Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort: Sheer Luxury

It may not get the recognition that some of its sister properties do, but this is a magical resort. (Supplied)
Updated 03 September 2019

Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort: Sheer Luxury

DUBAI: Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort has been open for less than a year, but has already been named Abu Dhabi's Leading Luxury Resort by this year’s edition of the long-running World Travel Awards. And considering the competition in the UAE capital, the accolade speaks volumes about the experience at the resort.

Celebrating its first birthday this November, the property had something of a quiet soft launch, and even now — just a couple of months away from its first birthday — remains relatively unheralded compared to other Jumeirah properties such as Burj Al Arab and Zabeel Saray. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not worth a visit.

Because it most definitely is. Sometimes the less hype about a place, the better.

Located a 30-minute drive away from Abu Dhabi International Airport, Saadiyat Island is billed as a “world class leisure, residential, and cultural hub,” and is already home to several luxury resorts as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Jumeirah’s latest edition is situated in prime position among the other five-star retreats, and is attracting a diverse clientele — during our visit we met travellers from the GCC, Europe and the United States.

A couple of things are major highlights: the gorgeous view, and the food.

Most rooms — there are around 290 rooms, suites and villas on the property — overlook the beautiful private beach and pool areas. The golden beach spans about half a kilometer along the gorgeous blue sea, and there are three swimming pools to choose from. For those seeking relaxation, Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort is home to a standalone spa, featuring 15 treatment rooms.

The marine theme spills over into the hotel’s interiors, intentionally offering a “backdrop of refined island life,” with spacious rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and opening to a balcony with a panoramic view of the sea. The cool breeze feels fresh and calming — a welcome change from the atmosphere of the daily grind.

The hotel is taking active steps towards sustainability too; amenities are recyclable where possible, and it has eliminated single-use plastic. Water-filled glass bottles can be found near the room’s mini-bar, and these are replenished daily, while the resort also provides complimentary reusable plastic bottles for guests to refill at water stations dotted around the place.

As for the food — oh, goodness the food. If you don’t have time to stay at the resort, then you should at least try one (or more) of its seven restaurants. Our first stop was the poolside eatery, Mare Mare, which specializes in the home-cooked-style coastal flavors of Italy. The La Burrata starter that arrived at our table — fresh burrata cheese, heirloom tomatoes and basil pesto — was simply divine, while the Classica gourmet pizza — with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella and anchovies — was one of the best pizzas we have sampled in the Emirates so far (for those averse to anchovies, don’t worry — there are plenty of fish-less options).

Saving the best until last, try the fantastic Tean, a Levantine/pan-Arabic restaurant that has an exciting menu. Rather than just sticking to the tried-and-tested mixed-grill dishes, here you have a choice of everything from manakeesh to Turkish pide, and Emirati specialties too (Machboos Robian, Al Harees, and Thareed Dajaj, for example). Signature dishes include homemade manti, and Dajaj Musakhan (chicken, sumac, onion and pine nuts). Leave room for dessert — the Umm Ali is worth it.

And if you decide you should work some of those calories off, the resort features fitness facilities, a floodlit tennis court, a watersports center, and a golf course. Whatever your holiday format, you’ll definitely enjoy a stay here.

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

Zain Al-Rafeea spoke to Arab News about his role in ‘The Eternals.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2020

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

LOS ANGELES: A child is forced to leave home to escape a terrible fate. Growing up in a strange land, he develops a special talent and achieves greatness.

It is a familiar story that could describe the lives of a host of superheroes. But it also applies to refugee and actor Zain Al-Rafeea, and his courageous journey from Syria to stardom.

Al-Rafeea was born in 2004. His family fled the Syrian conflict when he was eight, moving to Lebanon, where they were forced to find shelter in the slums of Beirut.

“Unfortunately, refugees face harsh conditions in Lebanon because the country has so many of them,” Al-Rafeea told Arab News. “I never thought I would be an actor or a famous person. I just dreamt of being safe with my family and that nothing bad would happen to them. I was focusing on making money to support my parents.”

In late 2017, Al-Rafeea’s life was changed by a chance encounter with Jennifer Haddad, casting director and collaborator of acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki.

“I was in the street with a group of friends. I saw Jennifer, and she asked me if I would like to act. My first reaction was like ‘OK, I have no problem with that.’ She took a video of me, sent it to Nadine and things went on from there.”

Labaki cast Al-Rafeea as the lead in her 2018 drama “Capernaum.” The film was a hit, and the young actor’s performance was lauded by both audiences and critics.

“I did not imagine in my wildest dreams that I have such an international success,” Al-Rafeea said. “I just thought of it as an acting experience, but things went in a much better direction.”

In November, it was announced that Al-Rafeea will join the cast of Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals.” The film tells the story of a race of immortal aliens who lived on Earth in secret, and features A-list stars such as Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.

“The introduction happened through Nadine. Directors and producers from Hollywood talked to her and she put us in touch,” Al-Rafeea said.

The actor met his fellow cast members on the Canary Islands during the early stages of filming. “They were nice and their welcome to me was very sweet,” he said. “They invited me for lunch and we chatted for hours, I felt so happy.

“When we finished the first day’s shooting, Salma Hayek came up and hugged me. That night she gave me an iPad and iPhone, and we chatted and listened to music together.”

The teenage star couldn’t reveal much about his role in “The Eternals,” only that he joins the alien heroes as a human who can speak a mysterious 7,000-year-old language.

Life in the Beirut slums is a thing of the past for the Al-Rafeea family. With their son’s success, they were able to relocate to Norway.

“It is a perfect country, the people are so calm, and there are no fights or even traffic. Having water and electricity all the time is a great thing.” While he is excited about his new home, Al-Rafeea has not forgotten his friends, family and the home he left behind in Syria.

“Work hard for nothing is impossible — look what happened to me,” Al-Rafeea said in a message to children facing situations like the one he endured. “Simply dream big.”

“The Eternals” is due to be released in the US on Nov. 6, 2020. A Middle Eastern premiere date is yet to be announced.