OHLALA was invited to explore all the facets of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi and Fernanda Langhammer headed to this multicultural destination to check out what it has to offer.
I must confess that when the invitation to travel to Saadiyat Island came to my inbox, I had no idea where or what it was. After some quick research, I discovered it was most definitely a place to be visited. Located in Abu Dhabi between the city centre and Yas Island and only 20km from the airport, Saadiyat Island is a naturally occurring islet, home to pristine white sandy beaches, azure waters and a vast range of wildlife, such as fast gazelles and Hawksbill sea turtles, co-habiting with culture, leisure and luxury. The meaning of its name is happiness, and it didn’t take long for me to understand why.
Sustainability is quite a trend, but at Saadiyat Island, this concept is taken extremely seriously. No motorsports are allowed, no plastic straws are used in restaurants, biodegradable guest amenities (one innovative solution is cornstarch-based) have been implemented, and a series of tactics is in place to entirely eliminate plastic bottles (some hotels gift their guests with stylish reusable water bottles), amongst other initiatives.
The island offers six luxurious resorts to choose from: Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas, Rixos Premium, Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and Nurai Island. I stayed at Jumeirah and the laid-back luxury flair, something that this brand knows well, was easily felt as soon as I walked in.
The ample lobby is bright and faces the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf. Hanging from the ceiling, hand-blown blue Bohemian crystals in the shape of jellyfish and water droplets (with more than 100 of them) seemed like an extension of the sea – an immense and lovely installation. The décor was minimal, with comfy sofas and tables in blue and sandy colours, exactly what you want when looking for a beach resort – modern sophistication without over-the-top furnishing. My first impression of the hotel regarding their staff couldn’t have been better. Ahmed, the front desk agent, welcomed me with a big smile and helped me with a smooth check-in and a comprehensive explanation of the hotel facilities. He then asked lovely Deisy, one of the concierges, to help me find my room; she also showed me how to use all the modern accessories.
My room was the Ocean One Bedroom Suite on the same floor as the lobby. It had a big living space with two balconies, an ample sofa and a round dining table. A big sliding panel separated this area from the bedroom, composed of a comfy king-size bed, a round lounger (circular elements are one of the latest trends in interior design), a coffee machine and all the expected amenities. The bathroom had a big tub, two sinks and, to my delight, a rain shower.
But if you are looking for extreme luxury, you can stay in one of the private villas. They come in two, three, four and five bedrooms, all with their own pool and outside space for gatherings. At this property, you also find a welcoming 24-hour gym with Technogym equipment and a spa offering 15 treatment rooms with one of the largest Hammam facilities in the city.
Jumeirah offers delectable eateries, and I noticed that not only hotel guests but outside diners also go there to enjoy the high-end restaurant options. I dined in three of them: Mare Mare, offering an Italian menu; Tean, dedicated to Levantine cuisine; and White, where breakfast (with one of the most expansive spreads I have ever encountered, from freshly prepared pancakes and flaky pastries to an exciting avocado toast station and refined cold cuts selection such as beef bresaola and smoked pepper mackerel. I would go back just for that!), brunch and dinner buffets are available. The quality of ingredients and beautiful presentation was consistent in all of them.
However, if I have to highlight only two things about Jumeirah, it would be its well-trained and amazing staff and the beach. I could live there! The pristine water, white fluffy sand, comfortable sun loungers and refreshing water brought in cute mini coolers would be enough to keep me happy for days.
I guess one of the best places to find an array of restaurants would be the Mamsha al Saadiyat promenade. We went there for a walk to embrace this amazing beachfront community and to have lunch in a place that I can securely say has to be the best Lebanese restaurant that I have ever eaten at in my life: Beirut Sur Mer.
The eatery is located at Mamsha al Saadiyat and has impressive colourful décor with arches in the ceiling covered with vine-style branches and chandeliers where pinkish faux grapes embrace the light bulbs. The walls are covered with delicate flowered wallpaper, while the blue and pink counter and chairs and white tiled walls give a cohesive effect to the whole layout. Lively and absolutely stunning ambience.
I am glad we were in a group, and we got to try a variety of sharing dishes. Hummus, tabbouleh, moutabal, olives, fattoush, kibbeh nayyeh (raw meat with spices served in a ball shape) and my favourite, Maltouteh – cured yoghurt, thyme, pistachios, fried olives, dried cranberries, hazelnuts, walnuts and mint, mixed with soft bread, it was a mouthful of soft and crunchy textures with a unique explosion of flavours.
We also had Sawda, a popular chicken liver dish that at Beirut Sur Mer is sautéed and made with the restaurant’s special fig salsa with molasses. The other meat option was the Basha Bil Karaz composed of grilled kofta on a cherry chutney salsa. The perfect marriage of ingredients is definitely a strong trait in this restaurant and what makes this place a must-try.
The sweets were Kunafa, with its stretchy cheese filling and semolina dough, accompanied by Pashmak, the Middle Eastern cotton candy; Millefuille Beiruty made with crispy phyllo dough and clotted cream; and, the best of them all, Halawat El Jibin or sweet cheese rolls, it was my first time trying them, and they were not overly sweet with a soft texture and a touch of pistachio crunchiness.
For French cuisine enthusiasts, La Salle, located at Saadiyat Beach Club, offers a high-end experience. The menu also includes Italian and Spanish staples for a sophisticated Mediterranean feast. We had a delightful lunch at this eatery. Our starters were Arancini, the popular fried rice balls filled with cheese that at La Salle have a Sicilian influence with saffron. They were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, yum! The Crevette Pil Pil is a simple Spanish dish composed of Carabinero prawns and smoked Pil Pil sauce (made with garlic and chilli infused in hot olive oil). However, the star appetiser was the Aubergine à la Parmesane with layers of aubergine, ricotta, cheese and tomato sauce – a creamy combination that melted in my mouth, absolutely delicious! My main course was Le Risotto Acquarello, my go-to comfort food, made with mushrooms, truffle oil, pecorino foam and peas. The risotto rice was cooked to perfection and the right amount of truffle oil was added for a beautiful spoonful. The texture was velvety, and the flavours were spot on.
THINGS TO DO
So, as you can see, Saadiyat Island is the perfect destination for a resortlike holiday and excellent food. However, that’s not even the best part: the unique cultural district is home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abrahamic Family House and Manarat Al Saadiyat, offering exciting artistic expressions and an educational vision. With more to come, such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi opening in 2025.
Our visit to Louvre Abu Dhabi was supervised by Vivian, a super energetic guide who took us to the key pieces on display at the museum, telling us their stories and highlighting fun facts. It was not my first time, but I can say that this visit was way more interesting.
The Abrahamic Family House is a centre that promotes dialogue and knowledge exchange with peaceful coexistence at its core. Designed by wellknown Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, it consists of a church, a mosque and a synagogue. The three houses of worship are the same size, but each carries their unique symbols in the architecture. There is an exhibit that showcases videos of the different expressions of faith; they touched me more than I expected and left me with a deep sense of reflection.
Manarat Al Saadiyat is a contemporary space that’s home to exhibitions, events, workshops and an art studio – an ample area where art and its expressions are celebrated.
If a cultural scene is not what you are looking for, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club offers a fun experience for those who want to learn the game or for old hands who wish to play on the club’s 18-hole course or driving range. Our little entourage was invited for a session with Matt, one of the golf coaches. Well-humoured, he asked us to hit the little ball with the club giving our best performance. He then gave us some tips and, to my surprise, the simple technique he asked us to use made a big difference. I actually hit the ball with enough strength to make it roll away. I was so proud of myself that I am considering starting to play. If you are looking for a fun activity, I highly recommend it.
Besides having two restaurants, La Salle and Safina, the Saadiyat Beach Club also offers an array of facilities, such as an infinity pool, white-sand beach, gym, plunge pool, Jacuzzi and gents’ salon. You can purchase a day pass and enjoy the party atmosphere.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway, planning a nearby honeymoon or even just fancy going somewhere extraordinary but do not want to spend too many hours in a plane, Saadiyat Island is the perfect destination. It has it all and a little more.