Greek oasis in heart of Emirates: Fake Santorini in Abu Dhabi to lure luxury travellers | Travel - Hindustan Times
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Greek oasis in heart of Emirates: Fake Santorini in Abu Dhabi to lure luxury travellers

Bloomberg | | Posted by Zarafshan Shiraz
Mar 15, 2024 04:16 PM IST

Seeking a luxurious escape? Anantara Santorini Abu Dhabi retreat is latest entry in the region’s ultracompetitive hotel scene as an homage to the Greek island.

Getting to the Anantara Santorini Abu Dhabi Retreat from Dubai involves driving about 40 minutes past natural gas fields, grazing gazelles and a navy base. Once you’re inside the security gates, a cluster of white buildings rises up like it was transplanted from the Cyclades to the Arabian Peninsula. Noticeably missing, of course, are the blue-domed churches.

Greek oasis in heart of Emirates: Fake Santorini in Abu Dhabi to lure luxury travellers (Photo by Twitter/elite_traveler)
Greek oasis in heart of Emirates: Fake Santorini in Abu Dhabi to lure luxury travellers (Photo by Twitter/elite_traveler)

The seafront resort, which opened at the end of February, joins a massively competitive hotel market in the Emirates. There’s the ultraluxury complex where Beyoncé broke the internet (Atlantis the Royal), the feat of engineering that cantilevers a massive infinity pool between two towers (One&Only One Za’abeel), the private-island beach club (Al Maya Island Resort), and a lavish desert getaway (Al Wathba). Now, there’s an homage to the popular honeymoon destination of Santorini.

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The adults-only property has 22 keys, starting at around $735 a night, but General Manager Rachid Bakas says he expects 50% of the hotel’s business to come from exclusive-use buyouts for weddings, corporate takeovers and other events. Anantara is targeting locals for the most part—weekends are big business—offering day passes from 1,000 AED ($272) which can be redeemed for food or pool-side drinks.

“We have a wedding booked for October for a local family,” Bakas says. “They wanted to go to Santorini for the photos, but the costs, including flights for everyone, meant it made more sense for them to have the wedding here.”

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The Anantara brand, which got its start in Thailand, is known for its tranquil resorts in Phuket and Bali. Santorini marks its ongoing expansion in the UAE; properties there include the noted Anantara the Palm Dubai Resort and the Eastern Mangroves Hotel at the edge of Abu Dhabi.

Speaking to Bloomberg during a tour in early March, Bakas says the whole design team flew out to Santorini to get ideas for the property’s interiors, and as a result the rooms wouldn’t look out of place in a luxe Aegean resort, with their neutral earth tones and barrel ceilings. Local fashion publications have already held photoshoots using the Greek-inspired resort as a backdrop, he says.

Most of the rooms have terraces or sprawling white-painted patios, ideal places to have a drink and stare at the tranquil seafront. And every room has a sea view, “so no one can come and complain,” Bakas jokes. There’s also 24/7 access to a butler who can arrange snorkeling excursions, beach picnics or other excursions. As it was an overcast day, no one was enjoying the dazzling infinity pool, but it looked tempting. Room categories are named after villages in Santorini—Fira, Oia and Perissa.

The hotel really goes for it with a circular cocktail bar and cigar lounge that’s ancient Greece-themed, complete with “weathered” wall frescoes and light fixtures modeled after warrior helmets. I had a flashback to the 2006 Gerard Butler film 300. It’s a bold choice, but you can’t call it boring.

Lest you forget you’re in the Middle East in 2024, there’s a beautifully tiled hammam in the spa; it’s not trying to look like the bathhouses of ancient Greece. Of the two restaurants, one has a traditional Greek menu and the other features Arabic cuisine.

Santorini is famous for its fiery technicolor sunsets, glimpsed from cliffside mountain towns that hug the edges of its caldera. While the hotel can’t match that drama—same sun, much flatter vibes—the team at Anantara offers a tribute with daily sundowners. Guests are invited to enjoy cups of Greek mountain tea (made from the medicinal herb Sideritis scardica, aka ironwort) while Helios drives off in his chariot, bringing night.

Of course this isn’t Greece, and that’s not really the point. (Nobody at Epcot actually thinks they’re touring the world.) Anantara Santorini Abu Dhabi Retreat is positioning itself as a serene escape for locals from Dubai and other nearby Emirates. The mood is romantic, and on my tour I saw several couples walking hand in hand on the beach. Among all the region’s modernist megaprojects, bumping beach clubs and $14,000-an-hour party jets, there’s now a $735-a-night tribute to one of Europe’s most-loved island destinations.

“Guests will appreciate that this is something a little different in the region,” Bakas says.

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This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.
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