The F1 Travel Guide : Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is the home of The Belgian Grand Prix every year. Many drivers rate it as the best circuit on the calendar.  Kimi Raikkonen, my racing hero, earned the title of "King of Spa" for his brilliant performances here.

I have had the privilege of attending 4 races here - 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2019 and each experience was unique. Nestled in the Ardennes mountains, the track offers views that can only be rivalled by The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria and even then the latter might not appeal to all. Iconic turns like Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Les Combes, La Source, Blanchimont, the Bus Stop dot this legendary circuit, a great many battles have been fought here. The weather is very unpredictable with instances of heavy rain in one sector and bright sunshine in another. The 1998 & 2008 Belgian GPs were testaments to the weather playing havoc. The track also offered quite a lot of challenges with regards to marshalling and extrication of stricken cars due to its old-school layout but its a circuit like no other!

This circuit will kickstart my "F1 Travel Guide" series!!


The Circuit Layout :


Official Website :

https://www.spa-francorchamps.be/en


Location :

The Circuit is located in the town of Stavelot, close to a town called Spa ( the town famous for the Mineral Water company called Spa ) in the region of Wallonia. Nestled in the Ardennes Region, it is also close to the Nurburgring and its older brother Nordschleife ( better known as the Green Hell ) circuits situated on the German side of the hilly region ( also worth a visit ). 


Closest Airports :

International Airports :

Brussels Airport ( BRU ) is a major hub for all international airlines, serving most European Routes, The Americas, Middle-East and Asia. 

I fly Emirates to Brussels via Dubai, multiple connections every day! The Experience is shared here :

https://tech-know-crat.posthaven.com/the-flying-diaries-bom-bru-bom-emirates-first


Dusseldorf Airport ( DUS ) is another major hub ( on the German side ) catering to all the above routes as well.

Cologne Bonn Airport ( CGN ), is closer than Dusseldorf but offers limited connections to the region via the Middle-East.


Intra-Continental Airports :

Liege Airport ( LGG ) & Maastricht Aachen Airport ( MUS ), The closest Airports to the circuit offering limited connections via Spain.

Luxembourg Airport ( LUX ) caters to multiple destinations within Europe through various national and low-cost carriers.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport ( CRL ) is another hub for low-cost carriers in the city of Brussels.


There are a few other major airports like Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Dortmund but I wouldn't recommend them since they go beyond the 200 km radius of Spa-Francorchamps.



Where to stay :

The Towns of Spa, Stavelot, Verviers, Malmedy, Theux are the closest to the circuit and offer a lot of options from Hotels to Inns, Chalets and B&Bs. The rates are inflated over the race weekend and it is highly recommended to book at least 6 months in advance to get a good deal ( most of these are non-refundable rates ). The town of Spa is full of F1 Drivers & Personnel and many oblige those waiting with an autograph or a selfie! Camping is very popular in Europe and the circuit has some fantastic camping sites for those who prefer to bring in their RVs or set up a camping spot over the weekend. 

There is also a Hotel "de La Source" near Turn 1 of the circuit but its sold out ( almost always ) on the race dates. There are other inns and B&Bs near the circuit but be wary of the exorbitant rates over an F1 weekend. 

I prefer giving all the above a miss...


The circuit is also close to big cities like Liege ( Belgium ), Aachen ( Germany ), Maastricht ( Netherlands ) and Hasselt ( Belgium ). Hasselt is the furthest of the lot with the commuting time from the other three being only about 35 to 40 minutes. I haven't stayed at Liege ( yet ) ( haven't heard great reports about safety either ) but Liege is yet another town that fills up pretty quickly for the race weekend. Maastricht and Aachen see a great number of F1 fans and can cater to all budgets. Aachen is the livelier of the two with a mini Oktoberfest happening on the same weekend as F1. Maastricht boasts of equally good restaurants and bars and one can easily become a part of conversations over a drink or a meal! All these cities are well connected to the circuit by rail and the circuit organisers also offer a shuttle service to the track. 

More details on the circuit shuttle here: https://www.spagrandprix.com/en/tickets-city-shuttle 

The above shuttle can cater to fans coming in from Brussels or Amsterdam as well but one must be wary of the travel time which is 4 hours each way. This only gets longer on a Sunday!


Hasselt is my city of choice for the weekend. I have stayed in the city twice ( 2017 and 2019 ). It is only about an hour away from the circuit and offers great hotels at very economical rates. A Park Inn by Radisson costs about 50 Euros a night and there are some options even around the 20 25 Euro mark! The city is also the birthplace of the Rising Dutchman Max Verstappen.

The city has quite an interesting layout, designed in a circular shape...one can go around the bustling parts of town and come back to the starting point easily. The city has some fantastic places to wine and dine, not to forget the bakeries offering Speculoos, the spiced shortcrust biscuit! My friends and I drove down through the weekend and navigation in and out was easy with a parking pass. However, do note that the city isn't covered under the shuttle bus service ( so maybe one can pay the town a visit post or pre-race weekend ).

The cities of Cologne and Luxembourg are 2 other options that are well connected both by rail and shuttle. I did stay in the former during the weekend of the 2013 German GP held at Nurburgring but if one doesn't hire a car, I wouldn't recommend staying there.


Circuit Access :

The circuit isn't the easiest the get to, the expansive layout of the circuit and the forests surrounding it pose a considerable challenge with regards to navigating your way around the track. It can house around 70000 spectators with the stands majorly being around the start-finish straight, the Bus Stop, La Source and Eau Rouge and Raidillon sections. The other areas are general admission viewing areas and a good level of fitness is required to hike up and down the various pathways in and around the circuit. Some spots offer unparalleled views of the circuit so it is worth the effort! The weather is unpredictable ( as mentioned earlier ), so be prepared for the heat, the cold or the rain!

Over the F1 weekend, there are a lot of access restrictions and parking spots can be quite a long walk from certain stands. There is a circuit shuttle which helps reduce commute but is infrequent. Its highly recommended that one studies the circuit map well and opts for appropriate parking passes. There are taxi stands as well but they tend to be overcrowded on evenings (especially post-race ), so its best to wait until a couple of hours after the sessions ( or race ) to easily hail one. If you do hail a taxi to the circuit then be prepared to walk for 30 minutes to reach the grandstands or the paddock club parking area. The Paddock Club runs a shuttle for the VIP guests from thereon. 


F1 Village, Fan Zones :

One of the most frequented zones/areas of an F1 track are the Merchandising shops. There are stores spread across the track and some on the approach road to the Main gate of La Source. There is a heavy concentration of stores at that roundabout, even watches ( Casio Edifice ) are sold there. Those were the only stores selling Alfa - Romeo F1 Merchandise.

The largest concentration of stores ( catering to almost all needs ) is at the F1 Village which is on the outside of the circuit between La Source and Eau Rouge. A lot of Fan events such as performances, drivers' meet and greet, F1 Personnel Interviews and games like Simulator Skills test, Pit Stop or Batak Challenges are held. Those who ace the F1 Simulators get couple passes of the Paddock Club for Sunday! There are a lot of food stalls and Beer Stations along with lounging areas for fans to enjoy the action on track thanks to the giant screens put up there. I have never missed visiting this village, one of the largest on the calendar.


Fan Experiences :

A Pit Lane walk is offered on Thursday to the 3 Day ticket holders. Its a once in a lifetime experience for many. You even get to walk the track and some have been fortunate enough to meet their favourite drivers on their track walks! There are also Drivers' Autograph sessions, details for which are shared by the organisers closer to the dates. It is imperative to reach early to bag that special sign and possibly a selfie with the best in the world of motorsport! F1 Experiences, the official hospitality partner to F1's worldwide races offers various packages and upgrades to existing tickets...these include guided paddock tours, a photo-op with the Race Winning Trophy on Pit Straight, a tour of the Track on the Parade Truck.. a great way to add to the memories made over the weekend.

Finally, the fans are allowed to enter the track after the end of the race and when deemed safe by the marshalls ( better known as "track invasion" ). This is a must-do! I had the privilege of walking up the entire length of Eau Rouge and Raidillon in 2015 and the elevation change is unbelievable!



Apologies in advance for missing any other detail. I shall update this article/guide when I make another visit to the track...the chances of this in 2020 seem bleak..but we hope for the best! Stay home, Stay Safe everyone!

 

The Flying Diaries : BOM - BRU - BOM ( Emirates First )

The Belgian GP is my favourite race on the F1 Calendar and I have attended 4 of the last 5 Grand Prix held at Spa-Francorchamps; also one of my closest friends shifted base to Brussels in 2017 and what better time to meet him than after the Belgian GP weekend. 

Emirates introduced their new Boeing 777-300ER Game Changer Suites ( in First Class ) on the Dubai-Brussels route ( Geneva being the other ) and I was fortunate enough to try it for the first time in 2018. The new fleet of 777-300ER sport not just a fully private First Class suite but also a revamped Business Class and Economy Class! ( more on the First Class Cabin later ).


I opted for EK 501, the solo Airbus A380 service from Mumbai to Dubai ( 430 am departure ) and EK 183 from Dubai to Brussels. The return was on EK 182 ( a red-eye flight ) to Dubai and then EK 506 to Mumbai. The outbound journey was on 29th August 2019 and the inbound on 9th September.


Mumbai - Brussels ( Emirates First ) ( 29th August 2019 ) :

All set to head for Europe!


Emirates Chauffeur drop at the airport, efficient and courteous as ever :


The First Class Lounge at Mumbai Terminal 2, one of the finest lounges in the world :


Food, food and more food! Business Class passengers enjoy an amazing spread in the Buffet and are offered a 15 minute complimentary Foot or Back Massage. First Class travellers are offered an A-la-carte menu besides a complimentary 30 minute massage!


The First Class Suite onboard Airbus A380, the newer fleet of the A380s have also gone through a revamp ( not plying on this route though )


Arabian Coffee & Dates!


Taxiing to the Runway :


Video Link for Takeoff from Mumbai :



Breakfast service to Dubai :


Fruits, Yogurt, Paneer and Pea Toasties for Breakfast :


The descent into Dubai International Airport :


Touchdown on a beautiful morning :


Landing Video :



It was quite a journey from one terminal to another besides getting to a lounge closest to the departure gate for my flight. 

Unwinding in the lounge, was here for a very brief period though :


It was soon time to board the flight for Brussels and I was excited to enjoy the Refreshed First Class Experience all over again!

My abode for 7 hours..opulence!


Commencing departure procedures :


Arabian Coffee & Dates anyone?


Taxiing to the Runway :


Enroute to Brussels and some stunning views of the Dubai Skyline :


Video Link for Takeoff :



Breakfast and Lunch on the Dubai - Brussels leg :


Ginger Ale with some crisps, Chicken & Lemongrass Consomme, Prawn Brisque and Milk Chocolate Cake..an amazing Lunch onboard!


Post lunch I decided on doing a feature on the Game Changer Suite. 

Emirates have done a stellar job on making premium travel even more comfortable. First Class now is a totally enclosed cabin with full height closing doors, a zero gravity seat designed by Mercedes Benz, Bowers & Wilkins E1 Headsets & a huge Screen to enjoy the entertainment onboard, a pair of Binoculars to enjoy the views from your window, Video Calling facility which enables guests to interact with the flight stewards for their culinary needs, even aisle seats now have Virtual Windows where HD Cameras relay live images onto these window screens so everyone can enjoy a view, mood lighting, mini bar and some essentials like a vanity kit, diary and pen etc. ( Apologies on missing out any other major feature, the list runs long!! )

A Quick walkthrough of the Game Changer Suite ( Video Link ) :



Flying over Europe, Love the Interactive Flight Map, a newer edition as well :


Brussels and its suburbs from above :


Hello Belgium!


Landing at Brussels International Airport ( Video Link ) :



I opted to stay in Hasselt over the weekend since it was only 60 minutes away from the race track. The commute to Hasselt from the airport takes about 75 minutes.

Enroute to Hasselt :


Brussels - Mumbai ( Emirates First ) ( 9th September 2019 ) :

A BMW to ferry me to the airport, this time from the Central part of Brussels :


Driving through the streets of Brussels..so much history around us!


Brussels airport, looks more like a mall :


The Brussels Airlines Lounge which doubles up as an Emirates Lounge. This lounge is in need of a serious makeover.. a mediocre spread, non-existent service, dull atmosphere..quite a disappointment.


Back in the Boeing 777-300ER Game Changer Suite! One of the best seats to fly in!


Dates and Coffee, you just cant get enough of this..the Arabian way of welcoming their guests!


Time to say goodbye to Belgium!


Takeoff Video :



Dinner and Breakfast was offered onboard :


Virgin Cucumber Gimlet with Chips, Spring Pea Soup, Porcini Mushroom Risotto & Chocolate Silk Cake for Dinner..stuffed! 


Enjoying Avengers Endgame in HD on a humongous screen coupled with amazing sound quality from the Bowers and Wilkins E1!


The Voyager App, the interactive Flight Map onboard ICE, Emirates' inflight entertainment system - features 3d Maps, flight paths and 3D views from a virtual cockpit!


With 3 hours to land, I decided to get some sleep!


A foggy morning while descending into Dubai :


Dubai International Airport :


Landing at Dubai International Airport ( Video Link ) :



Shots of the Lounge in Dubai :


Making our way to the Aircraft from the terminal, a 25 minute bus ride :


Seats onboard the Boeing 777-300ER, I decided to not upgrade myself from Business to First for this leg ( preserving miles for a long haul flight next year ).


Pushback and takeoff!


Beautiful views of the Dubai Skyline :


Video Link of the Takeoff, bound for Mumbai :



Breakfast service on the final leg :


Aloo Methi with Sabudana Wada, a proper Indian fare for Breakfast :


Nearing touchdown at Mumbai :


Touchdown Mumbai :


Video Link :



The ride home :


I am a big fan of the Emirates Game Changer Suite! I really hope more routes are added featuring the new fleet. The Food onboard was amazing, the service impeccable, the lounge in Brussels was the only disappointment. 

The Flying Diaries will feature a new airline in the next post..an unexpected journey to the Far East! We take a brief pause in the series to first Review the 2019 F1 Season. 


Watch this space!