“Emirates Palace is more than a mere hotel; it is a living landmark. Unlike landmarks in other countries, it’s a landmark you can actually stay in and feel a part of history.” Holger Schroth
If you ask most people who live or have visited Abu Dhabi what defines this emirate the majority will mention the two iconic landmarks in their answer, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the majestic Emirates Palace.
There is so much more to the Emirates Palace than the meets the eye. Yes, it’s ostentatious, a spectacular building inside and out with beautiful immaculate landscaped gardens and 24K gold-topped cappuccinos but it’s also a beach resort with a marina, water park and swanky suites that come with your own on-call personal butler. Although I have visited many, many times over the past nine years I have never actually stayed, something that’s been on my Abu Dhabi bucket list since my first visit in 2008.
What better way to tick it off than staying with the other half to celebrate a milestone anniversary. We checked into this five-star (once known as 7 stars although this rating never officially existed) Arabian palace for a night of indulgence, fine dining and a special spa experience. The hotel, that started life as a new presidential palace commissioned by Sheikh Zayed before his untimely death, opened to the public in 2005 as a Kempinski resort offering guests unabated luxury.
It is without doubt a ginormous place but surprisingly there are only 394 rooms, including 92 suits and 22 residential suites (six rulers’ suites are exclusive to members of the Emirati royal family), spilt across the East and West wings. The vast central area of the hotel is home to the lobby, atrium, restaurants and cafes, bars and retail spaces. There’s also a ballroom, copious amounts of meeting rooms and a full size theatre on the lower ground floor.
We were met at reception by one of the palace’s lady-in-red ambassadors who escorted us along the ½ kilometre walk to our fourth floor seaview Khaleej suite in the East Wing. The huge comfortable space was decorated in traditional Arabic design with a large dining room, lounge and business area and a separate bedroom with king size bed and sumptuous furnishings and silk textiles, a dressing room and marble bathroom complete with jacuzzi bath. An additional separate bathroom and large private balcony made up the space that was fitted with lots of extras including two oversized plasma TV’s. Our butler appeared immediately to offer refreshments and explain all the functions of the suite, 24-hour butler service is available to all suite guests. An anniversary banner, fresh red roses and a personalised cake had been placed in our room which was a lovely touch.
Emirates Palace has fourteen dining options, we chose to start our evening at one of our favourite places, Hakkasan. Located in the lobby in the hotel’s East Wing, the restaurant offers contemporary Chinese cuisine and delicious cocktails. The modern establishment has a low-lit dramatic interior, a fire lit stunning outdoor terrace and an ambient blue slate lined trendy bar that’s well-stocked and dramatically lit (my favourite indoor bar in the capital). We sat and enjoyed the restaurant’s Hakkatini Nights promotion that includes two signature cocktails accompanied by three pieces of dim sum.
We dined at Mezzaluna, the award winning Italian fine-dining restaurant located on the lower ground floor that has a seaview terrace for alfresco meals in cooler months. Decorated in the style of a traditional trattoria the large venue serves a menu of regional Italian dishes accompanied by a range of fine wines. We enjoyed fresh and tasty pasta and vegetarian dishes paired with wine followed by another chocolate celebration cake.
We had breakfast at the elegant all-day dining restaurant Le Vendome which was included in our stay. An extensive international buffet breakfast and cook to order eggs station is served as well as lunch and dinner seatings. Other dining options include seafood at Sayad, the romantic al fresco tented BBQ Al Qasr on the beach for grills and where the other half sampled his first camel burger in a previous visit. Mawal offers traditional Lebanese dishes and the popular Mezlai serves local Emirati cuisine. Afternoon tea is served daily at Le Café, a must-do experience for visitors which is also the home of gold topped coffees and camelccino, a unique camel milk cappuccino. Havana Club, a Cuban inspired cigar lounge is another favourite of ours especially its flavoured mojitos that is a must do on our Abu Dhabi visit itinerary.
The golden coloured palace, the exterior palette chosen to reflect the sands of its desert home, sits on a one million m2 plot in a prime position adjacent to the capital’s corniche. The vast grounds includes a stretch of pristine white beach and 85 hectares of picture perfect gardens with perfectly clipped lawns. Once the world’s most expensive hotel until 2011 (rumoured to cost 3 billion US dollars was trumped by the opening of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore), the Emirates Palace celebrates the wealth and lavishness of the emirate with its 22-carat gold leaf embellishments, use of mother of pearl and over a thousand Swarovski Strauss crystal chandeliers.
The atrium is decorated with thirteen different coloured marbles, gold, silver, and glass mosaics and two handmade hanging carpets, each weighing a tonne, immortalizing the palace in wool. There are an incredible 114 domes spread across the palace and a whopping 128 kitchens and pantries.
The luxurious Emirates Palace Spa has a certain kind of old world glamour, an elegant space that reflects its location within the iconic hotel. Winner of the 2016 World’s Best Hotel Spa award, the facility offers a full range of signature treatments for both men and women including the unique 24 Carat Gold-Inspired Treatment. There’s also a traditional Moroccan Hammam, two Jacuzzis, steam rooms and even an ice cave.
We were treated to an indulgent couples treatment in the privacy of our own spa suite as part of our anniversary stay and it was truly memorable – read the full review here. The spa also houses the Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio by French Chiropodist Bastien Gonzalez with a menu of hand and foot treatments. Men can enjoy a full range of grooming services at the award winning London salon, Gentlemen’s Tonic.
Outside along with the beach there is a marina and two swimming pools, the East Wing leisure pool and the West Wing adventure pool with a lazy river and waterslides. Both pools offer poolside dining options with Cascades (West) and Las Brisas (East). In-house guests can participate in watersports that are available at the beach, play tennis and use the dedicated fitness centre. Walking the length of the grounds or just to and from your room to anywhere else clocks up the daily step count.
Landscaped water features complete with sculptures enhance the walkways, two camels are tethered near to the beach for rides, those who travel by helicopter can land at one of the two helipads and visiting dignitaries enter by the dedicated VIP gate. There’s also a Kids Club and summer camps for children that are available throughout July and August.
The Emirates Palace offers guests a first class and memorable stay, a chance to discover the grandeur of an Arabian Palace with accomplished service, even the most discerning guest would be dazzled. The hotel is breathtaking, rising above you framed by fountains as you enter the gates and ascend the driveway.
Other five star hotels in the capital may offer a more modern experience but if you are looking for a touch of olde world luxury, somewhere to celebrate a special occasion or just want to treat a loved one this is the place of special memories. Emirates Palace is a must visit destination whether checking in as a overnight guest or on the tourist trail.
The Nitty Gritty
Emirates Palace, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi.
Telephone: 02 690 9000
Check-out: 12 noon
Spacious and comfortable suite with butler service
Large pristine beach and stunning pools
Good selection of dining options
Free fast wifi throughout the resort
Emirates Palace Spa
The Not so Good…..
Unpleasant stale cigarette smell in suite
Summer at the Palace* – Enjoy up to 25% off the best available rates including a lavish buffet breakfast. All suite bookings are inclusive of an international buffet breakfast in Le Vendome Restaurant, access to the comfort of the Palace Lounge and BMW transfers from/to Abu Dhabi International Airport – Valid until 14 September 2017. Subject to availability. (*Rates are subject to 10% service charge, 6% tourism fee, 4% municipality fee and AED 15 municipality room fee per bedroom per night)
All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved. Two additional photos used with courtesy of www.kempinski.com/en/abudhabi/emirates-palace/