Answer to “Where am I?”: Abu Dhabi

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Abu Dhabi – the largest by area of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi City is the capital of the UAE and home to Emirati Royal Family.

Specifically, this photo of a White Oryx was taken on Sir Bani Yas Island, one of the eight “Desert Islands” which are located just off the coast of mainland Abu Dhabi in the Arabian Gulf.

In the 1970s, the White Oryx was extinct in the wild as they were hunted so indiscriminately for their meat. Thankfully private zoos and breeders managed to bring the species back from the brink. Sir Bani Yas is a breeding ground for the now protected Oryx.

If you don’t like sand or intense heat then keep away from Abu Dhabi.

Personally, I love the feeling of extreme sunlight on my ample frame, and the temperature during my visit reached a blistering 50 degrees centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit)!

Abu Dhabi is also one enormous sand-pit. The pros of this are that not only are the soles of your feet permanently exfoliated but you also get that wonderful  on-the-beach-&-on-holiday feeling. The cons are that the sand does get very hot and if you are very unlucky, you could get stung by a buried scorpion!

Of course, I was in Abu Dhabi on a filming trip and surprisingly had three very different experiences.

The first was on Sir Bani Yas Island. One of the eight of the “Desert Islands”, Sir Bani Yas features a luxury resort (Anantara) and wildlife reserve. This was the brainchild of the ruler Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who decided that he wanted to not only preserve endangered species but also try and breed them with the aim of releasing them back into the wild. There have been huge successes especially with the White Oryx and giraffe. The island is just 87 square kilometers in area but over sixty percent of it is the Wildlife Park.

From there I moved to the Liwa Desert in the Empty Quarter – one of the largest sand deserts in the world. Here I stayed at arguably the finest resort in the UAE: Qasr Al Sarab. The resort is sizeable – two hundred and sixty odd rooms but the buildings blend in with the desert. The service and facilities are wonderful but it’s the access to the desert that is so special. I went driving 4×4 vehicles through the sand dunes which is not as straight forward as it seems. I avoided contact with the desert camels which I find rather scary  and I learnt how to shoot an arrow from a bow – a past-time that has been practiced in those parts for generations.

My final home in Abu Dhabi was the famous Yas Island. This November the last race of the Formula 1 motor racing calendar will be held on this twenty five square kilometre island, thirty minutes from Abu Dhabi City.

The island boasts a championship links golf course (which I played badly), a formidable marina which at certain times of the year houses the most amazing yachts in the world, a Ferrari-inspired theme park that surely cheapens one of the greatest luxury cars brands in the world, a couple of drag racing strips, the Formula 1 circuit and a clutch of ultra-luxury hotels – one of which, The Yas – is already an iconic property in the hotel world.

The Yas Marina Circuit measures 5.5 kilometres and held its first F1 race last November. By a sheer stroke of good luck, I was allowed to drive an Aston Martin Vantage racecar around the track. Admittedly, I put the car straight into “automatic” to ensure that I didn’t suffer the humiliation of stalling but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I pelted around the track like any angry bee. It was great, great fun but at the end of my session, the instructor suggested I buy myself a pushbike – as I would have better luck taking corners successfully on one! The cheek of it…

-Varun Sharma

Varun Sharma is the host of Inside Luxury Travel – a television show that focuses on high-end travel. The show airs in over 160 countries, in 18 languages and is beamed into 390 million homes worldwide. He has now stayed in over 500 luxury hotels & resorts … and has in the past year flown in a fighter jet, gone diving – without a cage – in Tiger Shark infested-waters, had dinner with a dingo and has cooked with over 50 Michelin-starred chefs! He likes nothing better than playing a round of golf with his pooch Gemima by his side, cigar in mouth and flask of single malt Scottish whisky to hand!