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Why an imitation Santorini has appeared on the edge of the desert

By Ana De Oliva, CNN

(CNN) — White, domed buildings cascading into crystal blue waters.

To the eye, it’s unmistakable. It’s the world-famous holiday destination of Santorini, Greece.

But, something feels different. Perhaps it’s the hotter desert-climate breeze, or the Arabic calligraphy across the signage. A few hints here and there point towards the resort’s actual location: Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

The Anantara Santorini Abu Dhabi Retreat opened in February this year and is an hour’s drive away from the capital’s downtown. The concept is entirely inspired by the renowned Greek island.

Inside and out, it’s a world of white, beige and blue, marked by arched corridors and doorways. Its bespoke artwork, ambient music and detailed embroidery on the linen all add up to a Mediterranean fantasy.

Yet, beyond the intricate décor, for Rachid Bakas, the property’s general manager, it’s Abu Dhabi’s natural beauty that truly draws the link between both locations.

“You see the color of the sea next to us, and then the concept really comes together,” says Bakas. “The idea of Santorini really fits within this location, and that’s what makes this design immaculate.”

Not ‘Chinatown’ or ‘Disneyland’

Replicas are not usually marketed as a luxurious experience. But, Anantara Santorini could be an exception. Its lowest-priced room costs approximately $800 per night. That’s double the average of Greece’s Santorini hotels during high season, according to Tripadvisor.

If the price isn’t an advantage, why would a traveler prefer to visit the hotel in Abu Dhabi, and not fly to Greece?

“It’s exclusive,” says Bakas.

“This gives you that intimacy, this gives you that privacy. It’s a hideaway – which you might not have actually in Santorini because especially in summer, everywhere is packed, everywhere is busy.”

Structurally, the hotel is divided into 22 rooms, accommodating a maximum of 44 guests at a time. All rooms lead to a living room-like common area, purposefully giving a very homey atmosphere, while encouraging visitors to walk through the facility’s different environments.

“The element of surprise is within the hotel itself and from the moment you walk, you keep discovering some nice corners and spaces,” says Bakas.

Anantara Santorini offers a range of experiences, including a cigar lounge, a cinema, a spa and yoga sessions by the pool or beach. Yet, more than entertainment, the hope is that guests can simply enjoy calmness and tranquility.

“Sometimes, people just want to be left alone, they don’t want to be asked to do activities all the time, and this is the balance that we offer,” the manager explains.

One more factor contributes to the facility’s quietness: a restricted age group. The minimum age for check-in is 18, even if accompanied by parents or guardians.

“You can really unwind, and feel away, and relax,” Bakas says. “It was not an easy decision, but we really wanted to be on a different level [than other resorts in the region].”

Fifty shades of white

While hoping to leave an impression on the guests, the hotel staff also work hard to remove certain marks. The white walls are kept impeccably white, and there’s a team dedicated to just that.

“We have two painters on site, and their daily job is to go around and do touch-ups,” Bakas reveals.

The painters go around the rooms in between check-outs and check-ins, making sure all the surroundings are not gray, beige or eggshell – just white.

“After the touch-ups, you need to make sure that the color looks the same, we want to make sure people don’t see different strokes, so really, it’s a crazy big part of our preventive maintenance,” Bakas sighs, as he looks at the walls and ceilings, with a smile.

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