I arrive in a bustling Abu Dhabi only to drive straight out again to the tranquil sanctuary of Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa, a new addition to the Anantara portfolio that opened in June 2012. The hotel offers views of the mangroves and a glimpse of the Corniche’s skyscrapers, best viewed from the rooftop bar, Impressions. Chandeliers aplenty brighten the opulent dark wood, green and gold decor.
Although the hotel doesn’t boast a huge number of restaurants, the food on offer is first-rate. Ingredients café uses organic produce, while Thai restaurant Pachaylen offers dishes such as chor muang and gaeng massaman curry. A word of warning: the food can be on the spicy side, so ask for the chilli to be toned down you have a gentle palate.
If you can prise yourself away from the pool, the hotel organises excursions including kayaking, although I have my sights on the spa. My Turkish hammam begins with a splash of cold water on my feet, before my body is bathed, exfoliated, massaged and rinsed. This is followed by a blast of cool water: it’s a shock to the system, yet afterwards I feel refreshed and cleansed.
The following day, I head over to Yas Marina Circuit, where I’m scheduled to take to the F1 track for SST Supersport Passenger Experience (aka a ride in a very fast car). In the locker room I change into the necessary protective gear of heavy overalls and trainers, but I can barely tie the laces: I’m a nervous wreck, contemplating how fast I might go. After several minutes of sweating trackside in the summer heat, I finally pull on my cotton balaclava, crash helmet and thick padded gloves, and I’m ready to go.
The compact two-seater car looks a bit like a Le Mans vehicle, and it doesn’t have a windscreen, let alone doors: climbing in requires a fair bit of manoeuvring. I get settled into the tiny seat – it’s scarily close to the ground – and am told to hold on tight to a bar at the side of the car. As I grab on, I can feel my hands shaking.
I ask my driver what speed we’re likely to reach as we power round the circuit. He genuinely doesn’t know, but tries to reassure me that it will be no faster than driving in a taxi on Sheikh Zayed Road. I’m right not to believe him.
As we accelerate down the pit lane, I cling onto the side of the car for dear life. For the next 20 minutes we zigzag around chicanes at top speed as I’m flung from side to side. The lightness of the car and its closeness to the road means I can feel the speed build at every straight and on every bend.
Despite my nerves, it turns out to be an exhilarating, thoroughly exciting experience, and the closest I’m ever likely to get to proper Formula 1 racing: between my squeals I find myself actually wanting to go faster. After 3.3km it’s all over, only too soon. Maybe next time I’ll try the dragster for the sheer thrill of being catapulted to 300kph in four seconds. Bring it on…
Need to know
Where to stay
Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa Doubles in November (post-F1) start at Dhs760 per night (advance purchase). www.abu-dhabi.anantara.com (02 656 1000).
What to do
SST Supersport Passenger Experience The driver experience costs Dhs1,200.Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island (800 927).