There I was; another fabulous UAE long weekend on the horizon and, as ever, once the official dates are announced, I found myself knee deep in the familiar scramble for the perfect plan. A plan to end all plans, you know the sort; best-weekend-of-your-life calibre plans. The stakes were high.
“LONG WEEKEND PLANS?” I flung out into the WhatsApp ether with the hopefulness of a five year old guessing presents on their birthday.
“I’m kind of thinking to just chill out by my pool all weekend to be honest,” one friend responded. “My parents are over for the week so we’re going site seeing” said another. Sigh. Not the whirlwind of enthusiasm I was hoping for.
Just when I thought all was lost and had begun resigning myself to the idea of a weekend at home doing laundry, my phone pinged. A message from my dear friend, Alexandra illuminated on the home screen like a beacon of pure genius; “Let’s try Zaya Nurai Island!”.
Now, just to clarify, I was aware of Zaya Nurai’s existence long before this point. In fact, I had even had the website pinned to my ever-growing “Travel Bucket List” Pinterest board. I couldn’t believe it - it had been there waiting for me in a pool of my own resources this whole time! “I’m in” I replied.
Water villa bedroom sea view
A hop, skip and a drive from Dubai, we arrive at the charmingly discreet welcome centre on Saadiyat Island (opposite the Saadiyat Beach Residences) in Abu Dhabi and unload our bags in the secure parking area. A cheerful member of staff offers us mocktail to enjoy in the December sun on the jetty as we wait for our boat. Alexandra and I flash each other a knowing look – we can already tell this is going to be good.
Boats leave every hour on the half-hour carrying around 20 people each way and, thankfully, we’re right on time. A clean white speedboat slows up to the jetty and we board the 10-minute journey to Zaya Nurai Island.
On first arrival, you’d be forgiven for assuming you’d somehow landed in the Maldives. Crystal, turquoise water glistens over schools of multi-coloured fish while smart, modern looking villas line the white sand beach. Stepping off onto the jetty we are welcomed by a line of beaming staff proffering cold towels before being escorted to our villa in a golf buggy.
Birds eye beach view
The only hotel on Nurai Island – also home to sleek beachfront private estates - it’s a far cry from most beach resorts within the region and is more akin to the island resorts in the Indian Ocean. You can walk around the whole island in under an hour. Though some sections are landscaped, there’s a gorgeous rustic feel to the place. There are no cars. Only bicycles and golf buggies languidly roll over unsealed sandy tracks. There is however, a helipad (it’s still the UAE after all) and with prior arrangement guests can arrive with their own boats.
Created and developed by Nadia Zaal, (the brains behind Al Barari in Dubai), the resort’s architecture and design creates an undeniably relaxing atmosphere. As we pootle along the peaceful buggy path to our room, we ‘ooh and ahh’ passing the water villas, which create the illusion of levitating over the glittering sea - the larger ones of which we’re told, can accommodate up to 12 people. We arrive at one of the hotel’s 32 one-bedroom beach villas. It does not disappoint; 110 square metres making ample use of floor-to-ceiling glass walls, there is a huge bed as the room’s centrepiece facing an elegant private plunge pool and generously sized garden. Adorned with sleek, contemporary furnishings and light fixtures, the open plan layout is complete with a separate sitting area with a TV, sofa, coffee table and books while the bathroom boasts an enormous bath and spacious shower room. Outside, there is even an elegant outdoor dining area and beach side fire-pit. As we’re talked through the room’s facilities, available water activities and spa treatments, I am instantly filled with regret for not booking a longer stay. It’s too late to change it now of course, they’re fully booked – why wouldn’t they be?
Beach villa bedroom and living room
After a leisurely day spent lounging by the sea, eating delectable wood oven pizzas at bohemian beach club, Smokin’ Pineapple, we get ready and make our way over to seafood restaurant Hooked for a sundowner. Perched prettily at the water's edge, it’s the perfect spot to appreciate the sky’s nightly carnival of fuchsia, scarlet and blood orange. Before long, it’s off to supper at the hotel’s revered Mexican restaurant, Dusk (our personal choice over fine-dining Mediterranean restaurant and international brasserie, Frangipani) where we delight at the colourful sharing concept as a feast of innovative tacos, refined ceviche dishes and moreish guacamole are delivered to the table before rolling (very full and very slowly) back to our villa.
Hooked seafood restaurant
We awake the next day to the glorious few of the Arabian Gulf and achingly elegant pool. There is an excellent choice of breakfasts at Frangipani. We both opt for the “Oriental”; shakshouka, halloumi, foul and vegetables with fresh orange juice and a cappuccino before hopping on a buggy with our suitcases to the jetty. “We should have booked another night!” Alexandra exclaims miserably as our boat speeds away and the outline of the clean white arcitecture gets smaller and smaller. “I know” I nod. “I know”.