Kuala Lumpur F1 is one of the more exotic destinations on the Grand Prix calendar. Often nicknamed the ”jewel of Kedah”, Malaysia is fast growing in popularity as a high-end holiday destination with picturesque beaches, excellent food, five star hotels and a bustling, modern capital. KL, as it is commonly referred to, mixes urban glitz with rural charm; large street markets take place underneath high-rise office blocks (Petronas Towers in the city centre remains the world’s tallest twin-towered public building) and designer shops sit alongside craft stools. It’s less atmospheric than some of the circuits, largely due to its remote location, but in many ways that’s one of the biggest allures as visitors can really enjoy the laid-back island lifestyle.
The real Grand Prix enthusiasts tend to stay at the airport hotel for convenience before they fly onto the next destination, but the stunning coastline is only a 40minute drive from the track and the very exclusive resorts of Putraya are a short drive inland. In the city center, Shangri-La is one of the finest and largest hotels with 662 newly renovated guestrooms and 101 suites. Interiors are opulent and tranquil, and the hotel boasts eight in-house restaurants, which serve almost every cuisine available from Catonese at Shang Palace, to sashimi at Zipangu and international food at the Lemon Garden Café. The health club is particularly impressive, fitted with state of the art fitness equipment whilst traditional Chinese treatments can be enjoyed at the spa. Mandarin Oriental is another of the capital’s favorite hotels located close by to the famed Petronas towers and boasting some of the most breathtaking views of the skyline. As expected of the hotel group, the spa is the highlight here, offering unique treatments such as the Tropical rainforest experience, which uses native herbs and spices, and features a soothing foot ritual. The elegant Mandarin Grill is also the best place in the city to eat Wagyu beef with views over the tropical KLCC Park. Else there’s the equally excellent Ritz Carlton hotel, which attracts a high profile clientele (Elle Macpherson and Felipe Massa are regular guests) for its award-winning dining at Li Yen, a Cantonese restaurant serving daily dim sum lunch accompanied by a wide selection of premium traditional Chinese teas.
Post race celebrations usually spill into one of the city’s many sophisticated watering holes such as Marini’s on 57, the city’s highest bar located on 57th floor of Petronas Tower 3 or Heli Lounge on the real helicopter deck of the Menara KH Tower’s 34th floor. If you prefer to drink closer to the ground, try No Black Tie, an upmarket jazz and blues club or else the seductive Sultan Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental has a relaxed vibe for cocktails.
If there’s time to spare in-between spectating and socializing, make like the KLites and hit the shops. Suria KLCC sells a well-curated mix of designer and high street brands, whilst the restored Art-Deco style Central Market is the top spot for souvenirs, hand-crafted jewelry and gifts. Otherwise, soak up the rich Malaysian culture at the temple complex of Batu Caves, a pilgrimage site with a 48 metre high golden statue of Hindu deity Lord Murugan. There’s a 272-step climb to the shrine-filled Temple Cave, which can be a struggle in the humidity, but it’s manageable if you’re equipped with a bottle of water and the right shoes, and it’s certainly worth effort when you reach the top. On a longer trip venture to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, 16 kilometres from downtown, for a bird’s-eye panoramic view of the rainforest canopy from the rope bridge or walk along one of the winding trails to spot monkeys and tropical birds hiding in the trees.