Looking up at the enchanting dome that sits above Louvre Abu Dhabi might be my favourite view in the city. During the day, the light pierces its intricate cutwork, scattering sporadically to gently decorate the intentionally blank canvas below. As night falls, the dome comes alive with thousands of inviting lights imitating the stars above. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel's "museum city" is designed to evoke wonder in all states – it's a permanent work of art in itself.
For me, though, there is something about the night-time. The dome's glow projects a certain magic, and seeing this up close while bobbing silently on the calm, glassy waters that surround the structure induces a new kind of awe.
I've joined about 30 people to try a newly launched experience in the capital that offers the chance to kayak in the waters around the Louvre at night. Watersports company Sea Hawk has been offering daytime kayak trips for a few months now, but the night excursions have been launched especially for the summer.
It might be just after 8.30pm, but there's no two ways about it: it's hot. And the occasional splash of bath-warm water from the end of the paddle does little to cool us down. Logistically, kayaking in a relatively small space with a large group of people takes a bit of manoeuvring, and there's some hanging around and several bumper-car moments as we wait for everyone to board their floats.
There are single and double kayaks on offer, depending on whether you fancy exploring alone or as a pair. Unsure of my ability to navigate some of the smaller spaces around the Louvre solo, I convince my colleague Sarah – a far superior boatman – to take the helm in our two-person vessel. After about 15 minutes, we follow our guide to the first viewpoint at the back of the museum. The night tours run twice a month, to coincide with the full moon, and as we slow and turn to look back, a looming, red moon rises from behind the Louvre’s dome. Right on cue.
We stop to hear our guide tell us how this building, which seems to float alongside us on the inky Arabian Gulf, was 10 years in the making – but I am only half listening. Beyond this great structure, the lights of Abu Dhabi twinkle in the distance, and save for the enthusiastic narration of our guide, I realise we are in complete silence out here on the edge of Saadiyat Island. It’s a whole new perspective on the UAE’s capital.
We carry on around the outside of the museum, close enough to its smooth ivory edges to appreciate what an engineering feat this building truly is. And as we turn the corner, we are directed to kayak along a narrow canal into the heart of the museum, the day’s straggling visitors staring at us from the windows above as we do. Here, we are told more about the Louvre’s triumphant dome. It might look delicate, light and intricate from the ground, almost like a balanced basket top, but we’re told this structure weighs 7,500 tonnes – that’s 200 more than the Eiffel Tower.
We weave through narrow passages and under bridges – something we are told the previous night's group were unable to do because of high water levels – before arriving at the museum's heart. We are directly underneath the dome, heading towards the steps that lead from the atrium to the water. Here, we are left to float, marvel and take it all in, enjoying a peaceful moment interrupted only by the sound of birdsong coming from the dome above.
I ask our guide about this noise, surprised to hear such a chorus at this time in the evening. "Some of it is real, but some of it is a recording," he admits. The tangle of spaces within the dome would make perfect nesting spots for birds, he says, although it would likely cause damage to the building. Still, the recordings create an enchanting illusion as they echo around the otherwise silent space.
An hour is over in a flash and we are back at our start point, needing to disembark before the next of the evening's tours. We may not have entered Louvre Abu Dhabi, but the night was a work of art in itself.
Night kayaking events at Louvre Abu Dhabi will take place on Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14. Visit www.sea-hawk.ae