Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi review: A higher plane at the world's costliest hotel

Read our writer's views on this property below

Enter the Emirates Palace and you enter a world that's on a far loftier plane than most of us experience.

What can you say about a fortress-like edifice that's been hailed variously as the world's best hotel - the costliest to build (at the equivalent of more than $A4 billion) and a seven-star hotel - when the top grade is traditionally five-star?

The Palace in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, opened in November 2005 with 394 rooms and suites, is the last word in opulence, frequented by heads of state and government (Blair, Clinton), diplomats, nobility, business moguls and a phalanx of VIPs including Sir Elton John, Will Smith, Justin Timberlake and others from the world of showbiz and professionals sports.

The eight-storey, kilometre-long mansion has a total of 850,000 square metres in floor space - to give you a rough idea of how big that is, Buckingham Palace in London has 77,000 square metres.

(Photos: Check out the opulent Emirates Palace hotel)

It's set in 1,000 hectares of landscaped parkland where 8,000 palms and other trees have been planted, 100 water fountains play, there's a 1.3km-long beach, a 6.4km jogging track, two swimming pools and underground parking for 2,500 cars.

The Palace is one of the outstanding features of Abu Dhabi City's 21st-century high-rise skyline, transformed from that of a small fishing village 50 years ago following the discovery here of one of the world's biggest oilfields.

It's within easy reach of the city's many attractions including tax-free shopping malls and souks (markets) and the Heritage Village; a 15-minute drive away is the spectacular, dazzlingly-white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the world's third largest and named for the late founder and first president of the UAE, where up to 40,000 can worship.

Inside, the hotel, the sheer spaciousness is mind-boggling, from the massive Atrium to the corridors, many as wide as a two-lane highway. It takes a while to become familiar with the sometimes tortuous route from reception to room, but uniformed staff are stationed on every floor to steer guests in the right direction, or escort them if necessary.

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Decor of the suites and rooms "blends Arabian regal splendour with the latest technology," the Palace says - it's heavy on marble (from 13 countries) covering a total of 93,000 square metres, with more than 6,000 square metres of 22-carat gold leaf and 1002 Swarovski chandeliers, the largest weighing 2.5 tonnes.

Some 5kg of edible gold leaf a year is used for decoration, mainly on desserts in the international cuisine served in its dozen restaurants.

Also available on occasion are little luxuries such as caviar from Albino sturgeon in Iran, of which only 6kg a year is produced, at STG30,000 ($A65,552.30) a kilogram, Kobe beef from Japan; and cognac priced at $US15,000 ($A21,971.60) a bottle, according to one hotel management website.

(Alcohol is served only in hotel restaurants and bars in Muslim Abu Dhabi.)

The Palaces Central Dome over the vast Grand Atrium, 72.6m above ground level, is just one of 114 domes all told.

Open-air concerts can seat up to 20,000.

Accommodation comprises four categories of 302 grand rooms in the East and West wings, and 92 suites in four styles of increasing size and facilities.

Sixteen Palace suites, with 24-hour butler service, are on the sixth and seventh floors, with six on the eighth floor reserved for members of the UAE royal family,

Room costs, of course, are appropriate to the luxury of the hotel.

An Emirates price list for 2008 starts at 2,800 dirhams ($A1,150) a night for a Coral room of 55 square metres to 42,000 dirhams a night ($A17.400) for a Grand Palace suite of an enormous 680 square metres, plus ten per cent service charge and six per cent "tourism fee". But discounts are often available.

Now, if by chance you've just won a multi-million-dollar lottery, you might consider a special week's package holiday at the Emirates Palace. It includes:

* First-class air tickets to Abu Dhabi from any place in the world served by Etihad Airways - that's 50 cities worldwide including Sydney, London and New York.

* Seven nights in a 680sq-m Palace Suite all inclusive.

* A chauffeur-driven Mercedes Maybach at your disposal daily.

* Day trips by private jet to Iran (where you create your own Persian carpet), to the Dead Sea in Jordan. and to pearl-hunting in Bahrain where your best pearl(s) will be hand-designed in a jewellery setting.

* A deep-sea fishing trip, daily Ana Tara spa treatments, golf at the Royal Abu Dhabi Club and gifts including perfume, more pearls and Holland & Holland sporting guns.

* The cost for two: a neat $US1 million ($A1.4 million), which the Palace calls pure opulence - the world's most expensive tailor-made holiday.

The Emirates Palace was designed by British architects Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo for the owners, the Government of Abu Dhabi, and is managed by the luxury Kempinski hotel group, founded in Germany in 1897.

We humble travel writers from Australia were guests of the Emirates for just one night (in extraordinary ordinary rooms), with the four girls in our group enjoying an early touch of class when we checked in: a posy of roses each.

(We learned later that the Palace is decorated with up to 20,000 roses a day.)

Thankfully, we had to pay only for incidentals - phone calls home, refreshments, etc.

Waiting for a car to take us to the airport, I sought refuge in one of the three bars and ordered a small bottle of Stella Artois Belgian beer. The cost, including tax and service charge was 46.60 dirhams, close enough to $A20.

The Emirates Palace, "the jewel in the crown of Abu Dhabi tourism," is just one of an impressive array of hotels catering for the demands of the emirate's thriving tourist industry including the waterside Shangri-La; and the downtown Sheraton, both five-star, where we spent nights earlier.

IF YOU GO:

Etihad Airways flies to and from Abu Dhabi from Sydney and Brisbane, with connections to Europe for stopover travellers. Call 1800-998-995 or visit www.etihadairways.com.

For full details of accommodation, tours and attractions, call Abu Dhabi Tourism on (02) 8268-5504 or visit www.visitabudhabi.com.

For Emirates Palace details, call (from Australia 0011-971) 800-426-31355 or visit www.emiratespalace.com.

The writer was a guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism, flying Etihad Airways

AAP