Gareth Huw Davies

Things to do - various destinations / Travel

Louvre Abu Dhabi, opening November 2017, adds culture to short break appeal.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by David. One of the paintings to be displayed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi

A provisional opening date of November, 2017 has been given for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which will showcase loans from the Paris namesake and other French museums. The new museum will add major cultural weight to the emirate’s existing short break appeal to British and  European visitors. 

Abu Dhabi, “Place of the gazelle”, is already the perfect winter escape. With plenty of sand, sea, fast rides, waterslides and desert drives, the biggest of the emirates is now well established as a holiday destination in its own right. I pay a return visit and offer a fresh choice of things to do. 

The Louvre to open

The €1bn Louvre Abu Dhabi, which will showcasing loans from the Paris namesake and other French museums, should finally open in November, 2017. This is a “working date” depending on technical and diplomatic factors, including the agenda of new French president Macron. Construction is said to be in the “final stages”. Staff at the Louvre in Paris are said to be preparing to send the dozens of masterpieces promised under a loan agreement to the new museum. These will include the Belvedere Apollo and Leonardo’s Belle Ferronnière. Museums across France will send some 300 works, to be displayed alongside the museum’s collection of 700 pieces.

Most construction work on the building, designed by architect Jean Nouvel, is complete and technical problems fixed. These included installing the massive cupola and sealing the building from seawater. An official opening date is expected to be after 11 November, and 2 December. Pres Macron’s support may be deduced from the fact that he held his victory rally in Paris in the Louvre’s courtyard.

Stroll the prom

The Corniche is an epic four mile long, show-off seaside promenade, with many green places to stop and picnic. Stroll it in an afternoon, or cycle it in less. Two high things catch the eye. The emirate’s flag, as big as a bus, atop a 360 feet pole. And the remarkable Capital Gates Building, with a built-in lean of 18°. (Pisa’s slant is only 4°.) The Avenue at Etihad Towers is a mall dedicated to high-end fashion. Then turn in a few blocks to visit Qasr al Hosn fort, the oldest building in the city. As for eating out, the  choice nearby is colossal, from Ethiopian, via the many kitchens of the Middle East and Europe, to Iranian. As a bonus, visit the abundant, wildlife-rich mangrove swamps. They run kayak tours.

Activity Island

Yas Island, near the airport, is a frantic, red hot centre of adrenaline rides, high-speed action and entertainment. Sit back, cling on and watch your knuckles turn white. Waterworld opened in 2013. It’s said to be the world’s biggest waterpark, with a dizzying choice of raft rides, tornado waterslides, terrifying ravines, wadi rides and endless sheet waves. Ferrari World is the first theme park dedicated to the illustrious red racing car. The stand out ride is the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, touching 150mph. Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 track is here. You may run or cycle around it every Tuesday, for free. The Du Arena is the island’s other big feature, drawing such stars as Sting and Metallica.

Shock of the new.

This prosperous oil-rich emirate’s latest bold plan is to bring some of the world’s greatest art to its new cultural district on Saadiyat Island, a 10 minute taxi ride from the city centre. Frank Gehry is repeating the gleaming silver sinuosity of his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. There is no opening date for the project. A permanent exhibition, the Saadiyat Island story, explains the vision. The shock of the new continues in the vast Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, open for (free) visits. There is room for 40,000 worshippers, the world’s largest carpet and largest chandelier. The columns are faced with marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones.

Desert blooms.

Just an hour from the busy city, we peered over the razor-sharp crest of a 100 feet high sand dune, fresh-minted by the wind that morning. There’s a good choice of 4×4 tours into this pristine golden world, empty apart from the odd oil well and power pylon. Al Ain, the “Garden City”, named for its greenery, is the place to visit in the desert – as a day trip or for a longer stay. The evening, when the sun is down, is a good time to visit Al Ain Zoo. They successfully breed many threatened desert animals here. Al Jahili Fort holds a permanent exhibition to the great British travel writer and explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who crossed the Empty Quarter in the 1930s.

Stay on the sands

We stayed in the five star Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, on the beachfront on Saadiyat Island. It opened in 2011, and is one of Abu’s best seaside resorts, particularly attractive to the European winter holiday market. Our villa had its own private (heated) swimming pool, where we enjoyed that rare treat – a February pre-breakfast open air dip. We took the boardwalk to reach the beach, designed to keep visitors off the precious sand dune habitat where endangered hawksbill turtles lay their eggs. After cocktails in the Beach House bar, we dined in the Park Bar and Grill, offering an intriguing mix of Vietnamese starters, Australian beef and French wine.

The writer travelled with British Airways.

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