Bahrain’s tiny size belies its long history and heritage. And nowhere is this more pronounced than the mysterious and enigmatic Qal’at al-Bahrain or the Bahrain Fort located towards the northern tip of the country.
With its mud walls, moat, dungeons and secret passageways, the fort calls out for a well-deserved exploration. But it is the existing, albeit ruined, Portuguese Fort which is impressive with its massive stone walls, arches and various kinds of structures. This is made even more dramatic by evocative and colourful sound and light show that brings Bahrain’s history alive on the walls of the fort.
Compared to this, Riffa Fort (Shaikh Salman bin Ahmed Fort), located south of capital Manama, is almost contemporary, having been built in 1812. The soaring stone and mud fort walls, turrets, terraces and rooms are intact but bare. The terrace offers a spectacular view of the Hunanaiya Valley, which could explain its strategic location.
Bahrain is an archipelago with 33 islands, so it predictably has a multitude of stunning beaches. Many are located in calm bays and lagoons and are ideal for swimming, especially in the morning or at dusk. Marassi on Muharraq Island is filled with resorts as well as a string of seafront eateries. The beach is ideal for spending the entire day gazing at the serene waters.
Jazair, on the other hand, is among the more crowded ones but it is incredibly beautiful with pale golden sands and blue water stretching out till the horizon. If you are looking for a luxurious time, both Ritz Carlton and Sofitel have beautiful beaches adjacent to the properties. About an hour’s boat ride also takes visitors to Jarada, a small strip of an island that disappears during high tide but is ideal for picnics during low tide.
For such a tiny nation, Bahrain packs a punch with a host of adventure activities. At the heart of it is the Bahrain GP track. Visitors can experience a bit of the thrill at the adjacent nearly 1.5 km go-karting track. For auto junkies, the Land Rover experience behind the GP track is an absolute must. Designed with 32 obstacles, the 30-minute drive demonstrates the sheer versatility of the vehicle. Nearby is also the indoor sky-diving centre, which provides the same thrill as falling from the sky. Bahrain is also a haven for watersports.
A shoppers’ paradise, Bahrain has over two dozen massive malls and innumerable smaller ones and offers a diverse shopping experience. But for those looking for a more earthy, local experience, the place to head to is Manama Souq, a grid of narrow alleys and lanes selling everything from spices and dry fruits to linens and garments.
The food scene is probably Bahrain’s best kept secret. Its food has absorbed influences from Arabic, Persian and Middle-Eastern as well as Indian and Far-Eastern tastes. From baked beans (luba), mashed beans (foule), vermicelli topped with fried egg (balaleet), there’s also the overriding favourite machboos, a kind of saffron rice with prawns or meat. And the most popular beverage to wash it all down with is the karak, a milky sweet tea or gahwa, an intense dark coffee. But it is probably its rocking nightlife that is bound to surprise. Though concentrated in Juffair and Adilya, there is a wide variety to choose from.