A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER: Ritz-Carlton Grand Tour
Altitudes joins the Ritz-Carlton Grand Tour to experience three hotels over one long weekend.
Arranging a staycation in the UAE is straightforward enough: book a hotel room, turn up, sit by pool, read book, get dressed, go for dinner. It’s a tried and trusted method used by ‘weekenders’ across the region. But, what if there was another (considerably more exciting) way of spending three nights locally?
What if you were to stay at three different hotels on the three different days, taking in a range of activities as you go? This way you get an action packed weekend, with a totally different feel to each day. Imagine starting your long weekend off drag racing in Abu Dhabi on a Wednesday morning and finishing it of with a coffee on the beach in Muscat on the Saturday.
Well, that’s exactly what Altitudes did, taking the wheel of a Maserati Levante Trofeo and joining a group of supercar drivers on the Ritz-Cartlon Grand Tour, which started with breakfast on the lawn of the Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal.
Thanks to the generous 140km/h maximum speed limit on the E11, Dubai dwellers can make it to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal in just over an hour – absolutely so worth it if just for the hotel’s many views. Arguably one of the capital’s most picturesque establishments, you’re spoilt for choice here when it comes to both places to eat and what they overlook. Chose from Mijana, Dolce, Giornotte, The Forge and Li Jiang and enjoy the view of the canal to the east and the magnificence of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the west. It’s an awesome start to the day, made even more impressive by our RC Grand-Tour car line up which included three Aston Martins, a Ferrari 599, a trio of Alfas and nine Maseratis, including my Levante Trofeo, which was about to surprise me in more than one way.
Now here’s the great part of the trip. Instead of settling down in the hotel and braking out the swimwear and book, we jumped in the motors and made the short trip over to Yas, for a morning of drifting (in Yas’ new Caterhams), F1 pit stop practice and drag racing. The staff and driving instructors are top notch here and it wasn’t long before the morning got super competitive, to a point where we were more than ready for the next stage, a relaxing night at the Ritz-Carlton JBR. Despite this resort being home-turf fro a number of The Tour, it was a delight to get out of our ‘racing gear’ pop some shorts on and just chill. Again, there was a wealth of culinary experiences available, and post sundowners turned into a night of chat and for some, nervous anticipation for the next day’s activities.
Just over two hours way from the comfort of the Ritz-Carlton JBR is something completely different. Heading deep into Ras Al Khaimah, the scenery changes from desert sand dunes, to what appears to be a Martian landscape. The colossal Hajar Mountain range rises out of the earth and we’re heading up Jebel Jais, to the highest peek in the Emirates. Renowned amongst the UAE’s car enthusiasts, the wide mountain road snakes 30 kilometres into the sky and today our group has a police escort up it. That is apart from me, as thanks to a pit stop to check on my cats (another bonus of staycations!) I’m free to head up at my own pace, which thanks to the Trofeo’s Ferrari-sourced, 574bhp, twin turbo V8, was quite brisk. Windows down, sunroof open, it was only the unsettling drop that kept me from maximum attack mode, but even so, I still arrived at the top car park on a wave of adrenalin. Far braver members of the group headed to the peak of the mountain to slide off it, but I wimped out and let my fellow thrill-seekers torpedo down the world’s longest zipline at up to 150km/h. In fact, by the time the last daredevils had strapped themselves into their harnesses, I was relaxing in my own private pool villa at the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert.
As far secluded resorts go, the Al Wadi Desert takes some beating. Set in a 1,235-acre protected preserve, your neighbours are far more likely to be Arabian oryx and gazelle, than actual people. It’s a completely chilled vibe out here in the desert. Everything (apart from the swift concierge service) is relaxed and aimed at helping you escape from city life. Activities include a desert trek on camel or horseback, private archery lessons or an evening of stargazing. For our all too brief stay, we enjoyed a falconry demonstration and a dinner under the stars, deep in the desert.
With two days to go, it was time to jump behind the Levante’s wheel and point its vented bonnet towards the Hatta border and Oman. For anyone who hasn’t crossed into Oman, it’s now relatively easy, especially so on a Friday. We were in and out within 20 minutes and then it was a straight drive down the R1 (Batinah Costal Highway) to Muscat. It’s true what they say, Omanis are one of the friendliest people on the planet and their courteous nature extends to the roads too. It was a refreshing change to experience drivers actually using their indicators and pulling into the right hand lane after overtaking. It made the 320 kilometer journey a pleasant one, arriving at the magnificent Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace refreshed and ready for some restploration. Al Bustan is a resort that you can happily stroll around and explore. It all starts in the hotel lobby, where a three tonne Swarovski crystal chandelier hangs from a soaring domed ceiling. The sheer scale of the lobby stops you in your tracks and sets you up for the rest of the stay. Walking around the grounds (all 200 beachfront acres of it) you can find a mixture of traditional culture with modern amenities. There’s five dining venues at the resort, along with the Six Senses Spa and newly renovated rooms and suites. It’s everything you could need in a hotel and the laid back atmosphere was the perfect antidote to a hugely varied three days.
Driving back to Dubai on the Saturday, it was time to reflect on a thoroughly busy road trip. Staying at a different Ritz-Carlton hotel with a unique vibe every night opened our eyes to exactly what you can achieve in a long weekend. It was easy to plan, never rushed and full of surprises from really catching the drag racing bug at Yas, to the way Omani garage attendants will always come and shake your hand. As for the Levante Trofeo, more of that in the next issue.