For the publication’s 16th anniversary special, Travel + Leisure India & South Asia joins the star of the moment and actress, Rashmika Mandanna in Abu Dhabi, to explore the emirate’s world-class beaches. By Bayar Jain
Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographed by The House of Pixels
Assisted by Babu Bhimappa
Styled by Anaita Shroff Adajania
Assisted by Chandani Mehta
Fashion Assistants: Aditi Jaiswal and Arshi Farid
Hair by Marcelo Pedrozo
Make-up by Tanvi Chemburkar
Eyewear Partner: John Jacobs
Location: The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi
“Abu Dhabi…in this weather?” questioned concerned friends as we planned Travel + Leisure India & South Asia’s anniversary issue cover shoot in the peak of summer in the Emirati capital. We were told that mercury can rise to 50°C during this period and were advised to layer up and keep the sunscreen handy. For me, however, this trip was an opportunity to visit a Middle Eastern city that has long lured travellers with its cultural and luxurious offerings. Plus, I was really excited for the beach life, which I would soon find out is quite pleasant, even during summers.
My initiation to Abu Dhabi’s beautiful beaches begins at Kai Beach on Saadiyat Island. With pristine white sands, this public beach is one of the most desirable beach locations in the UAE. An apt backdrop for our cover star and Bollywood pin-up, Rashmika Mandanna, Kai is dotted with shrubs and other greenery, which lends it the charm of a secluded island. You can also indulge in a number of activities here, from beach yoga to windsurfing and sailing.
I then head to Saadiyat Beach Club and comfortably recline on a lounger set on a nine- kilometre stretch of Blue Flag-certified beach. The club boasts a 650-square-metre outdoor pool with private cabanas and a selection of restaurants. It is also part of a protected habitat, so you can spot dolphins and the critically endangered hawksbill turtles that use the area as a nesting ground.
I continue my sunshine expedition at Corniche Beach where azure waters dance in the breeze. Situated along the stunning seaside boardwalk, with its swaying palm trees, manicured gardens, and walking and cycling pathways, this two-kilometre public beach boasts a children’s play area, several restaurants and cafes, and one of the most spectacular sunset views in the city. To ensure privacy, it is divided into three sections: Al Sahil (Gate 4) for singles and larger groups, Gate 2 with a dedicated quiet zone, and Gate 3 for families. Each section has specified areas for showers, changing rooms, and cabanas; sun loungers and umbrellas are also available for hire. Active beach-goers can indulge in free sports facilities such as volleyball and football. You can also rent a speedboat or go snorkelling.
Next, I drop in at Al Bateen Beach and Al Bateen Beach for Women. Also awarded Blue Flag status for its clean shores and serene waters, the ladies-only beach accommodates up to 1,100 women and children in its waters, and up to 5,000 sunbathers on the beach. The presence of female lifeguards, prohibition of cameras, fishing, and camping make it an exclusive and private space. Al Bateen Beach spans over 800 metres of picturesque waterfront and overlooks the unique Hudayriyat Island. Consider lazing on a day bed or sun lounger, or indulge in a gazebo picnic. Younger ones can explore the playground while adults can rent a kayak or paddleboard from the watersports centre. Football, volleyball, and tennis round off the family-friendly offerings.
Multi-generational travellers will love Yas Beach, on the southern shore of Yas Island, where beach cabanas and loungers sit gracefully atop the powder-soft sands. While the island itself is a family-friendly entertainment hub with theme parks, a golf course, stunning hotels, an impressive mall, and a F1™ racetrack, the tranquil beach is ideal for a relaxed holiday. The selection of restaurants and food stalls will keep hunger pangs away, and if you stay at a Yas Plaza Hotel, you’re guaranteed complimentary beach access!
Exclusivity lies at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s experiences. Most places—like Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the world’s biggest and fully air-conditioned indoor theme park; Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park; and CLYMB Abu Dhabi, the world’s tallest indoor skydiving flight chamber— are unique to this emirate.
Taking forward this legacy, the city’s beaches celebrate exclusivity too. Sir Bani Yas Island, one of Al Dhafra’s unique desert islands, is the only dedicated cruise beach stopover in the Arabian Gulf where activities such as snorkelling, kayaking, and paddle-boarding entice. Home to unique heritage attractions, it also boasts one of the region’s largest reserves—the Arabian Wildlife Park. The park serves as a refuge for more than 17,000 free- roaming animals including the Arabian oryx, giraffes, and cheetahs.
The penchant for exclusivity continues at Zaya Nurai Island. A boutique private island resort located a quick 12-minute boat ride from Saadiyat Island, this beach escape is ideal for barefoot luxury. From luxurious villas with plunge pools and a bouquet of restaurants, to teepees on soft sand and swings suspended over the sea, the ultimate laid-back vacation awaits you here. Wellness enthusiasts will also love sunset yoga, spa treatments by the sea, and afternoon naps on hammocks and day beds dotted around the beach.
Mirfa Beach is located 1.5 hours from the city in the village of Mirfa. This secret spot, with camping and fishing facilities, skips the tourist gaze and local crowds. In April it plays host to the annual 10-day Al Dhafra Watersports Festival but for the rest of the year, this sandy stunner is dedicated to watersports such as paddle-boarding, kiteboarding, and kayaking through a mangrove forest on the western side of the beach.
I scout the best beachside resorts, too. Nation Riviera Beach Club, connected to The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, is an exclusive beachfront retreat and fitness centre for hotel guests and day visitors. With a 200-metre beach, swimming pools, personal trainers, beach volleyball, boot camps, indoor or beach-circuit training, and the Cabana Bar and Grill, you’re spoilt for choice. Another option is InterContinental Abu Dhabi Bayshore Beach Club located at the iconic InterContinental Abu Dhabi. This lush beach and health club offers a 300-metre beachfront with a host of watersports, an infinity pool with a swim-up bar overlooking the Arabian Gulf, and separate children’s pool and play areas. Relax on sun loungers in private cabanas with butler service, splash around in the large outdoor Jacuzzi, and play squash or tennis.
Beach hopping during summer in Abu Dhabi was incredible. Plus, we got ourselves a sizzling hot cover!
Visit Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways is one of the most popular airlines that flies between India and Abu Dhabi.
Overlooking a pristine private beach, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi sits minutes away from downtown Abu Dhabi and the Saadiyat Cultural District. Complete with Mediterranean-inspired architecture, this luxurious resort promises the ultimate five-star getaway, courtesy its indoor lap pool, three outdoor pools, six restaurants and bars, and butler service. Price starts at approx. INR 20,000+ taxes per night.
Related: Abu Dhabi: Through The Lens Of A Solo Woman Traveller