Light in darkness
On the border between Oman and the United Arab Emirates a wonderful, seemingly endless mountain road with panoramic views stretches out to the horizon, making it a true pleasure to drive with a
There is nothing quite like a long mountain road, with a smooth, consistent combination of long, flowing curves, making steering corrections almost unnecessary. Good visibility as well as a wide runoff zone to handle eventualities with the necessary elegance instill a deep sense of calm in the driver, allowing him to gradually exploit all of the performance capabilities of a fine machine such as the
The topography of the landscape surrounding Dubai is considered one of the most attractive in the Middle East. The region’s one truly long road starts at the coast, in the midst of a skyscraper oasis full of daring, slender, tall, and populated towers, and runs south for about 165 kilometers. At the border between the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman, a range of mountains rises out of the sand. Jebel Hafeet—a bizarre upheaval of light-colored rock that shimmers in faded hues of marbled rose in the light of the setting sun—is 26 kilometers long and nearly 5 kilometers wide, and rises up to 1,350 meters above sea level.
The striking sand dunes of the United Arab Emirates are not entirely new to the
In downtown Dubai, the
Here, in this oasis of dazzling light and magnificent wealth, the car can be anything that circumstances demand: an off-road vehicle with ample clearance suitable for the desert, or, simultaneously, a sports car with a resounding output, generous torque, and select features such as sports seats, a sports steering wheel, and an instrument panel with five circular gauges. The interior of the GTS is generously lined with black Alcantara® and decorated with deviated stitching in the color of the car—in this case, Carmine Red.
Dubai is expanding in all directions with its man-made islands in the Arabian Gulf and skyscrapers such as the nearly 830-meter Burj Khalifa. Additional districts and their business parks are sprouting up in between, creating the need for more city highways with six, eight, or ten lanes plus frontage roads as well as corresponding gigantic intersections and turnoffs. Visitors have a good chance of losing their way. Luckily, the
Once outside Dubai, the long journey begins, covering around 160 kilometers straight through the desert to the oasis city of Al Ain. A four-lane freeway without a single curve, on which speed is monitored by radar at regular intervals—none of this is a challenge for the
Al Ain is spread-out and flat, with a population surpassing 600,000 inhabitants on the same surface area as Paris. Most of its streets have three lanes, and its roundabouts look like miniature racetracks. Were it not for speed limits and traffic lights, you could keep your right foot firmly planted on the gas pedal. We pass more long straight stretches interspersed with roundabouts, more rock formations on the horizon, and finally the saturated color of the Green Mubazzarah, a series of hot springs in the desert with an adjacent lake, along with meadows that resemble golf courses.
The speedy progression is due both to the car’s generous torque of 600 newton-meters and to the mountain road itself. Jebel Hafeet is not the paved modern version of an ancient camel route in Oman or a Bedouin trail over the mountains, but rather, quite simply, a scenic road with an ideal layout. And ideal layout means: there are no abrupt changes in the gradient; the road ascends and descends at a regular rate; and—even more important—the road shows no variation in its curve radius.
These curves are splendidly laid and meticulously asphalted, forming a well-conceived and calculated ribbon of black pavement through the rocky outcropping at the edge of a hospitable desert. The curves are so similar and uniform in radius that no corrections are needed at the wheel. Once you turn the wheel, the
These conditions generate a constant gentle rhythm born of the desert and shaped by the walls of rock. The
The road embodies the simple philosophy that the journey is actually the destination. On driving up you will reach the top at some point and enjoy a wide-ranging view of the surroundings. To the south lies Oman, or the Omani desert, without any roads or settlements, and gazing north toward Dubai you first see the level city of Al Ain. If the sky were clear, as in the European Alps, the slender height of the Burj Khalifa would be visible on the horizon. What dominates here, however, is flickering heat and shimmering air.
From an aerial perspective, the road with its layer of black asphalt looks like a racetrack for model cars. From the
Of course, there is also traffic. On weekdays the road is essentially empty, with a few locals adhering strictly to the speed limit as they drive moderately uphill and humbly downhill. Knee-level crash barriers line the road even before the walls of rock begin. Two lanes up: no scratches. One lane down: uh oh—numerous black skid marks reveal intense contact between cars and the concrete wall, often along the entire course of a curve. And on the lower part of the road a truck lies on the slope below, picturesquely placed like a steel sculpture on a rock.
The true character of Jebel Hafeet comes alive at night. Traffic starts up when a deep blackness sets in above the streetlamps. SUVs, sedans, and motorcycles fill the parking spots, and their passengers set up small caravansaries replete with carpets and ghetto blasters high above the desert. The wind begins to blow, the temperature drops from over 40 to a comparatively cool 30 degrees Celsius, children engage in lively games, the curves echo with the sound of engines, and the lights of civilization glow in the city of Al Ain.
By Eckhard Eybl
Photos by Victor Jon Goico
What to do on Jebel Hafeet
This scenic road climbs higher than the Burj Khalifa skyscraper and offers stunning views of the desert.
Not in the summer
Daytime temperatures in the summer can climb to over 50 degrees Celsius, which is why the other seasons are more conducive to traveling in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai offers tourists a high-grade infrastructure and many recreational opportunities.
An SUV offers an intense, close-up encounter with the desert’s many sand dunes and rock formations. Desert camps preserve traditional Middle Eastern splendor in the shadow of the high-tech metropolis of Dubai. There are two large buildings on the crest of Jebel Hafeet: a palace of the ruling family and a Mercure hotel—both with spectacular views.
Luxury in Dubai
Book a ride up to the observation platform of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a few days beforehand. The Dubai Mall, located within sight of the Burj Khalifa, features not only all of the world’s luxury brands but also an enormous aquarium, including sharks that swim in restless rounds.