After five days working hard in Manama, covering events ranging from the anniversary of pro-democracy protests, to efforts to revive the soukh, the time for a little R&R has arrived, even if that arrival is a little hectic.
There’s still one more event to attend … the opening of a new exhibit of Jordanian art at the Bahrain National Museum, before my downtime begins. And after spending all afternoon in an Abaya, covering a protest in Bab Al-Bahrain, I have a tight 30 minutes to organise myself and grab a bite.
I breeze into the Ritz Carlton, Bahrain Hotel and Spa, my bags having checked in before me, and whiz upstairs to the Club Lounge where I’m grateful for a breathtaking view of the Gulf.
The effect is instantly calming. I’ve come in search of a nibble. Food first, then shower – priorities.
Service is instant, and so is a wide selection of savouries and sweets to dull the hunger pangs. Even better than the food though, is the layout of the lounge. Counter-top bar stools face the Gulf and provide the best seats in the house – enough to make one anti-social. A second room offers a living room-type set up with couches and a big screen TV, perfect for whiling away the hours before a late night/early am flight.
After a late night mingling with Bahrain’s royalty, ministers, diplomats and other influentials, I finally return to my sumptuous room at the Ritz. It, too, offers an amazing view which stretches to the Financial Harbour. It’s contemporary and elegant, yet comfortable, with high tech tricks like TV screens embedded into the bathroom mirror.
Mine was a mere room, not that I’m complaining … but there are also suites for high net worth individuals of all categories, from diplomatic to royal. Better yet, are the three-bedroom villas set amidst the lush, landscaped gardens and sandy beaches. More on the beaches later. Villas are decorated with natural materials and designer furnishings.
Bedrooms open onto private gardens, and well-equipped kitchens can be occupied by on-demand chefs to prepare the catch of the day. Even spa treatments can be done room-service style.
I emerge at a decent hour to enjoy the Club breakfast; I’m guessing just a smattering of the buffet downstairs. There’s an entire menu and they don’t bat an eyelash at the egg-white omelette request. There are the usual suspects, complemented by Arabic treats like hummus, foul medames, and soft, fluffy pita bread.
Eight restaurants at the Ritz draw non-residents for its fine and varied cuisine, from Indian to Italian. Buffets here are suitably seductive, forcing one to pace and prioritise to avoid filling up only half-way through the meal.
It’s time to move beyond the rooms and Club lounge. The 20 acres of grounds here are magnificent. There’s a marina, where boats can be chartered, and water sports equipment can be hired. And a lovely wood-decked path is perfect for a morning or early evening jog around the lagoon to the Ritz’s private island. Usually, there are “beach” people and “pool” people, with distinctly different preferences. I happen to be both. For me, the pool is for swimming proper laps, the beach is for relaxing, shell-collecting and nodding off to the sound of the waves. The Ritz excels at both.
I wasn’t prepared for the white, fine, sandy beach and the beautiful, abundant shells. The outdoor pool is of epic proportions; over one-thousand metres for any other die-hards
Unfortunately, Bahrain suffered a drastic cold spell during my visit, so I was forced to abandon my Olympic training and settle for the indoor pool, nearly half the size, yet big enough for both me and splashing kiddies.
There’s recreation galore here – tennis and squash courts, a croquet lawn and a serious gym packed with CV equipment and weights, and daily classes.
And then, there is the spa. I must admit, I am not a big spa person, but the facilities and treatments here could convert me. A Thalasso pool, and Hammam, offering candle-lit plunge pools of varying degrees, as well as scented steam rooms, a sauna and a Relaxation Lounge all set the scene for chilling out, even before the treatment begins.
I’m booked in for one of the “divine” facials, called “La Alternativa” by Natura Bisse, the Spanish skincare company all the celebs are raving about for its roughly $800 skin serum.
That gets you just 2 ounces. But it works.
Sharon, my facialist, talks me through the treatment, scaring me with warnings of a burning sensation during the carboxi-therapy exfoliation and peel, saying many women who’d gone before me found it terribly uncomfortable and only submitted time and time again because of the great results. Having a high threshold for pain (don’t we all like to think that?); I take a deep breath and brace myself. A few tingles later, I ask if that was it. I don’t feel all that brave. Next comes the good part, the Lipofiller complex which leaves my face looking 10 years younger. I’m not kidding. If only the effects last more than a few days. She assured me that that, taken regularly, these treatments really can sustain their effects.
The spa menu is a vast selection of rituals, facials, massages, and repairing treatments. Among the most interesting is the Jet Lag Reviver Ritual, which begins with eucalyptus and body brushing, and ends with spinal pressure to reset the body clock. Carefully selected oils work to calm the system and prepare for sleep.
Speaking of sleep…the Deep Sleep Aromatic Ritual sounds wonderful, with a full body massage and intensely calming oils to encourage sedation. A Hot Stone Ritual promises to re-balance and clarify the system, leaving one with a clearer head, and presumably an easier mind to settle into sleep.
There’s also a couples ritual which includes a body scrub, massage, and facial. I’ve never heard of a Sun Repair Ritual, and am intrigued by its use of Marine DNA and essential oil from olive leaves to repair sunburned skin.
A scrub bar offers choices of honey, diamond dust (yes, for real), bamboo and vitamin C and cocoons, such a nicer term than “wrap,” are offered in various muds and algaes. Specialist eye-lifting treatments are available, as are packages for men, and pregnant women.
Beyond the spas, the swimming pools, and the lounging, what the Ritz Carlton Bahrain really does best is service. Guests seem to be known my name by all the staff, and one is never at a loss to find someone to assist. The hotel seems to work as precisely as a Swiss clock.
Requests never have to be made twice; once is enough. And at midnight, when the front desk is flooded with check-ins and check-outs, the staff is unflappable. I recall my iPhone is operating with a local SIM card, and that I’ll want to replace it with my UK one as soon as I land, but I’m missing the needle-like instrument necessary to open the compartment to do so. My McGyver mind thankfully kicks in and I request a sewing kit just before I leave. At this hour, in any other hotel, such a request would not be fulfilled before missing my flight. At the Ritz, I turned away for a minute before I heard, “Ms Hughes, your sewing kit.”
I’m told many of the Ritz Carlton Bahrain’s guests, apart from business travellers, are leisure guests keen for some sunshine and loyal to the brand. With service like this, I can see why the Ritz Carlton gets cult-like status.
Ritz Carlton, Bahrain Hotel and Spa
+973 1758 0000