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.
Reservations and Information:
For reservations and information, visit the Ritz-Carlton website 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.
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