Considering your next incentive travel adventure beyond Australia’s shores? Incentive travel expert Janna Kogan discovers a way to experience two contrasting worlds in Abu Dhabi and Iceland where Mother Nature flips the elements.

Why such contrasts?

Abu Dhabi in the Middle East and then Reykjavic in Iceland? They are vastly different destinations but I was lucky enough to squeeze both experiences before Totem Group duties discovering all that’s new, innovative and on-trend in flying to the Middle East and beyond.

Flying direct from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi (Etihad offers daily flights, about 14 hours in the air) the first few days were spent exploring the exciting developments and activities of ever-evolving capital of the United Arab Emirates before flying direct to London on Etihad again before a brief flight with Iceland Air to Reykjavic for a few more days. My Fire & Ice adventure showcased two vastly different worlds with much to offer any incentive travel or group travel objectives.

Let’s begin with Abu Dhabi.

Grand Mosque & the Louvre

Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s fast developing cities, but what you will really notice are the theatres, galleries and art centres. Two standouts include the largest mosque in the country, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and the latest architectural masterpiece attracting art lovers from far and wide, Louvre Abu Dhabi. The Grand Mosque is a structure built for everyone from around the world to feel welcomed in a show of strength for cultural diversity. It’s very glamourous with a floor made of marble and huge flowers representing the world (uniting everyone). Highlights are the reflective pools in the courtyard, beautiful domes and the prayer hall with a huge chandelier. I’ve been there twice now and no one visit is the same. Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the Grand Mosque was to incorporate architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations.

Louvre Abu Dhabi is an outstanding visual feast, which delivers on its aim of being a “universal museum on a mission to create human connections through art, dating from prehistory to the present” and has designed special corporate and group experiences.

Yas Island

Take your pick for adventure at Yas Island and quality hotels. An inspection and lunch at impressive Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi revealed a few key points of appeal, none the least being the hotel is set on the Grand Prix circuit, catering well for small and large groups, and there are rooms with views of the Formula 1 track. With access to Yas Beach, ocean views over the marina and a deluxe spa, this is five-star luxury with a racy twist. Nearby is Ferrari World and you will discover adventure activities galore at Yas Island Waterworld. There’s even a Yas Marina Circuit drive experience available for those with an urge to take a car out on the track.

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers

Anyone who visits Abu Dhabi will come away with an everlasting visual of five quite dramatically sculpted towers known as Etihad Towers. With sunset views of the Arabian Gulf, it was my second stay at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers which is a multicultural hotel experience, notably with staff who pay very special attention to detail and service – Middle Eastern touches are found throughout for a true sense of place. There’s an observation deck on the 74th floor for 360-degree views of Abu Dhabi’s skyline, Talise Spa for some pampering, and  meetings and events spaces are ideal for business and conferences including a stunning Mezzoon Ballroom and Under The Oculus is a spacious pre-function area with indoor terrace views of the sea.

Now for a cool change…

From desert sands to glaciers & a blue lagoon

It’s not every day you find a way to be standing in 38-degree celcius heat in the middle of the desert to rugging up in the 5-degree fresh chill of Iceland within a day. We arrived in broad daylight at 11.30pm after an enjoyable flight with Iceland Air, which is such a great airline. Reykjavik certainly provided a contrasting experience compared with Abu Dhabi, including the people, culture, environment and activities. Expect the unexpected in this part of the world: such good looking people who are friendly, and nothing is too hard when it comes to helping visitors. It’s not overcrowded, despite being such a small place, and it’s probably worth noting you won’t find any Uber as everything is concentrated in town. There is minimal public transport but it’s easy to get around town with private transfers.

The hotel scene is diverse so it suits all budgets whether you choose to stay at the more upscale and boutique lagoon-hugging Silica Hotel or something with a more business focused and polished offering at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica.

For groups, this is a place for outdoor activities including what should be an essential visit to Blue Lagoon (pictured above), where mineral-rich hot water from deep within the earth forms the lagoon and a health spa has been developed in the rugged lava landscape. The lagoon’s geothermal seawater is known for its positive effects on the skin. You can get a pass and stay all day in the water, with a swim up bar in the middle for refreshments. There’s a great restaurant on the premises called Lava.

Snowmobiles and buggies on ice

Iceland’s famous Glacier is about an hour’s drive from Reykjavik and is a must visit. An outdoor adventure playground, it’s a unique glacier that can’t be compared with any in Canada, and you really get a sense of quite literally being at the end of the world. The Icelanders are very proud of their vehicles and a snowmobile experience on the glacier is very safe and fun, even for those who may not be so adventurous at heart like me. Opposite to the glacier, another option it to go onto dirt roads in “Buggy Cars”, perfect for Adrenalin junkies. All gear (helmet, gloves and wet suit) is supplied and it’s great fun. The buggies really shake you up for a more rough and ready experience. On the way to the glacier, it’s worth checking out the well known Geysir which surges up every seven minutes or so and is often surrounded by hundreds of people with their cameras. Another stop is Gullfoss Waterfall, one of the most photographed attractions in Iceland, so there are plenty of great places to see and experience on the way there or back.

Harpa for events or a beautiful dinner

Harpa offers excellent facilities for events whether they be concerts, conferences, exhibitions, meetings or other cultural occasions. Recently built and a spectacular modern looking building from outside, it can be booked for small or large groups. Events aside, Harpa is the kind of beautiful setting you can simply enjoy an amazing cocktail or dinner, too, while overlooking the water.

Janna Kogan

About Janna Kogan

Janna Kogan is an experienced traveller and travel industry insider currently working at Totem Group, the experts in conference, small group travel, events and incentive travel management.

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