Puttin' on the Ritz

By Kirsten Stocker » The Ritz. The name alone evokes images of luxury, fine living, indulgence. The Ritz Carlton Hotel and Spa is, without question, perceived as Bahrain's very best, but does the image hold up to the actual guest experience?

Bahrainguide.org decided to put it to the test, which meant my husband James and I, along with our two little children, were ready for a rather enjoyable weekend.

If ever we had doubts about how the kids would take to living in a hotel room, they were quickly dispelled. From the moment we checked in – having been whisked up to the seventh floor’s Club Level facilities – three-year-old William and ‘almost two’ Annie thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

While the very kind and patient Isabel was explaining the hotel facilities to us, Will and Annie were excitedly trying out the homemade chocolates, peering down at the ‘tiny’ people on the beach below and trying out the complimentary – and very comfortable – Ritz Carlton slippers for size.

Our room was perfect: easily big enough for a family of four, with the option of an interconnecting door between rooms for bigger families or older children. A deliciously enormous bed meant that having both children in bed with us was actually do-able as a one-off treat. Although the hotel offered to bring in spare beds – and the room was certainly more than big enough – our children were having none of it. Before we knew what had happened, all four of us were tucked up in bed watching Postman Pat!

And there we would have happily stayed all day, if not for the lure of the beach, pool, boats and brunch at La Mediteranee. More about that later…first, we set off to explore and build our appetites!

The facilities at the Ritz Carlton are hard to beat. It boasts award-winning restaurants, excellent sports facilities, opulent Spa and Turkish baths, a state-of-the-art conference centre and high-tech meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, some 20 acres of beautifully manicured tropical gardens and Bahrain’s finest beach situated on a network of private lagoons.

The spacious and sophisticated lobby – where guests can take afternoon tea while enjoying live classical music – overlooks the outdoor pool, adjacent to the hotel’s freshwater lake that is home to flamingos, ducks, herons and a host of migrating birds. A private island is yours to explore or hire for family gatherings, weddings or company parties and the Ritz also offers its own private marina complex together with a comprehensive boating and watersports centre.

And to think all this is just minutes away from Bahrain’s newest shopping malls and less than three kilometres from Manama’s downtown business and shopping districts. The Bahrain National Museum, Bahrain Fort, the Manama suq, the world-class Riffa Golf Course, Bahrain International Circuit and a host of heritage sites are all within easy striking distance – courtesy of a hotel driver.

As residents of Bahrain, for us, a stay at the Ritz Carlton was all about relaxation and ‘chilling out’, so we contented ourselves with the hotel’s own ‘sights’ and took in a spot of duck-feeding and a trek out to the private island for a bit of beachcombing before returning for brunch.

Dining at the Ritz is a treat for the tastebuds with something to suit every whim and fancy with eight different restaurants and bars ranging from ultra casual to refined sophistication.

Our first meal at the Ritz was at La Mediteranee – an excellent place to go for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper…but it's wise to arrive hungry! The mouthwatering choice of foods in the buffet left us all spoiled for choice. Sushi, a wide selection of mezze, hot and cold seafood, an outstanding salad bar, a family-style roast dinner, pasta and a plethora of additional dishes were on offer. However, make sure you leave room for dessert – every visitor to the Middle East should try the delicious Oom Ali and La Mediteranee’s chocolate fountain is out of this world. Both William and Annie were enthusiastic about this part of the meal and ended up covered in chocolate – much to the amusement of other diners.

Children and sun-worshipers will love the Overlook Café, the hotel’s outdoor dining terrace which spills onto the beach and has magnificent views out over the lagoon. Diners can feast on everything from croque monsieur and steak with chips to a sumptuous seafood salad…and the children’s menu will please even the most fussy little eaters. William and Annie loved the pasta, chicken nuggets and chips and the waiters could not have been more helpful. Even if you’re not hungry, the Overlook Café is a great place to enjoy sun-downers at the end of a hard day at the beach.

Every top-class hotel should lay on a proper afternoon tea like the one available at the Ritz Carlton’s Tea Lounge. Situated in the atrium of the hotel’s sophisticated lobby, guests can relax and chat in comfort with live classical music in the background and views over the Ritz’s lovely pool and gardens. A selection of teas and coffees from around the world together with sandwiches, cakes, scones and patisseries make this a meal in itself…it’s a real treat which should be enjoyed by Bahrain’s visitors and residents alike.

Continuing on a colonial theme, the hotel’s Plantation Terrace is a bar that combines the best of years gone by with an upbeat modern feel to the décor and live music. Guests can enjoy the balmy evenings on an outdoor terrace sparkling with tiny white tree lights or soak of the atmosphere of a live band indoors – while sipping on a wide range of cocktails and fine wines.

Whether it’s pre-dinner aperitif or a post-dinner digestif and cigar, the Burlington Club has a refined, warm atmosphere that makes it an ideal place to meet friends, contemplate the day’s successes or just relax in comfort with a panoramic view of the hotel’s magnificent gardens. The Burlington Club boasts a freestanding humidor stocked with premium cigars, live music and Bahrain’s biggest range of malt whiskies.

If you’re craving a taste of India, Nirvana is the place to go for both delicious food and a wonderful atmosphere. This is no ordinary Indian restaurant…rather, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to an exotic palace from the days of the Raj. Nirvana boasts – and delivers - an amazing array of delicious traditional dishes made with the freshest ingredients and spices from the East. Try the restaurant’s ‘secret’ private dining booth and enjoy the outstanding service from attentive waiters.

Italian gourmets will love the Ritz Carlton’s Primavera restaurant. The restaurant features a mixture of contemporary décor and old Italian opulence with candlelit window tables which look over the hotel’s gardens and lake. The menu features a select range of Italian dishes including seafood, fresh pastas and Primavera’s signature risotto.

Plums is the Ritz Carlton's newest restaurant. Run on the simple belief that classic food, well delivered in a stylish environment is a recipe for success, Plums is – very arguably – the best restaurant in Bahrain. A stylish and modern – yet cosy – décor and innovative cuisine which combines the best ingredients with a talented chef and kitchen staff mean that Plums delivers an outstanding dining experience, whether you’re having a romantic dinner for two or a business gathering for ten.

Once the children were tucked up in bed and left in the care of one of the hotel’s outstanding babysitters, James and I were treated to a scrumptious dinner for two at Plums. We put ourselves in Chef George’s outstanding hands and he put together a mouthwatering seven-course menu that included lobster cappuccino, an aromatic cauliflower mousse, mango sorbet drizzled in champagne and perfectly cooked steaks that cut like butter and were accompanied with a home-made ginger and plum sauce. To finish off the meal, George and his team had prepared a chocolate ice cream ‘burger’ with papaya ‘fries’ and sponge cake for the bun. Lots of fun, and quite simply…delicious.

Fun, Health, Fitness and Relaxation…

…in any order you want them! One of the greatest things about a stay at the Ritz Carlton is the wide variety of leisure activities that are available for guests of all ages. Sailing, wind surfing, swimming, water-skiing, a world-class gym, squash courts, canoeing/kayaking, tennis, a number of aerobics and keep fit classes, jogging, a fitness trail and yoga can all be done on site.

William and James had great fun in one of the hotel canoes, paddling right around the lagoon to the ‘secret’ beach on the other side. All four of us enjoyed exploring the marina and watching the boats come and go and on the way back to the pool, we even found a foursome playing ‘boules’ on the beach – which was fascinating for Will and Annie and hilarious for James, who got to listen in on my interesting interpretation of the rules!

Keen fishermen can try their hand at catching barracuda, kingfish, hammour and shark from the comfort of our 36ft Wave Breaker yacht. In addition, scuba diving, golf and riding are locally available and can be arranged by the hotel’s helpful staff.

If all of that sounds a little too energetic, why not just take your pick from the Ritz-Carlton Spa’s extensive menu of treatments and let yourself be utterly pampered? Whether it’s an aromatherapy massage, facial, reflexology, de-toxing body wraps or a French manicure, the Ritz Carlton Spa has a treatment with your name on it. Female guests are invited to make use of the region’s largest ladies’ spa and can choose from an exclusive list of more than 50 different treatments; men can book from a more limited but equally luxurious menu of treatments designed to help them recover from jetlag or ease aching muscles.

James and I were given the chance to enjoy the relaxing Aromatherapy Massage: an hour and 15 minutes of bliss thanks to Bee, our soft-spoken and strong-fingered masseuse. Thankfully, she recommended an aromatherapy blend meant to ‘energise’, as I certainly felt so relaxed afterwards that the one meant to ‘relax’ would have put me out of commission for the rest of the day! Both James and I agreed that this was one of the best parts of a thoroughly enjoyable week-end.

If you’re travelling without children – or can get a babysitter – the Ritz-Carlton also offers its very own ‘Tete-a-Tete’ massage packages for two. Now couples can enjoy the relaxation and health-giving benefits of a massage in a special therapy room for two. Relaxing music, a calm atmosphere and aromatherapy massage will de-stress, detox and ensure that you’re both ‘walking on air’ by the time it’s finished.

Our weekend seemed to come to an end all too quickly…but over the two days, we were able to really relax and have a mini-holiday as a family. Whether we were exploring, swimming, dining, playing on the beach, boating, enjoying our massages, jumping in the bouncy castle or having a quick workout in the gym, we felt completely welcome and were treated like kings and queens by the friendly and knowledgeable staff. Departing was difficult…but made much easier with the thought of enjoying the Ritz Carlton’s hospitality again in the future.

Bahrain’s Ritz-Carlton has a host of activities and services designed to make your children smile. Acres of beach and soft green grass just perfect for running around, a duck pond – complete with birds who are always willing to eat, a children’s playground, two pools designed with both learners and intermediates in mind, a giant-sized bouncy castle for weekends and holidays, and staff who are friendly and willing to help all mean that your little ones have the best holiday possible.

Children from four to 12 years of age can enjoy specially designed fun and fitness programmes including coaching for tennis, squash and swimming with complimentary introductory sessions. Junior guests are also entitled to complimentary water sports every weekday under the attentive supervision of fully trained staff.

The Overlook Café features a popular children’s menu with a variety of choices aimed at satisfying little eaters and La Mediteranee’s Chocolate Fountain is sure to be a big hit with guests of all ages.

Judging by the ‘customer delight’ registered on the faces of our two – together  with that of the other young guests we met during our stay – the Ritz Carlton is certainly a big winner as far as children are concerned.

Your own butler, a private infinity pool, a three bedroom villa that is impeccably decorated with the best in interior design from around the world, a menu which can be tailored to your every whim, a massage in your own private tropical garden….this is surely the ultimate in style, luxury and comfort.

Is it a private island getaway in the Caribbean or a secret palace in the Far East? No…this gem is right here in Bahrain and is one of 23 stunning villas which make up the jewels in the crown for the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain.

Originally designed and built to accommodate the Heads of State of Arab nations during the 2004 GCC Summit, the villas were also the accommodation of choice for the world’s line-up of Formula One drivers, including multiple world champion Michael Schumacher.

A host of other big name celebrities including royalty, Hollywood stars and top name musicians have opted to make use of the villas’ privacy, luxury and comfort.

The predominant theme of the villas’ luxurious, contemporary interiors is the repetitive use of natural materials for a clean, calming, Far Eastern atmosphere. The five elements – wood, earth, metal, water and air – converge in each room’s serene, yet eye-catching, design. Stripes and waves incorporated into the building materials and furniture are accented with stylish splashes of colour and minimalist features. Philippe Starck lighting, plasma screen televisions, Indian slate floors and imaginative wave-like curvy bookshelves combine with the rest of the décor to create an ambience that is both sophisticated and warm.

The bathroom’s main feature is an outstanding overflow ‘infinity’-style tub with a faucet that comes out of the ceiling, allowing the water to cascade into the tub like a waterfall. Glass walls offering tranquil views out into the private tropical gardens and a built in jacuzzi add to the relaxation of bathing. Walk-in power showers and plasma screens are also features of all master bathrooms and – for the ultimate in luxury – your butler will treat you to a specially drawn bath from an extensive menu of aromatherapy bath treatments.

A bathtub lined with petals and candles or a bubble bath to enjoy with chocolate-dipped strawberries can be combined with a Havana cigar, a glass of bubbly, a herbal tea or a rejuvenating massage treatment. Guests can either enjoy a bath tailored to their own individual requirements or choose from a menu that includes the Detox Bath, the Muscle Reliever, the Stress Booster or the Jet-Lag Package.

Additional daily pleasures range from a Thai massage in the privacy of your gardens to water sports in the lagoon. Sundowners overlooking the Arabian Gulf, a delicious meal cooked to order and your bed turned down will all help to ensure that your stay in the Ritz-Carlton’s Bahrain Villas & Spa is simply magical. The only question still remaining is…once you’ve arrived at your villa, will you ever want to leave?

Oh, actually…one more question: ”James, when can WE go and stay there?!”

The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa offers its business guests the very best in service and convenience and some of the finest conference and banqueting facilities available anywhere in the Gulf. Whether it's tea for two in the lobby, a meeting for ten in one of our high-tech boardroom style meeting rooms or a multi-media conference for 1000, the hotel’s facilities and staff are up to the job of making sure your meeting goes without a hitch.

The hotel has thought of the little things so that you don’t have to. High speed Internet connections, fresh coffee with homemade biscuits, a full-service business centre – complete with administrative assistance and a choice of Bahrain’s finest restaurants to ‘cement the deal’ with lunch or dinner afterwards.

In addition, the Ritz-Carlton’s Club Floor offers business customers a dedicated customer service representative, speedy and flexible meal offerings five times a day, and a host of business amenities together with a warm welcome for you and your guests.

Reservations and Information:

For reservations and information, visit the Ritz-Carlton website at www.ritzcarlton.com or call the toll free reservations number in Bahrain: 800 00 995; Egypt: 02 510 0200; Istanbul: 00800 4491 1137; Jordan: 0800 22010; Kuwait: 632 9988; Lebanon: 800 432 5965; Qatar: 0800 97115; Saudi Arabia: 800 8971 435; or UAE: 800 4789.