Is it really possible to recreate Venice in the Arabian Gulf?
It’s an ambition so grand that only the hoteliers in the United Arab Emirates, which already had the audacity to bring the Louvre to Abu Dhabi, would even attempt it.
But Venice? Teaming up with the Ritz-Carlton on a mega-hotel project that sits in the shadow of the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the emirate’s most revered architectural treasure, the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal aims to bring the glory of 17th century renaissance Italy to the GCC, trading the canals of Venice for the waters of Al Maqta’a Creek.
It’s a glorious conceit, and anyone who has ever visited Venice knows that it is also an impossibility. However, while the Ritz-Carlton and Abu Dhabi may not have replicated that ancient town, the sheer amount of luxury that has been poured into the 447-room property (combined with Ritz-Carlton’s light-touch sophistication) ensured that the Grand Canal was anything but a tacky Vegas-esque themed resort, but a beautiful destination hotel in its own right.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the sheer scale of this project is to walk to the water’s edge and look back on the hotel, which is in fact ten separate (but connected) buildings which form a crescent around the huge swimming pool. It’s then you see the passing resemblance to a Venice waterfront and also that you appreciate the architect of this particular hotel for creating such an impressive resort.
It’s not just physically large thanks to the number of buildings, its grounds are also dramatic with manicured lawns and water features honouring the spirit of the renaissance if not the exact classical definition of it. Private villas, which can also be rented, punctuate these gardens creating a wonderful space to wander through, especially at dawn as the sun is rising (said the father of a baby girl strolling around far too early for his liking). And, as you might imagine, acres of stunning marble have been used to create a lobby with real punch, delivering on that slack-jawed effect that one assumes is given at all Ritz-Carlton properties.
So it’s beautiful, but what is it like to stay there? The danger of operating such a large resort is that the service levels we have come to expect along with the marbled foyers of Ritz-Carlton properties, can be diluted, and thus the guest experience as well.
Ultimately, with five-star properties you know there is a certain comfort level to be expected, but what Ritz-Carlton consistently delivers on is the well-trained staff who make sure your experience is exceptional. At the Grand Canal those staff included the affable but astoundingly competent Adrian Almirante, the Assistant Director of Rooms and the team at the hotel’s fabulous Asian restaurant, Li Jiang, where the food is almost surpassed by the service.
Of course, service aside, a traveller wants to know what kind of room they can expect. Well if they spring for the Ritz-Carlton suite, they can’t go far wrong. This expansive suite clocks in at 126sqm, featuring a living room, a grand dining room, a kitchen, spacious bedroom adjoined by a cavernous en-suite bathroom awash with marble with separate dressing areas, plus a bath and monsoon colour therapy shower. Add to that two balconies overlooking the pool, the creek, and the city beyond and you have a room with major wow factor.
Views, whether on a morning walk or sitting on your balcony, are one of the many splendours of this property.
Wherever you are in the Grand Canal you are never far from that mesmerising view of the mosque, one of the architectural wonders of the Gulf. This iconic building provides the grandest backdrop any hotel could hope for, and is a must visit for any guest.
When it comes to dining, of all the restaurants, Li Jiang really is where it’s at. Dark and intimate décor set the mood while deft and intelligent service delivers delicious oriental fare. Their dumplings are simply amazing. The Grand Canal also has its Venetian Village, a lively al fresco promenade featuring all manner of cuisine, perfect for winter months when temperatures allow diners outside again.
And for ultimate relaxation, the Grand Canal also features an ESPA spa where jacuzzis, saunas and massage therapists wait to soothe your troubles (if it is possible to have any after checking into the Ritz-Carlton suite). A session there will leave you revived and ready for more fine dining or some action in the Sorso sports lounge.
Should you really feel the need to leave the resort in search of food, just across the creek is the Souk Qaryat Al Beri, a lively spot with all manner of local eateries, a mere five-minute taxi ride away. Alternatively, you can hop on an abra and cross the river directly from the Ritz-Carlton.
Is it Venice? Of course not. But does it matter? Not in the least. Abu Dhabi’s homage to the renaissance has created a spectacular property that delivers a distinctive experience in an emirate awash with five-star choice.
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Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
+971 2818 8888