Ferrari 458s, Lamborghini Gallardos and Porsche GT3s – all the preserve of hedge fund managers, rock gods and hedge fund managers, right? Well, only up to a point, thanks to a supercar package recently re-launched by luxury hotel group Waldorf Astoria.
Under their ‘Driving Experiences’ programme, car enthusiasts – along with lovers of great service, fine dining and luxury – are being invited to part with £899 and drive not one, not two, but three supercars on real roads, in stunning hand-picked locations across North America, Europe and the United Arab Emirates.
As I sample the adventure in Dubai, the build-up is almost unbearable; can the actual experience meet the hype? To start with, there’s the sumptuous Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah – from where our 250km driving route commences – to get to grips with, and it’s impressive. Complete with 300-metre private, sandy beach overlooking the stunning Dubai skyline, a sinuously seductive swimming pool (or two) in shady green gardens, a sumptuous spa, a solicitous personal concierge for each guest, tennis courts, meticulously attentive service, helipad, gracious restaurants and bars and plush, oversized bedroom suites, what’s not to like?
And then there’s the nerve-jangling pre-drive briefing from race legend Didier Theys, tasked with devising and managing the two-and-a-half-hour driving routes, worldwide. “I will put a smile on your face today,” he promises, before running through the rules of the day: don’t scuff the alloy wheels, watch out for speed cameras and “I have a big ego; don’t overtake me!”
Finally we rattle the hotel windows as we push the starter buttons and the highly-tuned engines thunder into life… and we’re off. It’s two and a half hours of petrolhead nirvana as – on a route snaking high into the dramatic Jabel Al Jais mountains north west of Dubai, we throw the cars into sweeping left and right-handers, tight hairpins, and roar down the straights.
We have the best section virtually to ourselves and no wonder; it’s a little-known route blasted from the mountains by a wealthy sheikh in order to reach his summer palace hideaway. He must have played a few computer games first because the twists and turns are better than any racetrack I’ve enjoyed – and with far reaching views over the desert too.
It’s proving addictive but two and a half hours whizz by in a flash as we explore the mountain roads, swapping keys – and stories – in laybys, jumping into the seats of ‘our’ supercars like children in a sweetshop. Then, all too soon, we find ourselves comparing notes on the cars in the cool of the palatial Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah, somehow even grander, somehow more intimate, more relaxed, than the hotel we left earlier on.
“It’s what our customers tell us they want,” says John T.A. Vanderslice, global head, Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts as we sit in the 16th-floor Marjan restaurant, overlooking the Ras’s own long, sandy private beach. “Car lovers want the opportunity to drive these supercars the way they were meant to be driven – on the open road and in the most stunning settings around the world.”
Didier and team are, even now, preparing similarly-challenging driving routes across Europe and North America, with Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences in Phoenix, Arizona, Florida, California, New Orleans, Chicago and Utah in the US. In Europe supercar thrills can be booked in Rome, Versailles, Berlin and Edinburgh.
Their biggest worry must be finding routes that live up to the stunning mountains roads they discovered in the UAE. Will they achieve it? Maybe; I’ll have to go see for myself. I did say it was addictive…
More information at: www.waldorfastoria.com/drivingexperiences