The four-star Ayla, housed in a compact, modern glass-fronted building, lies close to the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain motorway so the drive took less than an hour and a half from downtown Abu Dhabi. There was no one at the entrance, so my husband unloaded our luggage and went off to park the car while my son and I made a dash from the searing sun to the cool reception area - all fresh flowers, marble floors, sparkling chandeliers and smiling staff. Check-in took about 30 seconds; our bags were sent up to our room while we waited for my husband to return.
Billed as a business hotel, the Ayla opened a year ago in the heart of Al Ain. It is conveniently annexed to a small shopping centre with a well-stocked supermarket, beauty salon and stationery shop. The town is small, making it easy to tour the main sites in a couple of days. A five-minute ride away is the famous Al Jahli Fort; other attractions include Al Ain Zoo and Jebel Hafeet. Al Ain Mall is a 10-minute drive away.
Ours was a spacious and airy standard twin on the first floor. At one end were floor-to-ceiling glass panels (with a window (that, predictably, wouldn't open) looking out over the town, hazy in the afternoon heat. The decor, even for a business hotel, is dull, with unimaginative brown furniture. The beds were incredibly comfortable; I forgot to order a non-allergenic pillow from the pillow menu but enjoyed a good night's sleep anyway. The bathroom was disappointingly small but had a massive rainshower and a tall stack of soft, white towels.
Unlike most hotels, the Ayla does not have vast numbers of staff hovering annoyingly around guests. Service was efficient and unobtrusive. At the restaurant we were left in peace, the waiters only appearing to replenish drinks or to mop up spills, which seem to happen a lot around my 10-year-old.
Laid-back and quiet, with a sense of privacy. The hotel attracts lots of Emiratis, and Arab families from Qatar and Oman . Later that evening, the ballroom was taken over by a large wedding party. The celebrations went on well into the night but we didn't hear a thing.
Surprisingly good. The Arabian-style lunch buffet (Dh77 per person) was as good as they come, with a selection of mezzeh, fresh salads, warm bread and mouth-watering mains that ranged from succulent Omani chicken kebabs and moist lamb pilau to crispy batter-fried fish. Midway into our meal, a young man walked in briskly, picked up the oud lying on a chair, cleared his throat and, to everyone's delight, launched into a soulful Arabic song.
Dinner (Dh88) was a quieter affair but the food, from the roast lamb with fennel sauce to the hearty aloo-gobi (potato and cauliflower) curry and parathas, was outstanding. The breakfast spread (Dh66) boasted cold cuts, breads, salads, fruit, pastries and excellent juices. An impossibly young chef turned out perfect omelettes, too.
The indoor pool on the third floor. It's not big but during the day the light is beautiful, thanks to the sun streaming in through skylights.
The oh-so-very-drab room. The bathroom was impossible to turn around in without bumping a limb.
Peace and seclusion in comfortable surrounds. The Ayla will appeal to those looking to avoid crowded, resort-style properties.
The bottom line
Summer rates (June 1 and August 20) start from Dh402 per night for a standard deluxe room, including taxes. Ayla Hotel, Al Ain (www.aylahotels.com; 03 761 0111).