NOW it may seem that in a country where summer temperatures top 50°C, the opportunities for meaningful sports-related activity are limited.
Then again, this desert emirate, the biggest of the United Arab Emirates, in which Dubai is its little brother, has a wonderful winter climate where daytime temperatures are around 26°C, perfect for sweating it out on the golf course, the cricket pitch or the race track. Abu Dhabi is unashamedly aiming for the luxury tourism end of the market, with a profusion of new five-star hotels from big groups such as Westin, Rocco Forte and Park Hyatt, but it wants its visitors to be able to both work and play hard.
BEST FOR LEAVING THE CITY BEHIND
Not much more than 60 years ago, Abu Dhabi was rapidly declining. Then came oil riches and the transformation into a modern metropolis. To escape the urban sprawl, take to the mangrove swamps that once encircled this desert kingdom. It’s a tranquil way of leaving the 21st century behind under paddle power and experiencing what this wildlife-rich area must once have been like. Encounters with egrets, herons, sandpipers, cormorants and flocks of pink flamingos are on the menu (www.divemahara.com).
BEST FOR JENSON BUTTON WANNABES
The sheikh of Abu Dhabi spent a lot of money creating his stupendous race track which plays host to Formula One every November. A shot on the actual track, sited on Yas Island, may be difficult, but the next best thing is to don a race driver’s suit, select a helmet and gloves and get behind the wheel of the powerful karts at the nearby Kartzone (www.yasmarinacircuit.ae). It’s a twisty track that gives the impression of far higher speeds than you are actually doing, but sharp brakes keep everything stable and safe.
HORSES FOR COURSES
The emirate is one of the fastest growing golfing destinations in the Middle East. There may not be many courses so far but what is there makes up for it in quality. At the top is the Abu Dhabi Golf Club (www.adgolfclub.com) itself, where Scottish golf director Scott McGaw is delivering a first-class experience on the course that traditionally opens the European Tour. ADGC is the oldest championship course in the emirate and the closest to the city centre. Its 27-hole classic and mature layout winds through the lakes that supply the millions of gallons of desalinated water that keep this patch of desert green. For Scots nostalgia, however, head to the fabulously sited Yas Links (www.yaslinks.com), where golf architect Kyle Phillips has woven a magical Scottish links course from virgin desert.
BEST FOR SIGHTSEEING
Combine your sport with a bit of leisurely sight-seeing by hiring bikes and heading down the mile-long corniche that fronts Abu Dhabi city. Solo vehicles are perfect for speed, but more fun are the quadricyles that will take a whole family. From the cycle stand near the Emirates Palace Hotel, head off towards Marina Mall and the lighthouse or pedal in the opposite direction, past the beaches where Abu Dhabi’s expats come to swim. Bikes can be hired at the various ‘stations’ along the 8km stretch, and it is the best way to get an open-air view of the Abu Dhabi seafront skyline.
BEST FOR ADRENALIN
Impossible to ignore as you drive into town from the airport is the astonishing Ferrari-red roof of Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park (www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com). The Italian luxury car maker built this astonishing structure to cater for petrol heads, and it has a range of rides all themed around the motor vehicle, with the fastest rollercoaster in the world. After riders don safety glasses, Formula Rossa hurls them at speeds of up to 240km per hour out into the hot desert air through a series of tight, ground-hugging curves with nausea-inducing views of the Gulf. Thrill-seekers will love it but there are more sedate rides for the fainter of heart. Simulators give you a taste of what it is like to race one of the world’s best known marques.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 2 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West