As a child, nothing would elicit more excitement from me than new surroundings — particularly hotels. The possibilities of places to explore, like the bars and restaurants intended for grown-ups’s use, and places to practice my cartwheels (long hotel hallways were the best) meant that within safe surroundings I could pretend that my hotel was my castle.
For a brief weekend in 1994, I likened myself to writer Kay Thompson’s famed precocious character Eloise, who lived at New York’s Plaza Hotel, introduced to readers in her famed book “Eloise at the Plaza” as “I am Eloise. I am six. I am a city child. I live at the Plaza.”
After a short family break that year at the Royal Meridien in Bahrain, I too would have liked a pompous opening line to my own feature story. With brother and best friend in tow that weekend, we crossed the lobby in swimsuits and bathrobes too large for us, lazed by a pool — in my memory so large and idyllic — and bossed patient staff in childish tones for chocolate ice cream.
Today, that hotel is a Ritz-Carlton, a property just as beautiful as I remember it, with great additions for both the grown-up and the child in me.
Bahrain is an easy and short three-hour flight away from Cairo. Gulf Air is the Emirati state’s national carrier and flight times to Bahrain are convenient, making it absolutely feasible for a weekend getaway from Egypt. One can leave Thursday at 12 pm to Bahrain and take a 5 pm flight from Bahrain back to Cairo on a Saturday.
Bahrain is a warm and inviting state, its people very friendly and, unlike other Gulf countries, emotionally integrates expatriates and visitors into the national fabric. It’s not uncommon to find expatriates referring to Bahrain as their own hometown and speaking about the small Gulf state with a lot of pride.
“Flying is a connection between people, politically and socially,” says Samer Majali, CEO of Gulf Air, and the friendly service on board is reflective of Bahrainis’ attitude to welcoming visitors.
Today, the property has a spa that was added after taking over the old Meridien: a labyrinth of a space with fitness rooms, both mixed and for women only. Around the time of Bahrain’s Formula One race, it’s not unusual to work out alongside some of the sport’s most famous racers who make Ritz-Carlton Bahrain their home during the season.
An indoor pool, squash courts and tennis courts are also on premises, and a long list of spa treatments accommodate the most demanding of clients. My little Eloise would have delighted in all of this, had it been around in 1994.
Best of all, Bahrain’s only Thalasso pool heated with saltwater meant to cure skin ailments and relax one’s muscles is part of the sprawling spa facility, perfect for dipping in after a long workout — or better yet, a relaxing facial. I opted for a rose facial upon arrival, sleeping comfortably halfway through my hour and a half treatment of massage and gentle skin cleansing as rose-based and rose-scented oils and creams cleansed my face of Cairo’s pollution and stresses.
The hotel has added a private beach that guests can walk to away from the main swimming pool — which is still as relaxing and large as I remembered it — and take some time to enjoy the sun and a breeze. The landscaping is beautiful and you can get a clear view of the property from the Club Lounge, a great perk if you’ve opted to stay in one of the clubrooms or suites.
The rooms are, of course, different than their previous theme of heavy wood and navy upholstery. Modern, airy and light, the rooms and Club Lounge have been designed by famed interior designer Pierre Yves Rochon. With views of the pool, sea and Arabian Gulf as far as the eye can see, a gaze out at the view is as serene as it gets.
I appreciated the sheer whiteness of my duvet and the Nespresso machine in my room, which I used to make coffee as I sat and typed away at night. Staring out at Bahrain’s skyline, growing steadily higher with buildings, was architecturally awe-inspiring.
Most of my meals were in the Club Lounge, my favorite place in the hotel. Of all the Rochon-designed hotels I’ve stayed in, this has to be my favorite. Chinese porcelain vases and modern royal blue furniture, sleek wood touches and crystal chandeliers made the area appear to be much more than simply a hotel lounge. It was as if I was inside someone’s very stylish penthouse.
The property has 32 private villas, each with three master bedrooms, private terrace, and a pool perfect for large families or romantic getaways. A private butler service adds a proverbial cherry to the experience, but service throughout the hotel was swift, friendly, sincere and efficient.
Dining on premises is what Bahrainis and expatriate members of the community come to do at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain. The island’s best steakhouse Plums is here, as is Nirvana, an Indian restaurant with beautiful dark interiors and soft light perfect for dinners.
The hotel is a center for the community at large and on weekends you can see kids at tennis lessons and families with club memberships enjoying the pool and spa, adding an element of warmth to the hotel.
But there’s plenty else to do. I would suggest renting out a yacht as myself and my party of seven did. You can be taken to Jarradah, a sandbar that appears during low tide an hour’s ride away from the hotel. Bahrainis with yachts will do the same on weekends to swim in the middle of azure waters away from the bustle of it all.
Butlers on board your yacht will take care of you and serve you lunch when you wish, and offer towels after a dip around Jarradah. Though costly, it can be a great trip to relax on board and enjoy the air and sun.
The island is replete with dining and shopping outlets, most of which are a close and short drive from the hotel. Seef mall is down the road, and high-end designer brands are at Moda Mall by the World Trade Center. Marcel Wander’s design for Villa Moda there has generated a lot of buzz, and it’s worth visiting if only to take a look at some of his best architectural work.
Museums highlighting the island’s interesting history of trade and pearl diving are also good options for the academically minded. There are also old forts to explore, built by the Portuguese who were once in Bahrain.
Old houses in the once-diplomatic quarters of Bahrain, located in Adliya, have been transformed into a neighborhood with hip restaurants and bars. Meat Co. and Café Italia have outdoor terraces and rooftop options that make them a favorite among Bahrain’s young hip crowd.
Trader Vic’s is on the hotel’s premises, and Bushido, part of the Buddha Bar chain, is down the road. Both are great locations during weekends for a good meal and fun night out. The hotel concierge can assist with all questions, directions and the coordination of activities and outings.
Best of all, Bahrain can be enjoyed by people of all ages. The best time to go is starting late September to late March, when the humidity is low and the weather is cool and breezy.
For more info, visit www.ritzcarlton.com/bahrain/
The Club Lounge has a library space great for relaxing and having tea in the afternoon. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Bahrain)
The hotel’s pool and beach is perfectly landscaped and arranged. (Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Bahrain)