In­tro­duc­ing: Bahrain

This his­toric and cul­ture-rich re­gion was once the beat­ing heart of the pear­ling trade. Like its world-fa­mous oys­ters, Bahrain may just sur­prise you with some hid­den gems, says Jes­sica Pook

Selling Travel - - Contents -

Bahrain is an ar­chi­pel­ago made up of 33 is­lands nes­tled in the Ara­bian Gulf just off the coast of Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar. Its his­toric mon­u­ments and re­li­gious tem­ples, some of which date back to 692AD, have sur­vived the tran­si­tion into the 21st cen­tury and now share the desert land­scape with one of the most modern For­mula One race­tracks in the world.

This year will see Muhur­raq Is­land, Bahrain’s sec­ond largest, crowned the Is­lamic Cul­tural Cap­i­tal 2018. The city has been recog­nised for its con­ser­va­tion work, par­tic­u­larly on the UN­ESCO World Her­itage Pear­ling Trail whic is due for com­ple­tion later this year, along with its ef­forts to pre­serve Ara­bic and Is­lamic cul­ture both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Tourism is steadily grow­ing, with UK ar­rival fig­ures in­creas­ing by 10% in 2017, while its easy life­style and cul­tural di­ver­sity saw Bahrain crowned as the num­ber one place for ex­pats to re­lo­cate to.

Pearls of wis­dom

Bahrain trans­lates as 'Two Seas' in Ara­bic and was once the cen­tre of the world’s pearl trade. To­day vis­i­tors are in­vited to search for their own pearl (Bahrain pearls are con­sid­ered the finest in the world), with the prom­ise that if they find one it's theirs to keep.

There is a choice of four div­ing sites, each promis­ing a wealth of oys­ters, and divers are able to col­lect as many as 60 from the seabed. All de­par­tures for pearl div­ing start at Ras Rayyah, the north­ern tip of Ma­har­raq Is­land, with dives avail­able for all lev­els. Of­fi­cial div­ing com­pa­nies Delma Marine (pearl­div­ing.bh) and Scuba Life Bahrain (scubal­ife.bh) run two-hour ses­sions from £74pp, with Scuba Life of­fer­ing sep­a­rate PADI cour­ses for those look­ing to gain their qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Life in the fast lane

En­joy a cof­fee break Bahrani-style, el­e­gantly poured from a highly-dec­o­rated tea pot into a small cup; take in the aroma of spices at the Bab Al Bahrain Souq; or walk through the his­toric Qalat al-Bahrain fort, a reg­is­tered UN­ESCO World Her­itage site.

For those that are af­ter some­thing a lit­tle more fast-paced, the Sakhir Desert will host the Bahrain For­mula One Grand Prix for the fifth suc­ces­sive year from April 6-8 this year and is home to five track lay­outs, more than any­where else in the world.

Where to stay

With a port­fo­lio of over 190 ho­tels and re­sorts and 15 new open­ings sched­uled by 2020, there's plenty of rooms and some big names, such as the Ritz Carl­ton and The Four Sea­sons. The Jumeirah Royal Saray is due to open this year in a pre­mium beach­front lo­ca­tion, an ideal sanc­tu­ary from the heat of the sum­mer months when days av­er­age around 37-40C.

From top left, clock­wise: Fi­nan­cial Har­bour over­look­ing the Bahrain World trade Cen­tre; skyview of Marassi Al Bahrain’s two-kilo­me­tre beach; Bahrain is known for pearl fish­ing; Isa Bin Ali, a tra­di­tional house

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