x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Yas Island: Close to the capital, but not too close

The inevitable result of Shahama being the high point of nearby sights is guilt-free slacking by the pool.

Ever been on a short break to some interesting part of the world only to find that instead of fulfilling your grand intentions of visiting globally significant landmarks you were so tired out from the lead-up to the holiday that you ended up crashing beside the pool? Or you spend so much time whirling around whichever new city you have chosen only to fail to make the most of the hotel?

Both result in a lingering sense of missed opportunity, but curiously, you can banish such misgivings when you visit the odd little enclave of hotels that have been constructed on Yas Island. Because, unless you've arrived clutching books like A Field Guide To Construction Machinery of the UAE and What Rubble Is That?, there is gloriously little reason to leave the hotel grounds. After all, the neighbouring attractions include an almost invariably empty Grand Prix racetrack, the unfinished shell of Ferrari World, a golf course on which grass is still in the process of growing and the not-yet-building sites of what in a few years will become the Saadiyat Island cultural district.

The inevitable result of Shahama being the high point of nearby sights is guilt-free slacking by the pool, being fed and watered at the numerous establishments associated with the hotels, or being pampered in one of the spas. And since Yas is less than 30 minutes drive from downtown Abu Dhabi, there's even the warm tinge of not having been responsible for releasing untold tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by flying to some far-flung place.

Since staycations are more often motivated by financial concerns than global warming, it helps that these hotels are considerably cheaper than others in the city. This week the UK-based Hogg Robinson Group announced the average hotel room rate in Abu Dhabi's hotels is US$405 (Dh1,490), making it the second most expensive destination for accommodation in the world after Moscow, but quickly closing the gap on its European rival.

All of which makes the average nightly rate of $142 (Dh522) including taxes for the mid-market Park Inn, the first property in the hook-shaped crescent of hotels located beside the Yas Marina Circuit, a bargain. Instead of spending hours in cars or airports to get to my destination, about 45 minutes after leaving midtown Abu Dhabi my car door was being opened by the valet parking staff at the Radisson Blu (www.radissonblu.com; 02 656 2000; average nightly rate $190/Dh696 including taxes). This was only slightly longer than the journey to the airport would have been. (The hotel website's claim that it's 15 minutes from the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre must involve either a helicopter or a 4am journey when the roads are deserted.)

The valet parking staff were attentive but then I noticed that there was barely a soul around. This continued as I approached the check-in desk and received instant and cheerful service so that I was soon ensconced in my room looking across the semi-grassed golf course to the mangroves. With the aircon off and the sliding doors wide open, it didn't take long to realise that views over the mangroves not only provide vistas of wading flocks of flamingos but also biting mosquitoes.

Normally when hotels begin operations, they start slowly with a soft opening of a few rooms and gradually build up so that the staff can get up to speed. Because this hotel opened just days before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it went straight from zero to 100 per cent occupancy but from the hardest of hard openings, it's since reverted almost to a soft opening again with only a fraction of the rooms filled at any one time.

Between this and the Park Inn next door (both owned by the Rezidor Hotel Group) there are more than 600 beds. Cheek by jowl with this pair are the Crowne Plaza, the Centro, Staybridge Suites and the Rotana - all surprisingly slick interiors-wise. A short stroll away within the Yas Marina circuit is the Yas Hotel. So it's no surprise that you can choose almost any seat you want at Assymetri, the main restaurant at the Radisson Blu, or later in Filini, the Italian bar and eatery with a terrace outside where, for most of the time I spent there, heaters warmed empty seats.

That's a kind of metaphor for the slightly unsettling experience of staying here. The hotels are new and this ought to be peak season - when the days are sunny and pleasant - but it's virtually empty. But then you take the impression a step further and realise the absent others' loss is your gain because there is never any battle to get a poolside sunlounger or a table outside for breakfast. The next day, the other guests mostly seemed to be comprised of small groups of military or military-related types on holiday from less friendly places.

That evening there was an influx of people from Abu Dhabi, for which the proximity of the hotels on Yas Island has prompted a newfound sport of hostelry crawling, partaking in something from each hotel (the swish Stills bar and brasserie in the Crowne Plaza even boasts Abu Dhabi's longest bar). Overnight rates are so modest that you can avoid a late-night taxi fare by staying overnight. That night I wandered into an empty lift, through silent deserted corridors to my brand new room, thinking I'm onto one of Abu Dhabi's better-kept secrets.

jhenzell@thenational.ae