the most remarkable facet of Yas Island is the Viceroy Hotel, which actually sits inside the Formula One Grand Prix track where Lewis Hamilton recently won the World Champion title. Rooms have balconies that peer over the track and a glamorous bar where you can dance with the stylish and the rich and, during race time, rub shoulders with the stars of F1.

Yet for all this city's glitz, there is still a desire to preserve the old Emirati traditions, not least at the city's Heritage Village, where you can learn about Emirati crafts and the Bedouins. For a truly unique experience, a short drive into the desert will take you to the city's falcon hospital, where Abu Dhabi's falconers bring their beloved birds in for five star medical treatment. Falconry has been an integral part of Bedouin culture for centuries and UAE's falcon owners dote on their winged charges.

Completely open to the public the hospital even provides tours, where you can watch the falcons queue patiently to be seen by the doctor, receive a tour of the long-stay ward (yes, really) and watch a falcon have his claws filed.

And then perhaps, after a drive back through the desert it might be time for a cocktail, or a glass of Lebanese wine and a few local meze, and the chance to reflect on the magic of this extraordinary Middle Eastern city, and its seamless combination of the old, and the new.

Inspired?


Explore the United Arab Emirates ‘cultural heart’ in Abu Dhabi. Uncover contrasting modern architecture with Arabic tradition, a true modern metropolis on an island graced with exquisite parks, luxurious resorts and bustling souks.

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Indian Ocean & Arabia 2019/20

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