Sunday, 8 March 2020

Luxury in 24 Hours: Bahrain.

When I returned to Dubai in October, I decided to tie-in my trip with another country nearby. I'd already visited Oman and Qatar, so next on the list was Bahrain! The Kingdom of Bahrain is a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf, and is actually an archipelago. The capital city of Manama has seen a huge amount of construction work over the past few years, but has a lot to offer visitors and there are some beautiful and interesting sights in the surrounding area. I had the best time and absolutely loved my short time visiting Bahrain as a solo female traveller, so wanted to share how you too can have an incredible 24 hours in the city, whether you're a solo traveller or not.

I didn't have a whole lot of time in the Middle East this time due to work, so I only stayed in Bahrain for one night on my way back to London after spending five days in Dubai visiting friends. I timed my flights so I arrived just before lunchtime on a Sunday and left late Monday night. With very little time in the city I booked into the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain and also booked a half-day tour online with Visit Bahrain's tourist board.

When I'm travelling in a new country by myself I like to book onto either a private or small group tour. Especially when there is no or very little public transport, I find it just helps me see as much as possible in a short amount of time. I've done this before in Oman (where I had a private tour guide from Arabica Orient) and Chiang Mai (where I did the Pamper a Pachyderm group day visit with Elephant Nature Park) and it worked really well! 

Where to stay:  Ritz-Carlton Bahrain

Day 1

I landed at Bahrain airport, and after getting through immigration, a Maserati Quattroporte whisked me to the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, which is located on the waterfront within the main city of Manama. I checked into my stunning Club Room which overlooked their private beach and lagoon, dropped my bags and freshened up in the luxurious marble bathroom, and then headed back downstairs to the lobby where Visit Bahrain were due to collect me for the half-day desert tour.

The country’s tourist board offer both full-day and half-day tours, and they pick you up and drop you back off at your hotel, so I booked the half-day Desert Tour online a month in advance. I was in Bahrain for such a short amount of time that I didn’t want to miss out on seeing the things I was most interested to see, and thought it was well-priced, costing around £50 for the half-day tour! When the little red minibus arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were just two other people on my tour. Bonus!

Camel Farm

Our first stop was the Camel Farm, and even though camels aren't native to Bahrain due to it being an island, you can’t visit the Middle East and not see a camel! We were able to get up close to the camels and give them a stroke and the little one decided to nuzzle his nose into my hair haha - you can see below how shocked I was! They were very friendly and it was magical being able to be so close to them, and most of them were laying lazily in the sunshine with the most comical looks on their faces.

Bahrain International Circuit

I was sad to leave the camels behind, but the next stop on our little tour was the International Circuit, where the Bahrain Grand Prix is held. Our tour guide was super informative and provided us with loads of fascinating titbits and facts. For example, the first corner of the circuit is notorious for being incredibly difficult and it’s where the majority of crashes happen!

The circuit also posed a very unique problem – due to the circuit being positioned in the middle of a desert, there were initially issues with the sand blowing onto the circuit. Thankfully however, the organisers were able to spray a special coating over the track and surrounding sand to prevent the issue.

Bahrain Oil Fields and the First Oil Well

After a quick stop at the International Circuit shop, we then escaped the intense heat and climbed back into the luxury air-conditioned minibus to drive out towards the oil fields. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I had never seen an oil field before, but it was exactly what they look like in the movies: a dystopian-esque desert landscape with gigantic steel structures emerging from the sand, bright orange flares of fire billowing, and huge robotic arms drilling and extracting the oil from the ground.

We arrived at the First Oil Well, which first started spurting oil in 1932, and snapped some photos. Unfortunately the small BAPCO Dar Al Naft Oil Museum is only open to the public on Fridays, and as it was a Sunday we couldn't visit, but I’ve been told by a friend that it's well worth a visit if you’re able to visit on a Friday.

Tree of Life

Back in the van we climbed and drove a short distance to the Tree of Life, a Prosopis juliflora tree that is estimated to be over 400 years old that sits alone in the middle of the barren Arabian desert. This was one of my main reasons for visiting Bahrain, and it was a magical sight to see; this lone tree standing proud defying all odds and thriving with no known water source. Although it's a native tree of North America, many believe that a traveller from the local village in Bahrain travelled to America in the 1500s and brought back a seedling or cutting, planted it in the centre of his village, and it grew into the tree it is today while the village itself no longer exists (pottery dating back 500 years has been found in the ground around the tree).

There are multiple theories as to how it has stayed alive all these centuries. One is that because its roots are around 50 metres deep, it may be deep enough to reach some sort of water source. Another is that it's located in what was once the Garden of Eden, and that it has some sort of mystical water source! And finally, many locals believe it is protected by Enki, the God of water.

There were very few visitors there and it was really lovely to have some quiet time with such an awe-inspiring piece of nature. Our tour guide told us to pour water over its trunk and give it a pat, as legend says this will allow you to return to Bahrain someday.

A'Ali Pottery Village

Our final stop on the Visit Bahrain Desert Tour was the A’ali village, a place just as famous for burial mounds as it is pottery. Here you can watch them make the pottery by hand, and choose a piece to take home with you for a very reasonable price! Sadly I didn't have any space in my luggage, or I would have bought a few of the gorgeous pieces.

Dinner at Cantina Kahlo

When I arrived back from my adventure I was ravenous, so freshened up and head down to Cantina Kahlo – Ritz-Carlton Bahrain’s Mexican restaurant – and I highly recommend you do the same! I enjoyed a really delicious mocktail, and the most divine guacamole along with moreish ceviches. I worked my way through the extensive menu until I was full to bursting!

Day 2

Relax by the Pool and Beach

After my early morning flight and whirlwind tour of Bahrain the previous day, I spent the next day relaxing around the hotel. The morning was spent by the Ritz-Carlton’s multiple swimming pools and their private beach, floating in the shallows of the balmy ocean! The staff at the Ritz-Carlton brought me a little ice bucket with bottled water, and there were also multiple sunscreens for me to choose from to keep my fair skin protected from the harsh Arabian sunshine. They also created a little headrest for me on the sun-lounger with a carefully folded towel tucked into the top!

The beach is a lagoon style beach with powder soft sand and clear waters that were so warm it felt like a warm bath! It was absolutely dreamy and just what I needed after a busy few days in Dubai with Nige and Kristina. You can swim over to a little private island on the other side of the lagoon with an even quieter beach, or use the long beach on the main side.

After some time on the beach, it got too hot so I went to sit by the main pool  (there's also an adults-only pool with cabanas which overlooks the beach) and cool off in the cooler swimming pool waters. There were plenty of sun-loungers and umbrellas for shade, and there are also cabanas over the other side of the pool which are perfect if you need more shade or have children. The staff came round with little complimentary fruit juices which was a lovely touch, and you could buy ice-creams from an ice-cream cart. Across from the pool there are also two Jacuzzi's, which I didn't use as it was a bit too warm for them.

Have a Massage And Use The Spa

A visit to the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain’s spa is a must. It's one of the most impressive spas I have ever visited, with a myriad of treatment rooms and various pools to enjoy. While the indoor swimming pool was being renovated when I visited, I enjoyed soaking in the hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy pools, which are both the perfect way to unwind before a relaxing massage. After using the pools I then had a shower before being taken to my treatment room, where I spent a blissful hour enjoying a hot stone massage. It was the best afternoon pre-flight and I was in such a state of relaxation I slept most of the journey home!

Late Lunch at the Hotel

I absolutely loved my lunch at the Ritz-Carlton's relaxed Asian restaurant, aptly named 'Thai'. Mostly because they have the exact same funky comfy chairs that we have in the Google office library in London, which made me very excited! But also because the food was just divine. I was treated to spring rolls, a Thai green curry, and the most delicious beef salad! If you're looking for something a bit lighter, La Plage is the hotel’s stunning restaurant overlooking the Gulf, which offers Arabian and Mediterranean light meals. The views from both Thai and La Plage over the Ritz-Carlton’s beach and the ocean make for a tranquil and enjoyable pre-flight meal.

Visit Bahrain Fort at Sunset

A visit to Manama and Bahrain is not complete without seeing the famous Bahrain Fort. The hotel advised me to visit at sunset, and as my flight wasn't until around 10pm, I had plenty of time to catch it before my flight. The majestic fort stands stark against the backdrop of the modern city; the high-rise skyline sitting in it’s rightful place behind the awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Site believed to have been the capital of the ancient Dilmun Empire thousands of years before Christ was even born.

The fort itself was built on the site by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, and it truly is an incredibly humbling experience to wander the ruins and towers of the fort and think about how humans have continually inhabited this exact location for over five thousand years. I met a couple of lovely people when wandering around who offered to take a couple of photos for me as I was by myself - I'm always so grateful to people who offer to do this! Visiting Bahrain Fort at sunset was the perfect end to a culturally rich and relaxing short-break, and really made my visit that extra bit special.


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