Abu Dhabi: Bani Yas Island Resort
The Sir Bani Yas Island Resort isn’t the most extravagant spot in Abu Dhabi – and it’s better for it. In a territory where the first paved road was laid in 1960, but which now commissions and completes new acts of architectural bravura quicker than other countries draw up plans for a bathroom extension, the resort, the last Sheikh’s place to get away from it all, comes from the UAEs Middle Ages: 1971.
When you are one of the wealthiest men in the world, getting away from it all isn’t an allotment and some seed potatoes. It’s two million trees, giraffes, gazelles, cheetahs, rheas and ostriches and other rare, endangered species roaming free (except, of course, for the perfectly maintained 32km line of double fencing). And once he had seen it, it was only a matter of time (and money) and it was there for everyone else to see as well. The current Sheikh is rumoured to prefer fast cars to flightless birds and so the Island quickly acquired a four-storey, 60-room, family loving hotel.
The hotels design counts as rustic in these parts: gilding is restrained and you can see one side of the marble hallway from the other. The service, provided by Thai spa group Anantara, is inimitable Asian friendliness, rather than Arabic modernity. But what sets it apart is not the ground floor pool-level rooms. It’s not the gently sloping pool itself. It’s not the sea paddles protected by breakwaters, nor the sense of secure isolation from being on an island. It’s not even the giant bedrooms. It’s the fact that small children (and grown writers) get bored, and when they do, there are enough distractions to fill a 10 day holiday.
When you’re sitting next to the pool, about to break a blockbusters spine, and the children come back early from Kids Club it’s not a problem: phone concierge and ask them to book a trip. A jeep pulls up, you climb in and you’re all off on a kind of My First Safari. Just 20 minutes later, your path is blocked by a frankly brutish-looking emu. There’s no sorry, no cheetah today: they know where the cheetah are. You could take offence and say it’s not genuine. You’d be right. You don’t have to sleep in flimsy tents, you don’t have to get up an hour before dawn and wash in cold water or eat lousy food. This is how Disney would do safari and as a sampler of the real thing for my five-year old twins (and even my 45-year-old self), it was perfect. Two hours later, we were all back by the pool.
And when the same thing happens the next day, you can go and do archery. Or a kayak trip around the bay. Or walk up the road and see the black-tipped reef sharks. If Mummy is bored, she can get a very fine Thai massage at the spa. If Daddy is bored, he can go on one of the most peculiar mountain bike rides of his life: across essentially featureless desert hills, where the odd spooked oryx will shoot across his path. Hold on, spooked by me? By something else? Knowing the way the Sheikh works, he’s probably paid them to go to RADA and had them to taught to play spooked. Anything is possible if you have the will and the money. Sir Bani Yas is testament to that very fact.