The island in the Middle East gives Dubai value for money

Cosmopolitan Bahrain is just across the border from Saudi Arabia – Getty

On either side of the DJ, two statuesque women rotate around who, if you were to add their two outfits together, would have enough for one (almost) decent outfit. In front of them, waitresses whisk jeroboams of champagne and primary-colored cocktails to raucous groups of twenty-somethings. In the corner, two remarkably well-groomed young men dance almost unhygienically close to each other.

With apologies to both Judy Garland and Cristiano Ronaldo… Roro, I feel like we’re not in Riyadh anymore.

In fact, we are in Bahrain, the – decidedly more liberal – country just over the border from Saudi Arabia that has lured Ronaldo and many of the biggest international footballers to play alongside him in the Saudi Pro League.

Bahrain combines culture with an excellent entertainment sceneBahrain combines culture with an excellent entertainment scene

Bahrain combines culture with an excellent entertainment scene – Getty

Some, like former Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, live in Bahrain; Others, like Brazilian striker Neymar and French striker Karim Benzema, come to spend their weekends in this tiny island nation that floats just off the coast of Saudi Arabia like a hazy, mirage-like, semi-mythical combination of Avalon, Xanadu and that nightclub on-a-boat moored in the middle of Newcastle for much of the 1990s.

Footballers aren’t necessarily known for being the most demanding travelers, but this choice is a no-B(ah)rainer. Saudi Arabia bans booze, bare shoulders and sex outside of marriage – and although it is no longer compulsory for foreign women there to wear abaya robes since 2019, even the least glamorous Wags will still have to throw away four-fifths of her wardrobe.

Bahrain, on the other hand, has world-class restaurants, bars with permanent parties, a touch of Arab culture and history – and you don’t have to be on Ronaldo’s £3.4million-a-week salary to enjoy a holiday here.

Brazilian striker Neymar is known to be spending the weekend in BahrainBrazilian striker Neymar is known to be spending the weekend in Bahrain

Brazilian striker Neymar is known to be spending the weekend in Bahrain – Getty

My first impressions are actually of a more modest mini-Dubai. Literally, because the skyline of the capital Manama looks exactly like that of Dubai – only with all the skyscrapers that are about 50 percent shorter (sky peaks?). I’m heading straight for one of the most impressive: I’m staying at the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay, a luxury hotel that looms large in the The lives of football players lifestyle.

Gerrard was given a gym membership here by his Saudi employers as one of the curses to get him to sign up (that may not sound like much of an advantage, but just wait until you get a massage there), and He’s not the only star to have been spotted eating in glamorous restaurants.

The place looks as if it has been teleported from the future: a breathtaking, 68-story, futuristic-brutalist pair of concrete monoliths connected by decks of unrelenting reflective glass, rising from its own perfectly circular man-made island in the bay. At its feet lies a decidedly non-natural, yet exquisite stretch of beach, and the rooms purr with the timeless luxury combination of marble and mahogany, so perfectly put together that it feels like AI.

Traditional Middle Eastern architecture in BahrainTraditional Middle Eastern architecture in Bahrain

Traditional Middle Eastern Architecture in Bahrain – Getty

Staring outside, that’s it Blade Runner At night, all the lights flickered on a tall, expansive cityscape; but when I look out at sunrise, it is so DuneA low, red sun accentuates the desert colors of those stretches of sand yet to be developed, and silhouetted in the tangerine half-light the tall buildings look like ancient fortresses, with domes and minarets now visible between the gaps.

The only thing that breaks the spell is The Cheesecake Factory, right across from the hotel. An outpost of the tacky American calorie merchants lies across the water in The Avenues shopping center, which is not yet finished but already houses a hundred or so shops, apparently about half of which are local perfumers, so that even walking past such shops unexotic emporia such as WH Smith, Boots and The Body Shop, you do this in a pleasant scent of thick, rich, incense-like oud, like dark purple Arabic velvet in the nostrils.

Shopping is of course Wags’ sport, and Mesdames Ronaldo, Neymar and Benzema are in for a treat in Bahrain. Just meters away from The Avenues is Moda, a more exclusive shopping center (swap Claire’s Accessories for Tiffany and visit an Alfa Romeo showroom), but my attempts to walk there are frustrated by an Alfa-friendly, pedestrian-unfriendly street system. and after 20 minutes of sweat and asphalt I finally take a taxi to the City Center shopping center, which I’m told is more ‘authentic’ anyway.

Shopping is a popular pastimeShopping is a popular pastime

Shopping is a popular pastime – Getty

What that seems to mean is that among the 340 shops, 60 restaurants, two hotels and a permanent children’s fair of the truly metropolitan complex, there is also a “Souq area”, which is intended to imitate a traditional local market, all date shops and women’s clothing shops where the clothing is available in the complete rainbow of colors, from black to (if the lady is looking for something… racier) very dark gray.

Manama’s actual souk consists of over half a kilometer of streets and alleys where you can haggle for everything from ha’penny sweets to luxury jewelry. And to get a glimpse (you may have to squint a bit to make it convincing) of what it looked like before the cell phone shops moved in, the Bahrain National Museum has a slightly creepy waxwork version.

The most fascinating/terrifying exhibits concern the pearl diving industry – until recently, pearl divers still essentially clipped a clothespin over their nose and attached a rock to their feet – and an eyebrow-raising traditional marriage and maternity policy.

Prepare to travel in Manama SouqPrepare to travel in Manama Souq

Manama Souq, a half-kilometre square full of alleys and alleys – Getty

There’s more history to be found at Qal’at al-Bahrain, the cruise ship-sized castle 20 minutes’ drive west, at the epicenter of Bahrain’s ancient trading empire. Most visible is the striking colonial-era Portuguese fort on top, but in layers beneath the 40-foot base are the remains of successive civilizations dating back some 4,500 years.

They are excavated and explained in the museum next door, but in reality it is difficult to concentrate when there is such a tempting cafe attached to them: in the shade of palms, lapped by the clear aquamarine waters of the Arabian Gulf, here would everyone can order a peach for themselves. tea and forget Saturday’s crucial match against Al Fateh FC.

Ronaldo’s famous six-pack must also take a hit here. I’ve had fantastic food everywhere – from the £7 traditional Bahraini cafe, where the menu uninvitingly says “prawn porridge” (but it turns out to be a beautiful mix of rice, prawns, saffron, spices and delicate rose water) to the £185 steak at CUTTING by Wolfgang Puck. The latter, back at the Four Seasons, is a favorite of Gerrard’s, and it’s easy to see and taste why: these beautiful slabs of uber prime Wagyu and Gold Angus have been flown in from Australia or the US, and it’s anything but cattle class. .

Bahrain has no shortage of beautiful beachesBahrain has no shortage of beautiful beaches

Bahrain has no shortage of beautiful beaches – Getty

After dinner we head to the Adliya district for a drink, a shisha and some Unesco-level people watching (Halo Lounge, with the revolving and jeroboams, wasn’t even the wildest bar in this brilliantly vibrant nightlife). But as I get into my taxi, I hear the call to evening prayers echoing from a minaret somewhere, and it’s like a battle for my soul with the DJ on one side and the muezzin on the other.

When I visited the Grand Mosque earlier in the day, I was very impressed by the tranquility and grace of the mosque itself (although I was not convinced by the gentle but persistent proselytizing of the guide).

I had no intention of embracing Islam at that time. But a country where I could pamper my body and nourish my soul, within just minutes of each other? That’s the kind of place that could make a convert of me.


Ed Grenby was a guest at Four Seasons Bahrain Bay, which doubles from £284 for rooms only (; Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (; and British Airways, which returns Heathrow from £566 (

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