I’ve often admired the Fairmont Bab al Bahr from afar; a perpendicular building that lights up Abu Dhabi’s Grand Canal come nightfall with its iconic, geometric lit exterior. A building that stands proudly different from its more traditional neighbours, a symbol of the capital’s dedication to modernity and now, I had the opportunity to take a look inside to see if the interior lived up to its glittering facade.
Driving up to the Fairmont Bab al Bahr – the Abu Dhabi location for the worldwide Fairmont Hotels & Resorts brand – you are instantly struck by the sheer scale of the building. From the other side of the canal, the hotel looked somewhat contained in its rectangular mirrored casing, perched on the edge of the shore in the mere shadow of some of the ‘grander’ hotels along the Canal. However, upon closer inspection my initial observations could not have been more wrong; the Fairmont Bab al Bahr is enormous.
The striking exterior is made of sheer blue glass and sits in perfect contrast to the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, of which it offers unrivalled views. The lobby is lofty in its elevation with a striking central staircase connecting the lower promenade level and the bustle of the main reception. If like me, you’re booked into one of the hotel’s 72 Club Rooms (Fairmont Gold) located on the 7th floor, you can directly check in there, sparing yourself the small but necessary queue downstairs.
The hotel offers a total of 369 guestrooms and suites so it is not a boutique property in any sense of the word, which each one beautifully appointed in a contemporary yet comfortable style. Room categories range from the bijou Fairmont Room to the spectacular Royal Suite, with several levels in between to suit most tastes and budgets. Rooms are designed to be functional yet luxurious and are reminiscent of the Fairmont style and standard that we have come to know and love the world over; deep maple wood accented by elements of chrome and a muted colour palette of neutrals complete the furnishings, it’s understated elegance at its best.
As mentioned, I was staying in a Fairmont Gold room, said to be the ultimate hotel indulgence. Quite partial to a Club Level room when travelling for both business and leisure, I was keen to see how the amenities and accommodation on this private floor would compare to other local and regional hotels.
Firstly, a ride in Fairmont Bab al Bahr’s elevator is quite the experience. Silently whisked skywards in the glass-fronted lift you’re faced with spectacular views out across the hotel’s impeccable grounds, Abu Dhabi Creek and the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. In fact, you could be forgiven for going up and down all day trying to catch the perfect timing for a panoramic photograph. You needn’t worry, for the view from your room is static all day long and constantly evolves with the setting on the sun.
All Fairmont Gold Rooms and Suites are located on the private Fairmont Gold Floors and are subject to additional privileges as well as a discreet and personal service as standard. Typically, Club Rooms and Suites conjure up images of the business traveler only, taking advantage of complimentary Wi-Fi and sitting engrossed in a newspaper whilst attentive staff replenish cupfuls of coffee. Fairmont Gold at Bab al Bahr is different.
Whilst yes, the weekdays tend to cater more towards the business traveler, the weekends are fully geared up to handle the stream of tourists and UAE residents alike that flock to this reputable hotel and take advantage of this luxurious offering. The Fairmont Gold Lounge is actually split into a variety of areas to cater for every type of Fairmont Gold Guest. There is seating around the daily buffet area which offers up delicious afternoon tea and hors d’oeuvres (along with a very popular happy hour between 5-7pm), there is a tiny bar area where you can position yourself on a bar stool and sneak a peek at the capital’s impressive skyline and there is a comfortable sofa-laden lounge area with plush, velvet chairs cleverly positioned for intimate tete-a-tetes – in short, there is a space for everyone to feel comfortable in, whatever the time of day. The Club Lounge itself offers a selection of light bites and drinks throughout the day, although it is worth noting that alcohol is chargeable outside of the 2-hour happy hour period. There’s a dedicated Fairmont Gold concierge team on hand throughout your stay should you need anything and the private check-in and check-out area definitely contributes to a seamless transition.
The Fairmont Gold Creek View Room itself was as expected; clean, sizeable and very comfortable. Although not the largest of hotel rooms at 45 sq.m, the Superior Rooms and Suites are almost double the size if you’re looking for a bit of extra leg room. The thing that really differentiates this particular hotel room over any others in Abu Dhabi is the view. That astonishing, heat-skips-a-beat vista that incorporates the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the glistening waterfront and the plethora of buildings that line it, which is in short, mesmerizing.
A desk takes pride of place in front of the window with a sofa directly situated in front of the LCD TV cleverly hidden into the maple wood. A king size bed blends seamlessly into the back wall, topped with an array of scatter cushions giving it an inviting allure – a blissful slumber is something you’re guaranteed upon check in here. Your bathroom is not so much as a bathroom, as a walk-in separate space with only the toilet and shower room separated by a modesty-saving frosted glass door; it’s perhaps not for the self-conscious. The shower and bath tub are found nestled together in one room making for both an inventive use of room space and yet a slightly awkward showering situation. The luxe Le Labo toiletries dotted around more than make up for it however.
From the sanctuary of your room or suite to the wealth of leisure and dining options available outside, the Fairmont Bab al Bahr does not disappoint. Al fresco activities are centered on the temperature controlled lap pool, complete with separate children’s area which makes an ideal way to cool off from the Arabian sun. The Fairmont Bab al Bahr also has its own private sandy beach which is quiet even on the busiest of days and provides easy access to both the respite of the swimming pool and the nearby pool bar that offers a range of refreshments to quench your thirst. In addition to the swimming pool, there is a fully equipped Health Club with state-of-the-art fitness machines as well as a range of private and group training packages on offer.
You’ll need to take advantage because Fairmont Bal Al Bahr offers no less than 11 dining options in its vicinity, something that it’s impossible to make full use of even if you stay for an extended period of time. In fact, the hotel plays home to some of Abu Dhabi’s best restaurants making it a true culinary destination. CuiScene is where the majority of the action happens with its ‘scene for cuisine’ and casual, yet elegant approach to restaurant style. Featuring an international buffet, there is something for most tastes and the breakfast here is very good indeed.
For sushi lovers the aptly named Café Sushi is an ultra-modern concept with a clear passion for Japanese cuisine. Standout dishes include Black Cod Fish, Miso Marinade and the excellent Sashimi Bowl – it’s the perfect pit stop for a quick & healthy lunch.
For those foodies looking for that little touch of ‘pizazz’ from their evening meal, then both Frankie’s Italian Restaurant & Bar and Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill are obvious choices. For the latter please read our full dining review here.
Frankie’s is both an Abu Dhabi and Dubai favourite with outlets in both and is a British export of the collaboration between famed horse jockey Frankie Dettori and Michelin Star Chef Marco Pierre White. It’s authentic Italian cuisine at its best and when the weather allows, its fantastic outdoor courtyard is the place to see and be seen.
Other notable restaurants and bars at the hotel include Puesta del Sol, a stylish Latin Lounge with typical Spanish bites and the lively Sports Café that come Friday is the venue of choice for the after-brunch crowd, cheesy eighties music and all.
In fact, there is so much going out at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr that it’s hard to sum them all up in one review; it’s a hotel you revisit, and each time you do you enjoy a completely new experience. Its proximity to Abu Dhabi’s business and tourist attractions make it the perfect base for both business travellers and families alike and the luxurious accommodation coupled with some of the very best dining in the city, makes the hotel a destination in its own right.