Waldorf Drive: Get In Gear For An Unforgettable Weekend Of Speed

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Road testing the new McLaren 650S

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.

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Left to right: Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Huracan, Ferrari 458 Italia and the McLaren 650S

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?

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Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah

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!”

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Getting to grips with the various supercars as we snake our way through the jagged Jabel Al Jais mountain range

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.

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The beautiful wheels of the Lamborghini Huracan

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You won’t miss me!

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.

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Winding down a gear as we arrive in style at the palatial Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah

“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.”

Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah

Waldorf Astoria Ras al Khaimah

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.

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In Europe – guests can book Waldorf Astoria Driving Weekends in Versailles (pictured), Rome, 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

Emirati Safari

Who would think of setting out to the Emirates for a Middle Eastern road trip? You might not have until now but with the fantastic option of luxury hotels opening in a number of the lesser known Emirates, I was very excited to set off on a Middle Eastern adventure visiting new properties in the ever growing exciting metropolis, Dubai, and its grown up sophisticated sister, Abu Dhabi.

Anantara Dubai is one of the newest and exciting luxury openings on the exclusive Palm Jumeirah. The over water villas are the first of their kind in the UAE and the lagoon access rooms are a perfect option for those who prefer a pool dip rather than plunging in the ocean, accessible right from your room!

The view from one of Over Water Villas

The view from one of Over Water Villas

Everyone is always struck by the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff who make you feel like a veritable Sheik during your stay!

Anantara’s unique culinary and gourmet experiences are a must try for foodie guests and those looking for a bit of an adventure at Anantara Dubai The Palm. T

Dining by Design is a very special dining experience….expect lanterns on the beach and endless courses of exquisite food. We had the Arabian experience so were lavished with delicious mezze!

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Fans adorn the ceiling of the private dining room at Mekong

The Spice Spoons Culinary Journey was led by the charming Chef Piroon Pumicome, who guides you through a three course Thai feast that you enjoy for lunch. We made a deliciously fresh green papaya salad (make sure you go easy on the chili…I was far too ambitious), green curry made with a fresh curry paste (the store bought version will never be the same!) and mango rice pudding. If you weren’t proud enough of the fruits of your labours you are also awarded a certificate and given a bag of treats to go home with!

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No trip to Dubai is complete with a trip to the souks where you can feast your eyes on piles of spice and gold…..

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The Beach House is a relaxed dining option by the beach. Check out the Octopus Carpaccio – one of their signature dishes!

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Next stop was the fabulous Desert Palm Dubai, nestled out of town and in its own haven of stables, polo fields and beautiful scenery.

Desert Palm is one of the world’s leading polo venues. In fact from the 18th – 22nd February, they are hosting the Cartier Cup, when the hotel  will be overtaken by a gorgeous and glamorous crowd.

Make sure to take in one of Desert Palm’s famous afternoon teas over a game of polo. Gosh, how civilised!!

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Taking in a chukka

 

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Where do I start?!

Abu Dhabi was the second stop on the Emirati Safari. Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara provides the Abu Dhabi traveller with a very interesting option. Set upon an enormous mangrove marsh, guests can ride across its waters with Ali who tells tales of UAE history or try kayaking at Abu Dhabi’s only kayaking venue.

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I was most impressed by its Anantara Spa which houses Abu Dhabi’s largest hammam. Try out the hammam experience for total relaxation after a long journey or day at work. Have a drink at the rooftop bar that looks over the mangroves for a perfect end to the day.

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A short flight away from the city of Abu Dhabi is the small private Sir Bani Yas Island, that was set up as a Wildlife Reserve by Sheikh Zahed in the 1970’s. Anantara are the only hotel group to have properties on the island making it feel exclusive from the moment you step off the tiny plane.

Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara was the first property on the island, a 64 room hotel perfect for families with numerous activities on offer and a superb spa.

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Anantara’s Al Sahel Villa Resort is Anantara’s newest opening on the island – a South African savannah right in the heart of Sir Bani Yas Island. 30 villas look out on to the Arabian Wildlife Park so prepare to open your curtains in the morning to an inquisitive gazelle or beautiful peacock. The Savannah Grill & Savannah Bar serve up the finest steaks and catch of the day.

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Over the mountain range is the Anantara’s Al Yamm Villa Resort, 30 villas tucked away along the Arabian Gulf coastline (Al Yamm means by the sea). 10 of the villas are set in front of a mangrove marsh and the rest open their doors straight on to white sands and crystal blue waters.

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Al Yamm villas are so tranquil and it is such a romantic spot for escapist couples wanting to feel like the only people on the island. The hotel’s Olio restaurant serves up gourmet Italian cuisine. I went for the Al Yamm Seafood special – a plate piled high of fresh lobster, king prawns, sea bass and juicy mussels.

And of course there is the unforgettable safari, an unmissable activity on the island where some of the world’s most beautiful creatures are almost at arm’s length.

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The Palm Jumeirah from the sky. See you next time, Dubai and Abu Dhabi!

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