Jebel Hafeet stands 1,240 metres high and is the tallest peak in the Abu Dhabi region, and the second tallest in the UAE. It sits on the edge of Al Ain and is only a 90-minute drive away from the cities. It’s worth making the effort even on the hottest day. Believe me, it’s a pleasant surprise when you get to the top and brace yourself for the furnace that greets you when you open the car door, only to find that it is actually a couple of degrees cooler. It may not be a big difference, but living in a frying pan we’ll take those couple of degrees any time we can.
The road that winds its way up the steeply sided mountain switches to offer some great vantage points. Along the route there are several parking areas to allow you to stop and click away with your camera.
The aerial view allows you to get some geographical perspective on your surroundings. If you’re travelling from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you’ll pass sand dunes, some impressively orange in colour, and then you’ll hit Al Ain, with its long straight roads and roundabouts. But once you’re half way up Jebel Hafeet you get a better understanding of how the land is constantly changing. They say that sand will eventually cover everything leaving no trace, if left unchecked, and from your elevated position you can see the creep of the sand dunes, trickling over the scrub. The flat scrub then gives way to rocky outcrops, which rise steeper and steeper out of the ground until they erupt into the surrounding mountains.
You don’t have to travel far to see things from a different perspective. You just have to get in the car and drive. And take a picnic and a camera.
The practical bit
Probably the only hotel commanding such a view, the Mercure Grand Hotel Jebel Hafeet is in a super location with restaurants taking full advantage of its pinnacle position. The only things grand about the hotel however, is its title. It’s a little disappointing in terms of the quality of food and service. Although dated, it is basically clean. The rooms are on the small side for a family. We asked for a twin double room, to share with our two children, but the beds were not a standard size and not much bigger than a single; rather too snug for two adults to share comfortably.
There are spa services, but I’m not sure whether I’ve had the worst or the best massage of my life. If you opt for a pampering don’t be surprised if this is not what you get. Less pampered and more pummeled. My husband described how he was hoisted up the bed by the masseuse putting her fingers in his ears and then had his eyeballs vibrated by an electronic massager. I’m not entirely sure if he was complaining.
Things to do:
· Al Ain zoo – Compared to others this is a spacious and well-maintained zoo, which caters for rare breeds and endangered species too. It’s open 365 days a year but only during the evenings in the summer. www.awpr.ae
· Watch towers and forts – Al Jahili is one of the oldest forts in the UAE and the birthplace of the late Sheikh Sayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, founder of the nation. The Al Ain Museum is also worth visiting if you want an introduction to the region’s early history.