Looking to beat the heat on the cheap this summer? Time Out Bahrain offers you the ultimate guide to getting out of the country
Time Out Bahrain staff
Dubai might have been the most exciting city of the new millennium but, if current development plans are anything to go by, Abu Dhabi looks set to steal the title of ‘Gulf City of the Future’. Sure, the city is by no means there yet – much of it remains a building site – but for the chance to see how oil money can transform a backwards village into a thriving economic and cultural hub, there is nowhere else like it. Don’t miss: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Completed just six months ago, the mosque is not only the biggest in the UAE, it holds a slew of world records: it has the planet’s largest dome (32.7 metres), the largest chandelier (10 metres in diameter) and the world’s largest rug (all 41 tonnes of it covering a colossal 5,627 square metres). Fly: Etihad Airways www.etihad.com.
The 36 Hour Weekend The latest addition to the Fairmont’s increasingly dominant stable of hotels in the UAE, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr is one of the most exciting hotels to hit Abu Dhabi. Between October 9 and December 31 take advantage of the 36 Hour Weekend package, available every Friday: early check-in, late check-out, Friday brunch with unlimited pourings of French bubbly and beach and leisure facilities, this place is perfect for the ultimate weekend wind-down. BD189++ Reservations: +971 654 3000 or visit www.fairmont.com/babalbahr.
Family Weekend Package At the Staybridge Suites Abu Dhabi Yas Island you can get two adults and two children in a two-bedroom suite with Friday Brunch at the Crowne Plaza next door and free entry to the Kids Club. BD89++ Reservations: +971 2656 3030 or email email@example.com.
Treat Yourself This May For the entire month of May, the Crowne Plaza Yas Island (pictured right), one of the city’s newest and most convenient hotels, has a superior room for two people with breakfast and dinner in Jing Asia with access to all the leisure facilities. BD59++ Reservations: +971 2656 3030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weekend Bed and Breakfast In one of the most exciting openings in Abu Dhabi to date, The Yas Hotel, made famous by the city’s Formula 1 circuit which runs beneath it, is offering a weekend rate of two nights (Thursday to Saturday) for two guests for BD199 including breakfast. Not bad for one of the most talked about hotels this year. Reservations: +971 2656 0000 www.theyashotel.com.
The capital city of Jordan is often overlooked in favour of the country’s slew of attractions. Which is a shame because Amman is one of the most awe-inspiring cities in the Middle East, one in which history and modernity have collided to create an authentic centre of Arab culture. Best of all, the city is within striking distance of the country’s four main attractions: the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and Jaresh.
Don’t miss: The Roman Amphitheatre Although much of Amman is relatively new, the city was first inhabited around 8,500BC, and populated by the Assyrians, Persians and Greeks. But it is the Romans that left the most visible legacy, most notably the giant amphitheatre in downtown Amman. Sure, you’ve seen a dozen amphitheatres, but have you seen one that seems to have been sculpted out of the very heart of a city? Fly: Gulf Air www.gulfair.com.
All You Can Spa Book a Four Seasons Suite or above at the Four Seasons Hotel Amman and receive three one-hour spa treatments of your choice, making it a truly relaxing break (pictured below). Valid until June 15. Reservations: +962 6550 5555 or visit www.fourseasons.com/amman.
Perched on the edge of the Mediterranean, but with a soul that still remains firmly in the Middle East, forget Turkey, if you really want to see what happens when European and Arab cultures enmesh, head to Lebanon. Cosmopolitan yet relaxed, with as many historical ruins as all-night discos, Beirut has become a byword for cool in the past couple of years, and with good reason. The creative centre of Arab world, there is no place like it on earth.
Don’t miss: Baalbek OK, not strictly in the city (it’s a good two-hour drive from Beirut), Lebanon’s star attraction is one of the most impressive Roman ruins outside of Europe. Known as Heliopolis in Roman times, the complex contains some of the largest and most elaborate Roman temples ever built, and they remain among the best preserved. Fly: Gulf Air www.gulfair.com.
Bikini Resolution Need to get in shape before you hit the hottest beaches in the Middle East? Then you might want to book into the InterContinental Phonecia for their fitness plan. Get 10 sessions of LPG, eight tries at the Power Plate, 10 sessions with a personal trainer and five goes in the solarium. Costs BD479. Reservations: +968 1 357 030.
Sure, it is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and travelling here can be a hard task thanks to the ever-present cry of ‘Baksheesh’, but if you haven’t been to Cairo, then you haven’t lived. Home to three of the most distinctive landmarks in the world (including the Pyramids of Giza – the largest of which, incidentally, is the only Wonder of the Ancient World still standing), a bustling cafe culture and a handful of the best museums in the world, Cairo is deservedly known as the ‘mother’ city.
Don’t miss: The Egyptian Museum Sure, it’s a bit musty, and some of the displays are in a sad state of neglect, but if there is one thing to see, it is the remains of Tutenkhamun’s tomb. Although Tute was just a minor royal when he died, and all the evidence points to the fact that he was hastily buried with limited pomp, his death mask gives us some idea of what treasures those tombs raided centuries ago must have yielded. Fly: Gulf Air www.gulfair.com.
Summer Weekend Package At the Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo – The First Residence, you can get a room with all the trimmings for a weekend over the summer for the special price of BD98++ per night. Reservations: +20 2 3573 1212 or visit www.fourseasons.com/cairofr.
Family Package From May 1 to September 30, those booking three nights at the Mena House Oberoi in Cairo (pictured left) with children, can get a complimentary room for up to two kids. The package includes airport transfers, and daily fresh fruit and flowers. From BD117++ p/n. Reservations: +20 2 3377 3222 or visit www.oberoihotels.com.
Deyafa Extra Those staying at the Hilton World Trade Centre Residence Hotel in Cairo this summer need not worry about missing breakfast. With complimentary in-room breakfast served until 3pm, along with a range of benefits that include shopping discounts, cinema tickets and airport transfers, this is the place to head if it’s late night city life you’re after. Reservations: +20 2 2580 2000.
Stay 21, Get 7 Planning to decamp to Cairo for a month? The Conrad Hotel in Cairo is offering a free week. The downside? You have to book three weeks with them first. Reservations: +20 2 580 8000.
Sharm El Sheikh
As if Egypt didn’t have enough (Cairo, Pyramids, Valley of the Kings, Luxor), Sharm El Sheikh is the country’s laid-back facade. Pretty good beaches, crystal clear water and a nightlife scene to rival Beirut’s, Sharm El Sheikh has become a home away from home for millions of sun-deprived Europeans. If you’re after something more laid back head to Dahab, which is what Sharm must have looked like before Thomas Cook pointed to it on a map.
Don’t miss: Diving The Red Sea has some of the best visibility and richest marine life in the world, and is rightfully considered one of the best places to get your Open Water and take a look at the deep. Fly: Jazeera Airways, via Kuwait www.jazeeraairways.com.
Seasonal Break Planning to get away for a long weekend? Then you might want to take advantage of the Sofitel Sharm El Sheikh’s offer of four nights for the price of three. One of the area’s most opulent hotels., this is where you can make the most out of the beach. Offer includes a gourmet gift basket. Reservations: +20 69 3600 081
The third facet to Egypt’s diverse tourism industry is Alexander the Great’s Alexandria, which at the turn of the 19th century rivalled Morocco’s Tangier as the most cosmopolitan place on earth. In the ancient world it was best known for its lighthouse, which once towered 130 metres above the Med and was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and its library, which is said to have contained the greatest collection of ancient manuscripts ever known. Destroyed by a series of successive earthquakes, today Alexandria is best known for its laid back southern Mediterranean vibe and selection of authentic Egyptian cafes.
Don’t miss: Biliotheca Alexandria Built on what were supposedly the ruins of the ancient library, this brand new complex commemorates what was lost nearly 2,000 years ago. Fly: Gulf Air www.gulfair.com.
Seasonal Break Staying for longer? Much like the Sharm El Sheikh property, get four nights for the price of three at the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria. One of the city’s top heritage hotels, this is where you can get a sense of the history of the city, while saving money on your stay. Reservations: +20 3487 7173
If you want to head to where it all started, then you need to head to Damascus, probably the oldest city in the world, and certainly the oldest continually inhabited one. Damascus is the capital of Syria, and not all that far from Amman or Beirut, to appreciate it you need to head to its old centre, which is home to a patchwork of passageways and squares that give the place a truly labyrinthine feel. With many of the buildings dating back millennia, it’s perhaps no surprise the city was chosen to be the 2008 Arab Capital of Culture.
Don’t miss: Umayyad Mosque Built around the site of a Roman temple and then Byzantine cathedral, the Umayyad Mosque is one of the oldest and largest mosques in the world. Reputedly containing the head of John the Baptist (who is revered in both Christian and Muslim traditions), the mosque is the beating heart of the old city. Fly: Bahrain Air www.bahrainair.net.
Experience More, Stay Longer, Suite Experience Damascus not enough? Experience more with the Four Seasons Hotel Damascus. Stay two consecutive nights and get 100 Euros credit to be used in the restaurant or spa. Or, stay three nights and get the fourth night free. Book one of the Diplomatic Suites and get a one hour spa treatment. Valid until June 30. Reservations: +963 11 339 1000.
Although Qatar’s rise to the top of the rich list was rapid, the creation of a city to match the might of Dubai has been somewhat slower. Something of an ‘Abu Dhabi’ in the sense that many of the most interesting developments are still under construction, there is nevertheless no doubt that Doha will be a key Gulf player in the not-too-distant future. The hotel sector, on the other hand, seems to have sped away with itself, attracting some of the biggest hotel brands in the world. So if it is sun, sea and shisha you’re after, there is no better place to head.
Don’t miss: The Museum of Islamic Art Most people head here to admire the building as much as the exhibition, and for good reason. Designed by Pritzker Prize winner I. M. Pei, the building is a fantastic example of modern Islamic architecture. It also plans to amass the largest collection of Islamic art in the world.
Experience More Stay Longer Family Getaway The Four Seasons Hotel in Doha has a range of offers to entice the business and leisure traveller. Stay two consecutive nights and get QR225 credit to be used in the restaurant or spa. Alternatively, until May 31, stay three nights and get the fourth night free. From June 1, stay two nights and get the third night free. If you are bringing the kids, the Family Getaway package allows you to book a second room at a 50 per cent discount and a 25 per cent saving on spa treatments. Reservations: +974 494 8888.
There’s little to say about Dubai that hasn’t already been said. Big, brash, and unbeaten by the economic crisis, which has seen it make the headlines on a regular basis for the past couple of years, the opening of Burj Khalifa only reaffirmed its position at the top of the league of world cities.
Don’t miss: Burj Khalifa Sure, it seems to have been an integral part of the Emirate’s skyline for years, but with the opening of the tallest building in the world earlier this year, now’s your chance to see Dubai up close from the highest man-made point on earth. Not for those suffering from vertigo. Fly: Emirates www.emirates.com.
My Weekend With room rates from just BD55, the My Weekend Package at the Crowne Plaza Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road can get you complimentary transfers to Jumeirah Beach Park, Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall, while children under 12 can eat for free in Al Dana restaurant. Reservations: +971 4 331 1111 or email email@example.com.
Summer Package The Park Hyatt Dubai is offering three nights for the price of two, or four nights for the price of three for all those looking for a long weekend in the Gulf. In addition, with each stay, up to two children can stay and dine in selected restaurants for free. Reservations: +971 800 4097
Stay and Play Book into the InterContinental Dubai Festival City and you can enjoy two rounds of golf at the nearby Al Badia Golf Course, along with the room and breakfast at a starting price of just BD99++ Reservations: +971 4 701 1110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Suite Escape If you are heading to Dubai and want to make sure you match the glitz of the city with your hotel stay, this is the one for you. Book into one of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s Club Suites, the Emirates Suite or the Ritz-Carlton Suite and get a bottle of bubbly, a romantic dinner for two, a 30-minute couple massage and a rose petal turn down. Great for flush honeymooners. From BD300++ per night. Reservations: +971 4 399 4000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/dubai.
Geographically and culturally separate from the rest of the Arab world, Marrakech is the epicentre of Maghrebi culture and is everything that the Gulf region is not. Combining one of the most interesting souqs on the planet, some of the best accommodation in Africa and a unique and thrilling local culture that is both hospitable to and unaffected by tourists, Morocco’s desert city is among the most alluring in the world.
Don’t miss: Djemaa el Fna Have a true Arabian Nights moment in the old city’s famous square, where tooth sellers try to pass you an incisor, fortune tellers assemble the future and around 300 food stalls give you a taste of fabulously rich Moroccan cuisine. Fly: Royal Air Maroc, via Dubai and Casablanca www.royalairmaroc.com.
Experience Very Morocco If you want to stay at one of the best hotels on the planet, and get a taste of Morocco while you are there, then you could do worse than this offer from La Mamounia, located in the former palace of the Crown Prince of Morocco. Stay a minimum of three nights and get a relaxing treatment on arrival, a complimentary guided tour of Marrakech, dinner at the famed Le Marocain, a buffet lunch, tea ceremony and a 90-minute Hammam ritual. From BD1,113++ Reservations: +212 524 388 600 or visit www.mamounia.com.
While Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have spent the past three decades in a scramble to build iconic buildings and make steps towards Middle Eastern domination, Oman has been doing quite the opposite. Once home to a powerful seafaring sultanate, the country has put strict planning laws in place in order to retain its cultural identity, meaning a visit to Oman is a truly Arabian experience.
Don’t miss: Dohfar Province Once home to the hugely profitable Frankincense trade, the Dohfar Province has a mild microclimate and, during the monsoon (June to September) is a land rich in waterfalls and greenery, rain-soaked and shrouded in fog. Sure, rain might not sound like an attraction, but if you are coming from the 45 degree heat of the Gulf, then you’ll be glad of a few drops of moisture. Fly: Oman Air www.omanair.com.
Summer Escape Oman Air has hooked up with the recently opened Salalah Marriott Resort to offer weekenders the chance to book flights and hotel stays and save a stack of cash. Pay two nights and stay three, with breakfast and dinner included (including return flights from Muscat to Salalah, but not Bahrain-Muscat) for just BD110. Reservations: +968 2453 1000 or email email@example.com.
Amazing Weekends In Sohar, 200km north of Muscat, the Crowne Plaza Sohar is offering room, breakfast, dinner between Wed and Fri for just BD89++ p/n. Reservations: www.crowneplaza.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends coming? If you’re staying at home but have friends visiting, take advantage of some of Bahrain’s best hotel offers!
Bahrain Beach Package Surprise your friends by organising a hotel stay that actually includes a beach! The Marriott Executive Apartments in Juffair offers stay in a luxurious one or two bedroom apartment, replete with buffet breakfast, access to a private beach and a shuttle to and from the beach. Valid until September 30. One bedroom apartment BD 108++ per night, two bedroom apartment BD130++ per night. Reservations: 17 363 999.
Wahooo Weekender Don’t fancy the beach but still want to beat the heat? Then check into the Crowne Plaza Bahrain. In a deal with one of the country’s top attractions, stay at this city centre hotel and get passes to Bahrain’s latest water park Wahooo, which are likely to be the hottest tickets this summer. Prices start from BD90++ per night with passes. Reservations: 17 531 122.