Hotel Insider Feels intimate despite having 369 rooms, and it perfectly straddles the requirements of being suited for both business and leisure travellers.
The Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi
There is a small teddy bear on my king-size bed wearing a shirt that reads "Please bear with us while we complete this journey". It is a humorous way of asking for patience in its first days after opening. The welcome, however, could not be slicker: cold towels to refresh as you enter, staff rushing over to help, even offering to carry my handbag, and the check-in girl noticing that I have an Indonesian visa and engaging me in a conversation about her hometown in Bali. From the outside the hotel looks like an office block with a grand drive; inside it is an Alice in Wonderland-like cornucopia with lights shaped like lily pads, angular silver sofas, armchairs made out of what looks like rope, metallic beaded curtains and a ceiling that at night changes colour every few seconds.
It is Between the Bridges and when the cranes have finally gone this will be the new Corniche. Down the road from the Shangri-La and Traders, smart, stylish villas are emerging from the dust. Midway between Yas Island and downtown, with a beachside location directly opposite the Grand Mosque, it will take a few years for the landscape to mature but it is already becoming one Abu Dhabi's most sought-after areas. ADTA and TDIC, both of which must know a thing or two about location, are just round the corner.
I bump into the restaurateur Marco Pierre White in the lobby and spot a few ex-England cricketers, including Darren Gough, in the glass lift. The jockey Frankie Dettori - after whom the restaurant Frankie's is named - and Prince Andrew were both guests this week. Currently the hotel is playing host to the world's press including CNN - the top brass of which are over not just for the Grand Prix but to open the news organisation's new operational hub on Monday. Businessmen here are cool and a little edgy (there are not many ties to be seen) and weekend clients are expected to migrate from Dubai and the Gulf states. The lure is the 36-hour package, which I am sampling. For US$500 (Dh1,855) for two people including tax, it includes an 11.30am check-in on Friday, a champagne brunch, accommodation, breakfast and a poolside lunch on Saturday with a checkout time of 6pm.
Ask for a bedroom overlooking the sea and the Grand Mosque where the floor-to-ceiling windows give you a fabulous view. My room is at the front of the hotel, and so looks out to a lot of half-developed buildings. But the room itself is gorgeous: all earthy browns and creamy neutrals, with a stylish curved sofa, a desk designed to cater for two people, a large soft and squishy bed covered in cushions and a great bathroom. The rain shower is beside the bath and pours directly on to the floor, which is interesting but I couldn't get it to work so I had a bath and kept the floor dry.
Probably the most attentive service that I have come across in the Emirates, and indeed anywhere. It is all smiles and sweetness, even when my plans keep changing. Appointments and taxis are booked and re-booked efficiently and the waiter recalls that I had ordered mint tea and offers it to me as I sit down at breakfast. The cleaners in the room are also friendly, speak enough English for good communication and, as with the rest of the staff, are desperate to please but are not embarrassingly servile. The general manager, Michael Kaile, opened the Fairmont in Dubai but left several years ago for Whistler, Canada. The owners of this hotel, apparently, insisted in the contract that he should be the launch GM before they signed the management agreement with Fairmont. He has imported several of the Dubai staff to help with the opening, which may account for the sheer number of senior staff in the lobby.
Dining is central to the hotel's statement of who and what it is. Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill, Frankie's and Elements are the three main restaurants and sit side by side on the ground floor. Frankie's is Italian with its own pizza oven and a great live pianist. Elements is the largest of the three and offers a buffet, but by providing several live cooking stations, each specifically themed with food from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it feels like several restaurants in one venue. Both the breakfast and Friday brunch were splendid as was the more casual poolside lunch. The only disappointment was the coffee, $6.50 (Dh24), in the Chocolate Gallery - a great venue for women to meet and gossip, but the actual coffee was rather watery. Next time I will try the hot chocolate.
Walking along the private beach at night, the design of the shisha cabins surrounded by water and the designer-madness of the lobby area. Also the sheer care and attention of the staff that made me feel special and relaxed.
Why when so much care and attention is given to every tiny detail do so many hotels have curtains that don't close properly: the thin line where they meet, or don't quite meet, means the light pours in at dawn. I also had to call technical staff to tell me how to turn off the night light in the ceiling - which he did by turning the master switch off. Considering the views, I was surprised there were no balconies.
Feels intimate despite having 369 rooms, and it perfectly straddles the requirements of being suited for both business and leisure travellers. Already one of my favourite hotels in Abu Dhabi - the 36-hour weekend offers terrific value - it's worth the stay even if you live in the city and don't need a room.
While the hotel is in its soft-opening phase, double rooms cost from $347 (Dh1,099) per night including taxes, but prices will go up next year when the spa and business centre are completed. The Fairmont Bab al Bahr, Between the Bridges, Abu Dhabi (www.fairmont.com/babalbahr; 02 654 3333).