This incredible beachside resort in Bahrain's capital Manama will make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about the Middle East
It’s hot, glamourous and fascinating. This is the Middle East after all. The best time to go is during the colder months November, late January, February, March and April when the temperature hits the wonderfully pleasant teens and twenties and a blast of winter sun is JUST what body and your mind is really craving. Just a six-hour direct flight away from London, we escaped the ‘beast from the east’ for a dip in the sea and boy, that Vitamin D hit really worked.
Sorry, say it again, Bahrain? Where exactly is that again?
It’s right bang slap at the heart of the Middle East. It’s actually a jigsaw of islands or an archipelago if we’re going to get technical, separated by warm turquoise sea. Think golden desert sand with a pocket of palm fringed beaches.
So it’s just the place for a dip in the sea in February?
Absolutely. We travelled out at the tail end of the January and it was just about hot enough for a quick swim. But don’t fear, all three of the indoor and outdoor pools in the Ritz Carlton are heated to simmering bath-like temperatures at this time of the year, so as long as the sun is shining, which quelle surprise, it always is, you’re to go for a swim. Plus with 11 restaurants and bars, a super chic shopping arcade and it’s own private island you’re definitely not going to get bored in this hotel.
So the hotel’s pretty huge then?
Well urrm yes. There are 245 rooms and suites within this beautifully designed hot spot, think manicured tropical gardens and smart, white buggies to zoom you all over the resort. A big destination for Bahrainis there’s an endless wait-list for drinks (alcohol is not prohibited in Bahrain) in the lobby and afternoon tea in the Ritz Gourmet Lounge, has recently become the latest must-do for swanky Bahraini an hipsters.
Lets talk rooms?
All of them are large, sunlit with fresh modern design features. But as well as views of the ocean there are the practicalities that 5 star hotels should have but often don’t do as well as you might hope. Great hair driers, an in-room ironing board, an easy to operate flat-screen TV, plenty of plugs (my personal bug-bear in hotels) and large well-lit bathrooms. A very nice touch and something you will see all over the hotel is the fresh flowers – each of us were given a exquisite bunch of roses on arrival as well as a generous plate of middle eastern pastries and dates (my new found passion). If your own private villa is your thing you can rent one of their three-bedroomed, three-bathroomed, beach side delights. Each has its own pool and is seconds from the beach if you fancy feeling the sand between your toes. Best of all, each of them comes with their own butler (nice!).
What about the food?
In this hotel you can eat just about anything and everything. Following Dubai, Bahrain is fast becoming a playground for the super-rich in the middle east so whether you fancy delicate French patisserie in the Ritz Gourmet lounge (a hit with the glamourama locals), hand-made pasta in Italian restaurant Primavera, or tacos in Cantina Kahlo – for sure you will find something you’ll love. We ate enormous, juicy T-bones in Plums (their decadent velvet banqueted steak restaurant, a Mexican feast in Cantina Kahlo and made out like we were in LA for our al fresco brunch (think amazing American style pancakes), in La Med.
And the spa?
As you might expect the spa does not disappoint. This is a true retreat within a retreat. Take a swim within the heated pool, hang out in the sauna, steam yourself silly or book an Arabian inspired massage or treatment.
Any water sports on offer?
Absolutely. Sailing is a bit part of the culture and history of Bahrain with plenty of tiny deserted islands to head off to for the day. Rather fabulously the hotel will organize a pearl-diving trip (The Cartier brothers famously sourced their pearls from the sea-beds around Bahrain). We weren’t quite as adventurous and paddled boarded around the lagoon – discovering a tiny private beach linked to the hotel and flanked by bougainvillea and hidden from absolutely everyone.
And if you fancy venturing out and about?
We have to admit that it was a bit of struggle to actually get up and leave the hotel, but a trip around nearby Manama is well worth the effort. Our incredible guide Bouchra Ettouri from Visit Bahrain (visitbahrain.bh) really brought the city’s stories to life. Her tour included a visit to the 5000 year old UNESCO world heritage protected Fort of Bahrain, a whizz around the souk (we bought soft night dresses in the prettiest pink print as well as voluminous trousers great for festival season or as a beach cover-up. Like the souks of Morocco this is also a great place to pick up traditional pottery or lighting at super cheap prices. Also worth doing is a pit stop at a traditional café in the market. We ate chicken curry and rice (the Indian influence in Bahrain is still strong). While one of our party nipped off to see their awesome motor racing track, as the country hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix in April.
Room rates start from £338. For more information or to book, visit The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain. Gulf Air, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain, operates two daily flights direct from London to Bahrain starting from £455 return. For further information visit gulfair.com or call (+973) 1737 3737.