United Arab Emirates
Until recently, ‘desert’ meant a harsh, barren environment that human beings struggled to survive in. The hinterland of the UAE is still, correctly, called ‘The Empty Quarter’ with hundreds of miles of nothingness. But the coast – ah, that’s different. The sands’ oil yield has created a series of pleasure oases through the seven states of the Emirates. Comfortably tropical, in every sense, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have led the way in building the most stunning hotels and facilities in the world. The Burj Dubai is already the tallest man-made structure ever – and still rising; three Palm artificial islands are the biggest anywhere; skylines are futuristic but with an architectural beauty that matches ancient Arab tradition. They overlook glorious beaches and watersport locations … and you can dive from a dhow of centuries old design. The UAE is fast becoming a sporting Mecca too. Golf, tennis, cricket at Sharjah, F1 motor racing, football, rugby 7’s, racing. Professional tournaments to watch, superb facilities to play. Oh, and Abu Dhabi stages a 10,000 contestant beauty contest – for camels.
The Emirate and city of Abu Dhabi lie in the oil-rich section of the Arabian Peninsula that lies on the Persian Gulf – it was a major force in creating the United Arab Emirates (UAE) grouping. After a cautious start, the country’s rulers saw the value of re-investing the enormous oil revenues into developing both the infrastructure and the location’s attractions for international tourism – there are now no fewer than 15 five-star international hotels. Sea, sand and surf are amazingly good, with every conceivable related facility, but the city and region offers a highly attractive blend of traditional culture – old quarter soukhs are a must – plus a full calendar of international events. And visitors should certainly make time to explore the desert hinterland with its ancient palm-fringed oases.
Old world charm may be in short supply in Dubai, but since oil was struck in the 1960s, this forward-looking city hasn’t stopped embracing the future and putting the next grand plan into action. A symbol of that confidence is the landmark Burj Al Arab hotel rising like a sail above the desert sands. Dubai is busy reclaiming land, creating brand new islands and stretching its beach line. Year-round sun and aquamarine seas are irresistible, while hinterland distractions include 4x4 blasts through the dunes, sand-boarding, trips to the Hajar Mountains, camel rides to remote oases or cruises down the Dhow Creek. Fine food comes coupled with after-dinner shisha and belly dancers. Shoppers will head for gleaming malls, spice markets and the Gold Souk.