Times of Oman
Travel guide: A fun weekend in Bahrain
February 8, 2017 | 6:35 PM
by Salim Al Afifi
Photography bt: Hikmat Webhe
 
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Another country was happily checked-off my GCC travelling bucket list last weekend when I had the opportunity to visit Bahrain, one of the most beautiful countries in the Gulf, to celebrate their 3rd annual shopping festival. I also had the chance to dance, eat, and indulge in an utterly enjoyable islandy experience that made me wonder why more people aren’t setting off for weekend holidays on the Island of Pearls.

Prior to my trip, friends recommended that I focus on two things: Food, and more food. And they were right on that recommendation. The restaurant culture in Bahrain is vibrant and in abundance and I spent a good portion of my three days there eating my heart out. Somewhere in between my feasting, I shopped, wandered down traditional Manama alleyways, and went for a swim. In the process, I fell hard for this GCC gem.

Day 1

I landed in Bahrain and was immediatlly struck by the awesome weather. It was windy and perfectly chilly. I took a moment to savour the cool breeze before hopping into my waiting car and heading to ART Rotana (rotana.com/artrotana), a grand, art-inspired hotel located amid the crystal clear, azure waters of the man-made Amwaj Islands. As we drove to the hotel, I was stunned by the cleanness of Bahrain’s beaches. The sands were grainy, soft, and looked perfect for a sunbathing and volleyball. The bright blue waters lent the whole place a tropical feel. Gigantic villas offered waterfront living and some of the houses were built right over the water. The same can be said for the country’s other six islands, which are dotted with five star hotels and chic restaurants along their beaches and marinas.




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The ART Rotana lives up to its name, beginning with an entrance that looks like a massive art installation with a remarkable illuminated arch with contemporary, minimalistic touches defining the gallery-like ambiance for an edgy yet luxurious atmosphere. Numerous paintings adorning its walls as the holds art exhibitions to showcase local talent including Bahraini and expatriates resident artists.

As stunning as the objects hanging on the walls are the panoramic views of turquoise waters, private islands, and tropical-inspired cabanas. The property also is home to a water park for the little ones, and myriad of restaurants ranging from Italian to Asian fine dining.

After having a long afternoon nap on a cosy bed, it was time to begin my gastronomic journey, so I went downstairs for a meal at the hotel’s signature gourmet restaurant, Flames Steak and Seafood (+973 1600 0111). I started with a garden-fresh salad, an asparagus salad, and fried calamari before moving on to the main event; a lemon-garlic salmon steak. Everything was just as it should be, from the perfectly composed salads to the delicate, flavourful seafood to the exquisite service.

Fully sated, it was time to get ready for a night of festivities at Shop Bahrain. Moroccan sensation Asma Lmnawar, and the king of Arabic musicians, Hussain Al Jasmi, were performing live, which presented me the perfect opportunity to see my very first live Arabic concert. It was an evening to remember with everyone in the crowd dancing, singing along, and having a good time. And, at the end of the evening, I got to meet one of the artists backstage for a quick photo. Day made.

Day 2

Breakfast at Art Rotana is served at Choices Restaurant, which is an all-day dining venue with a glorious exterior terrace overlooking the sea. The breakfast buffet was extensive with a variety of classic breakfast staples, from sausages to Arabic mezze to eggs and French pastries. I savoured my first meal of the day, and washed it down with freshly squeezed watermelon juice.

Sufficiently fuelled up, I headed out to explore the city of Manama, where I ended up in front of Lavenue Cafe & Restaurant (+973 1700 0111). It looked like an old, petite house that you might see in a Mediterranean town, with rustic painted wooden surfaces, colourful walls, flower pots, and a cosy ambiance. The funky, vintage-style Italian boutique restaurant serves Italian, Arabic, and local delicacies. And though this might sound like an odd combination, they do it extraordinarily well. If the menu alone hadn’t been enough to convince me to indulge in a second breakfast, when I learned that the restaurant was participating in Shop Bahrain’s Taste Tour Menu, which, when ordered, gives diners a chance to win the all new Infinity Q50, I decided I simply couldn’t miss it.

I selected the “Bahraini breakfast”, which was presented on a wooden plate topped with mahyawa, a deep-fried, smashed fish dish; balalet, a breakfast staple similar to the Oman dish of the same name, made with sweet vermicelli and salty eggs; shakshooka, oven-baked eggs with tomatoes; and that GCC staple drink, karak tea. It was all downright excellent.

I fought the onset of a severe food coma by getting on my feet and setting off to explore Manama Souq (+973 3981 6914), an old bazaar in Bahrain’s capital. Walking the alleys of the souq I wove my way between little colour-coded shops that reminded me of India (only less crowded). I passed stalls selling silverware, chandeliers with Islamic art on them, and decorative mats, stopping at Naseef Cafe (+973 1720 8888), for a hot caramel latte and a homemade mango ice cream to restore my strength.

All shopped-out, I went to see some of the other architectural sights of Bahrain, stopping at the most talked about hotel in city, the Four Seasons (+973 1711 5000; fourseasons.com/Bahrain), iconic as it is built on its own island in Business Bay in the shape of the letter H. The interiors are as majestic as the hotel’s reputation, with in-door gardens and a dramatic lobby that many say make it one of the finest hotels in the chain.

After a quick tour of the iconic property, I headed back into the city for dinner at the Downtown Rotana’s Teatro Restaurant (+973 1311 9999). Teatro offers a wide range of Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and South East Asian. I went for the sushi, which was absolutely fantastic.

Day 3

I awoke early, and after a quick breakfast at the hotel, I set out to explore the private island. The beach was total perfection, with yachts decked on the side of the island, but due to the chilly weather, I opted for a quick dip in the temperature-controlled pool rather than in the sea. The poolside bar offers great service, and I savoured my small slice of the high life. After my invigorating swim, I opted for a 60-minute intense muscle release massage, which eliminated all memory of the many hours I spend hunched over my desk, restoring my energy.

Feeling quite zen, I headed back to my luxurious room and ordered lamb biryani and a Maltesers chocolate shake from in-room dining, enjoying one last meal before packing my bags.


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My experience in Bahrain had gone beyond my expectations. I had a good time, explored wonderful areas of the city, met interesting people, and ate a whole lot of great food. The entire experience felt effortlessly luxurious. I regretted not making it to the extremely hyped Gravity Indoor Skydiving (+973 1310 0000; gravitybah.com), which is the first of its kind in the Gulf, but I took solace in the fact that this omission gave me one more excuse to return to Bahrain’s paradise islands. [email protected]

Bahrain quick escape plan

FLY

Non-stop flights available on Gulf Air (gulfair.com) and Oman Air (omanair.com)

STAY

ART Rotana (rotana.com/artrotana)

Four Seasons (+973 1711 5000; fourseasons.com/Bahrain)

EAT

Flames Steak and Seafood (+973 1600 0111)

Lavenue Cafe & Restaurant (+973 1700 0111)

Naseef Cafe (+973 1720 8888)

Teatro Restaurant (+973 1311 9999)

EXPLORE

Shop Bahrain (+973 1750 8900; shopbahrain.com)

Manama Souq (+973 3981 6914)

Gravity Indoor Skydiving (+973 1310 0000; gravitybah.com)

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