x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 December 2017

Great driving roads: Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road, Al Ain

What’s the greatest driving road in the UAE? Ask a casual punter and the odds are that he or she will answer “Jebel Hafeet”.

The driver-friendly road up Jebel Hafeet. Silvia Razgova / The National
The driver-friendly road up Jebel Hafeet. Silvia Razgova / The National

What’s the greatest driving road in the UAE? Ask a casual punter and the odds are that he or she will answer “Jebel Hafeet”. It’s become almost a cliché, but that doesn’t detract from the fact it’s still a cracking stretch of tarmac that’s rated up there with Italy’s Stelvio Pass and Australia’s Great Ocean Road.

Regarded by many as the place to go in the UAE if you’ve managed to score a supercar for a day, Jebel Hafeet has even been voted the greatest driving road on the planet by various international magazines and websites, such as Edmunds.com.

The 11.7-kilometre ribbon of blacktop stands in stark contrast to the barren, rocky terrain it cuts through, adding to the visual drama as you attack it, or merely meander up at leisurely pace while taking in the panorama as you get closer to its 1,249-metre-high peak. (Just as an aside, Jebel Hafeet isn’t the highest mountain in the UAE, as it’s sometimes labelled – that honour belongs to the 1,910-metre-tall Jebel Jais.)

There are two lanes in the upwards direction and one coming down, and there’s excellent sight lines of the road that lies ahead. This means it’s relatively safe to ascend at pace, but you need to bear in mind that it’s a public road, which means you must consider the safety of other road users – including cyclists who go there to train – above all else. If they catch you driving recklessly, the constabulary will also be more than happy to impound your car and furnish you with a hefty fine. So, have fun, but be responsible while you do it.

There are 21 turns, which range from tight hairpins to fast sweepers, so it’s an enjoyable playground where you can explore your vehicle’s dynamic abilities. The surface is super-smooth, which means even hypercars with rock-hard suspension won’t suffer undue wear and tear, nor will it result in your teeth parting company with your fillings.

I had to have about six runs in each direction when I first set wheel on Jebel Hafeet in a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera back in 2007, and I’m willing to bet that one trip up and down won’t satiate you either.

Your weapon of choice? The snaking ascent up Jebel Hafeet is wide, smooth and offers great visibility, so you can make the most of a car with bags of grunt and ample grip. Something like a Ferrari 458 Speciale or Lamborghini Huracán should do nicely, but there’s fun to be had even in less-exalted machinery.

What else to do while you’re there

Strap in tight: Al Ain Raceway is arguably the finest karting facility in the UAE. It’s fully floodlit and has arrive-and-drive karts, as well as corporate entertainment and conference facilities.

Refresh yourself: At the base of Jebel Hafeet, Green Mubazzarah is a genuine oasis, with hot springs, lake, swimming pools and chalets. Worth a look – and a dip.

Go wild: Al Ain Zoo has more than 4,000 animals that roam in enclosures somewhat resembling their natural habitats. The zoo has also instituted conservation and breeding programmes, which is laudable.

Take a history lesson: Based in the palace of the founding president of the UAE, Al Ain Palace Museum provides a telling insight into the life that was once lived there by Sheikh Zayed and his family.

Settle in: There’s a wide selection of hotels in the area, including Hili Rayhaan by Rotana, Hilton Al Ain and Mercure Grand (at the top of Jebel Hafeet). They range in tariffs and services, so chances are you can find something to suit your tastes and budget.

motoring@thenational.ae