One of the chain of islands running between downtown Abu Dhabi and the mainland, Saadiyat Island (“Island of Happiness”) is slated to become the twenty-first-century jewel in Abu Dhabi’s cultural crown with the opening of the new Abu Dhabi Louvre and a slew of other attractions.

Pending the opening of the Louvre, Saadiyat’s main draw is the Saadiyat Public Beach, a beautiful blue-flag, lifeguard-patrolled beach, with a gorgeous swathe of fine white sand and facilities including toilets, showers and the Bake bistro kiosk. The protected dunes backing the sands support a delicate ecosystem whose vegetation survives on the ultimate slimmer’s diet of atmospheric moisture and coastal fog, as well as providing a nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles (mainly April to July) and local and migratory birds. Reptiles and mammals ranging from gerbils to gazelles can also be found here, while Indo-Pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphins can occasionally be seen in the waters offshore.

On the western side of the island, Manarat al Saadiyat hosts an exhibition showcasing the various developments planned here. It feels mainly like a glossy PR and sales exercise, although some of the architectural models and pictures are interesting, offering tantalizing glimpses of how the island may eventually look. The striking building next door – like a huge metal sand dune – is the UAE Pavilion, designed by Foster + Partners for the Shanghai World Expo 2010 and subsequently moved here at the end of the exhibition. It’s not regularly open, but hosts occasional exhibitions and cultural events.

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