An Island Not Too Far Away… Zaya Nurai

I look my best when I’m totally free, on holiday, walking on the beach. ∼ Rosemund Pike

A 24 hours of refreshing break (that seemed almost like an eternity) in an island not too far away… this could well have been Maldives or Seychelles or Mauritius (but without the 4-6 hours of flight time and then 1 hour of boat ride, and perhaps another 3 hours of wait in between)… this is Zaya Nurai Island, situated along the azure blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, a 10 minutes boat ride from Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. It’s not too often that a break culminates in such a long hangover, with every minute spent on the island flashing back in slow motion and transporting us back to our staycation. Abu Dhabi has more than 200 natural islands – most of them quite obviously untapped. ‘A slice of paradise in the UAE’, wrote fellow blogger Samantha Wood aka Foodiva and her instagram feed blew my mind.

The February edition of Foodemag had kept me neck deep in work and I hadn’t planned for any holiday during the Z-Sisters‘ half term break. The wanderlust in me made me absolutely restless – and this was totally calmed by Zaya Nurai. Serenity and blue waters pervaded all around. The cool sea breeze, the love seats almost sunken into the green grass, the sunlit verandahs of the Nurai Terrace (the all dining terrace restaurant), the beautifully presented food from a still evolving menu and the very very polite staff (reminds me of the warmth of our vacations in Srilanka). Not many places that we have visited have left such an impression or a manic urgency to return (definitely not a luxury resort). The last time this kind of a feeling flooded in was when we had visited Chitwan in Nepal. When I think about it, the only visuals that keep coming back to my mind when I think of these places are the people working there and nature engulfing us every minute of our stay – and in every way. It’s the same feeling in Zaya Nurai. Let my pictures take you through…

The Island

The sunrise and our private beach retreat

The Food

And Back to The Island

What are the things that you should do in Zaya Nurai before you leave the island?

Wake up to capture the sunrise – until and unless it’s the East Coast, we mostly get to see sunsets by the sea; Step onto the white sand infront of your private beach retreat – how many of us actually do that in the UAE even though we are surrounded by the beautiful shoreline? Have you ever swam with dugongs and dolphins? There are estimated 3,500 dugongs who call Abu Dhabi their home and a big number of them have called Zaya Nurai their home! Forget buffets in this idyllic island life, an à la carte menu with regional inspiration is waiting for you that showcases local artisan produce (from local farms in Al Fallah), sustainable line-caught fish, and biodynamic wines. Zaya Nurai, once it is fully operational (it’s still in it’s soft opening now), will be proudly inducted in the gradually growing list of the Eco Resorts that we’ve visited so far. As Chef Avinash and Carl Stockenstrom (Executive AM Culinary –  FB) added… in the future, they would be sourcing many of ingredients from their own organic vegetable garden and living herb wall (yes, seeds have already been implanted now). With a Burger Bar and an International fine dining restaurant yet to open (named Olive), there will be more temptations for me to return here… the Goat Cheese Salad that had been the repeat orders (lunch – dinner – and the on the next day lunch) along with the Black Cod Meniere (lunch and the next day lunch). Not that the 24 hours marinated soft lamb cheeks ordered from the room dining menu was any less delicious. Or the breakfast that followed the sunrise, enjoyed on our sundeck – Buttermilk Pancakes, Swedish Pancakes, Eggs Benedict and a Shakshouka. But still! We need excuses to come back… for the French toast (strong recommendation from Samantha – French toast and the sundeck!) that we hadn’t ordered this time or the lamb rumps that weren’t available (the resort is still in its soft launch) or the Burgers that would be served once the Burger Bar opens (I have already read them on the menu!). Big Z writes too writes about our stay in Nurai, her focus is on the villa and the fun the Z-Sisters had (although her introduction seems to be a take off on mine!). Both the memories of our landing and leaving the island are captured by the same picture – Eldodie (above) from Zaya Nurai waiting at the jetty to welcome us and see us off (I think making sure that we have left the island!). Nor can I forget the image of Natalie, the Hotel Manager, running in her heels and jumping into the speed boat to say goodbye. Soon I am returning to Nurai with a group of friends to spend the day*… is a day enough, did you ask? A quote I found on the internet today perhaps says it all… A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in. Be it for a day… but it’s Nurai calling!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

*You can avail this special offer that is valid until April 2015: A Day pass that includes speedboat transfer, complimentary welcome drink, infinity pool access, beach access, 3-course lunch menu with selected beverages priced at AED 350 per head. A Friday Brunch with day pass day at Nurai costs AED 450 rising to AED 650 with champagne. Nurai Island is the most exclusive private island of Abu Dhabi and has been conceived by Zaya’s Nadia Zaal to provide an exclusive sanctuary with limited, ultra-luxurious front estates, water villas (for private ownership) and 32 beach retreat villas as a boutique resort, all which comes with state of the art facilities. For more info on Zaya Nurai, visit the website…

Disclaimer: Room rates at the Beach Retreat villas start at Dhs 3,500/night and a meal for 4 would vary from Dhs 350-800 (doesn’t include alcohol). Please check for special promotions on their website. We were graciously hosted at Zaya Nurai. However, the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

My write up in February 2015 edition of FoodeMag:

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