My response when I heard my friend was moving to Bahrain was, “Where is that?”.
Bahrain is a tiny island that is part of the UAE. It’s a relatively liberal middle-eastern country, but it lacks the wealth and the luxurious lifestyle that Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become known for.
I went to stay with a friend, an English national, who is living as an expat in the capital Manama. It’s fair to say we embraced the expat lifestyle; eating out at delicious international restaurants, drinking in bars and sunning at the British Club, a member’s club founded in 1935. The Brit Club, as it’s known, is indicative of the way that Bahrain compares with Dubai, there’s the sense that its gold rush came a little while ago, and the foreigners came with it. The club has a colonial feel, with a pinch of modern, Brits abroad thrown in.
What came as a surprise was Al Dar Island; a tiny, sandy island which we took a boat to one day. After watching dolphins swim in the wake of the boat, we alighted at Al Dar Island and found a beach hut. Since it was a Sunday, the Middle East’s Monday, there was only a handful of groups on the sandy cove lined by huts. We sat out in the sun and drank wine we brought with us, and later ate delicious falafel, halloumi and hummus wraps ordered to my friend’s apartment the night before. We stayed until dusk, sunbathing, listening to music and periodically cooling off in the sea.
Another highlight was brunch at the Sofitel, a luxurious affair similar to those put on by hotels in Dubai. For an all-inclusive price, we enjoyed a range of cocktails and an unbelievable smorgasbord of food. There were canapes, salads, sushi, south-Asian food, Italian food, soups, east Asian food, middle eastern food and rows of desserts, including a chocolate fountain. The restaurant area joins onto a terrace with a bar, and the hotel’s green grounds and pool. After the brunch ended we strolled down to the beach and paddled in the water. We watched the sunset from the hotel’s shisha bar at the end of a pier.
Overall, Bahrain wouldn’t have been high on my list of places to see, but I had an amazing time seeing my friend, who works as a teacher, and her life. It’s not got the gloss of Dubai and the other oil-rich countries, but it has a more authentic and down-to-earth quality because of that, and perhaps feels a bit more in touch with its middle-eastern roots; like when we walked down the streets in the evening past rows of bustling shopfronts selling shawarma. The atmosphere is relaxed and safe, so it’s a great destination for a relaxing holiday of sunshine and good food.
Would you go to Bahrain? Let me know in the comments 🙂