Something for the Weekend: Abu Dhabi
Here's where more is most definitely more, writes Lorraine Courtney
This one-time pearl-diving outpost is consumerist and aggress- ively man-made, basically, because it shouldn't be there. Abu Dhabi is formed from 200 tightly-packed islands and its wide boulevards, lined with skyscrapers, resemble Manhattan more than the Middle East.
Beyond the urban bling there are some enduring experiences of old Arabia, like shopping for spices in Souk Qaryat Al Bari and bashing desert dunes.
The Emirates Palace is the flashiest place to bed down. It cost a cool $3bn (€2.2bn) and its owner, the government of Abu Dhabi, knows it will never make a profit. That doesn't matter.
The intention was to wow the world with seriously jaw-slackening ostentation, including 1,000 glittering Swarovski chandeliers and a vending machine that spits out solid gold bars. It also houses a branch of Hakkasan restaurant, boasting top-notch cuisine. And the rooms aren't half bad either.
Sand skiing in the desert?
For a distinctly Arabian experience, desert safaris allow adventurers to try sand skiing, dune bashing (a hair-rising charge up and down the dunes in a 4x4) and camel riding, rounded off with dinner before a night's camping under a starry sky.
It's good to glimpse this immense nothingness, and to feel that sweet silence before returning to the cranes of prosperity.
A day safari to Arabian Nights Village starts from €40 depending on activities.
Off to the Mosque
The imposing domes of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque are one of the first things you see when you enter the city. Clad in white marble, it covers a vast 7,119 sqm.
There are more superlatives here: it has the largest hand-woven Persian carpet in the world, plus the world's largest chandelier, weighing between eight and nine tonnes. It is the world's most expensive mosque.
Vroom, vroom ... it's a Ferrari
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is naturally the world's largest theme park and Formula Rossa is the fastest rollercoaster on the planet.
Those brave enough to try it are catapulted along at a scary 149 miles per hour. If you want even more speedy thrills, drive the adjacent Yas Marina Circuit, the site of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Billed as a "gastronomic lifestyle extravaganza", Gourmet Abu Dhabi is a major international culinary festival and each year a collection of big-name Michelin-starred chefs like Massimo Bottura host dinners paired with wines from leading international producers. Our own Rachel Allen was in last year's line-up.
It is one of the world's largest construction projects – to turn a desert island into the greatest cultural powerhouse of the Middle East.
For now, you can find out all about it at the Manarat Al Saadiyat visitors' centre where interactive exhibits explain how a 10-square-mile expanse will house a clutch of exceptional galleries and museums designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects. The Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre opens in 2015 and Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in 2017. Unprecedented cluster of cultural glory or damp squid in the desert? We'll see.
The new 18o at the Hyatt Capital Gate is in the Guinness Book of Records for leaning at an angle four times more acute than the Tower of Pisa. Along with heart-stopping views of the city's skyscrapers, diners are treated to a menu that changes with the season. Abu Dhabi really is the fastest, brashest and the flashiest.
NEED TO KNOW
How to get there
Return flights from Dublin to Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways start from €581 per person. For further information, visit www.etihad.com The airport is a 25-minute taxi ride away and the trip will cost around €14.
For more, visit www.visitabudhabi.ae.
Emirates Palace, overnight rates from €422.