Even those of us who have called the UAE home for several years could be forgiven for never having ventured to the Garden City of Al Ain. Some 120 kilometres from Dubai and more than 150km from the centre of Abu Dhabi, it has traditionally been a popular weekend destination for Emirati nationals, but has rarely been seen as a tourist destination.
Yet in stark contrast to the bigger cities it boasts a wealth of historic buildings, picturesque palm groves and some of the most stunning views available in the UAE courtesy of the emirate’s highest peak: Jebel Hafeet. With a great deal of investment also going into the city in recent years, the number of visitors is expected to rapidly increase and hoping to take advantage of this fact is the stylish Aloft Al Ain.
Located in the up-and-coming 500,000 square metre Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium development, the boutique hotel is just four storeys high but features 175 loft-like guest rooms and suites. There is also a rooftop pool, four restaurants and lounges as well as a state of the art fitness centre.
As you would expect from a hotel owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Aloft’s design is both striking and stylish. In fact, it instantly reminds me of the W Hotel Al Habtoor City in Dubai thanks to its colourful canopy over the main entrance. Once I step inside the lobby is open plan and spacious, while the staff are extremely friendly as they provide me with a run down of all the facilities inside the hotel.
Following a quick check in I head to my suite which despite being just 51 m² has been expertly designed and the room feels much bigger. The main area features a king size bed, two large chairs, a wide screen television and a sizeable desk which could come in useful for those on a business trip. There you will also find an iron and ironing board neatly tucked away, a minibar, safety deposit box and plenty of closet space.
Perhaps most impressive however is the bathroom which features a huge walk in shower and a marble counter top full of toiletries. Here you will also find a rather comfortable bathrobe and slippers, and upon request you can receive a dental and shaving kit – both of which were delivered almost immediately. There are also plenty of towels which were changed everyday during my stay.
Having arrived during the early afternoon I headed to the hotel’s main restaurant the Olive Tree. Promising a mix of Middle Eastern, Western, Arabic or Asian cuisine, only half of the restaurant was open to customers as the Al Ain football team were also using the hotel’s facilities. Nevertheless there was still plenty of space and the staff were very apologetic.
The menu is small but varied and does cover a wide range of styles. I started with a Crab Claw Fattoush that was rather sizeable and certainly did not skimp on the crab. The only downside was the saj bread that covered the dish had become soft thanks to the large amount of lemon dressing.
For the main I chose The Real Butter Chicken which was served with aromatic rice and a poppadum. Once again the portion was large with enough for two servings, but I was easily able to clear the plate as the sauce was rich and flavourful, with just the right balance of garlic, ginger and chilli, as well as plenty of tender chicken.
As I stayed on a Friday I was also able to sample a wide range of dishes from the rooftop lounge as from 5pm to 9pm guests can enjoy unlimited food and beverages for just $55. This is a very laid back affair with most making full use of the swimming pool whilst also sampling the food on offer.
As you would expect from a BBQ there is no shortage of burgers, chicken, kebabs and shrimp, as well as various pastas and salads. There is also a large pastry section with a plethora of bite-sized desserts that included classic apple pie, praline puffs, Eton mess and cheese cakes. All of which were extremely sweet and packed full of sugar, but certainly seemed popular with the younger diners.
“As you would expect from a hotel owned by Starwood Hotels, Aloft’s design is both striking and stylish.”
“Once 9pm hit there was an after-party and the resident DJ certainly made sure of a more upbeat atmosphere, but it’s not a concern for guests as the rooftop location means the sound does not carry to the rooms.”
Once 9pm hit there was an after party and the resident DJ certainly made sure of a more upbeat atmosphere. The music was cranked up and numerous adult floatables were released into the pool which stayed open until 11pm. More people began to arrive and there was a lively atmosphere, but it would certainly not concern any of the hotel guests as the rooftop location meant the sound would not carry to any of the rooms.
This event also only takes place once a week and the rest of the time the pool and lounge is a far more chilled out location. It is certainly popular with families and despite being on just the fourth floor does provide great views of the nearby mountains in Oman.
Less frequented by families and more for those seeking after dinner entertainment is the W XYZ lounge on the ground floor, which is open until 2am every night of the week. Here you will find a huge selection of cocktails as well as a bar menu that is great for those looking to share a few small dishes. The music is more for ambience and it is definitely a place where you will find a mixture of locals and those visiting the hotel.
Aloft also features an area which they refer to as Re:fuel, here you can purchase an array of food and drink that are great for those on the go. The grab and go style shop offers an array of sandwiches, salads and snacks. It even has a make your own cappuccino machine for those who need a caffeine hit at anytime of the day. Also located on the ground floor it is a great way to stock up if you are heading out to the nearby Al Ain Zoo or preparing for a trip to the top of Jebel Hafeet.
Having thoroughly overindulged during my stay I was keen to burn off some calories and made use of the fitness centre on the fourth floor. Well stocked with a wide variety of brand new equipment, there was no trainer on hand so you have to be well-versed in the machines that were available. But there were towels readily available and plenty of bottles of water on hand so clearly the gym is well maintained by staff.
Before my stay came to an end I also had the chance to test out breakfast at the Olive Tree. Presented as a buffet there is a huge selection of pastries, fresh fruit and cereals as well as hot dishes including eggs in several variants, veal bacon, hash browns and everything you would expect from a well-stocked buffet. Guests can also help themselves to tea, coffee and juices, while the waiting staff will take orders if you require something be made fresh.
I made the mistake of taking eggs benedict from the cooked section and the dish was stone cold having clearly been sat out for a while. But I was able to request a fresh one and the chefs were only to happy to prepare a new one for me. So should you like eggs in the morning then I would definitely recommend having yours freshly prepared.
Certainly throughout my stay the staff were only to happy to help and the service was of a very high standard. This matched the overall feel of the hotel as the design and aesthetics were equally excellent and the whole experience one I look forward to repeating. www.aloftalain.com
WORDS BY: ADRIAN BACK