Ask tourists what their top requirements are for a great holiday, and shopping and nice beaches rank pretty high on the list. Throw in some guaranteed sunshine and great villas for rent and you are probably thinking of Bahrain. This small island in the Persian Gulf has come a long way since its economy was based on pearl diving and fishing. This was the first place to hit oil in the Middle East, back in 1932, and it radically changed the future of this modest country forever.
Bahrain actually means “Two Seas”, which is very appropriate as it is surrounded by water. The main island is connected to the mainland of Saudi Arabia by long bridge known as the King Fahd Causeway.
Bahrain is an interesting mix of very, very old and glitzy 21st century. It has ancient burial grounds dating back over 4000 years, old desert fortresses and souks that have been in operation for centuries. On the other hand there are glittering high-rises, excellent designer shopping malls and wonderful places to dine in style on authentic Arabian or international cuisine.
Beach lovers will want to visit in the spring or autumn shoulder seasons to avoid the extremely hot summer and rather chilly winter months. The shallow waters are pleasantly warm and the endless sandy beaches are perfect for sunbathing. Watersports are popular with windsurfing, sailing, jet skiing, snorkeling and diving all available. A popular boat trip takes visitors to the Hawar Islands to see wading pink flamingoes, dolphins and many types of seabirds.
Other activities to include in your schedule are camel rides or a trip into the desert on a 4WD safari. Play golf at the championship golf course near the capital city of Manama or visit the Al Areen Wildlife Park and Preserve which has a surprising amount of wildlife.
The Tree of Life is a popular landmark, standing all alone out in the sandy desert amidst pipelines and oil refineries. This sturdy mesquite tree is quite historic and makes a great photograph at sunset. Visit the restored 16th century Bahrain Fort or learn more about local history at the Bahrain National Museum. Local history dates back to 2200BC when the ancient Dilmun civilization inhabited the area. Prehistoric burial grounds can be found at A’ali along with some interesting local pottery which makes a great souvenir.
Shopping can be enjoyed for both genuine and fake designer goods in smart air-conditioned malls. Alternatively visit the souks and savour the aromas of meat kebabs, incense burning, ground coffee, spices and sheesha tobacco. Barter over rugs and jewellery or have a bespoke suit or dress made at one of the excellent tailors’ shops.