Time Out takes a look at the best beach breaks within a few hours flight of Bahrain
Melissa van Maasdyk
It was the movie version of Louis de Berniere’s book, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, that brought the rugged mountains, hillside villages and beautiful beaches of Kefallonia to public attention. Following its release in 2001, fans of the movie flocked to Myrtos Beach, the spectacular crescent of white sand enfolded by limestone cliffs that had a starring role. Head there for a dip and then on to nearby Assos, a tiny village straddling the ithsmus of a peninsula at the base of a Venetian fort, with a bijou beach and a scattering of tavernas, where you can have grilled squid with the water lapping your feet.
We stayed in a basic self-catering apartment in Assos with unbeatable views of the cliffs and sea. There’s a nearby corner store that sells creamy Greek yoghurt, made by the owner himself, that’s best enjoyed with rosemary-scented honey and sweet peaches (from the farmstall on the main road between Assos and the fishing harbour, Fiskardo) on your private veranda every morning.
It’s essential to hire a car and drive around the island, stopping at small towns and barely marked beaches reached along pathways through olive groves. Another must is to pack a picnic of bread, olives, feta cheese and taramasalata and rent a small speedboat in Fiskardo. Return at sunset for an ouzo at one of the bars on the waterfront, while gazing across at Ithaca. You can take a day trip by boat to Odysseus’s legendary home, and retrace the hero’s steps on several treks, but then again a few days on this sleepy island leaves one in no mood to do anything epic.
This is the place to head for that postcard-picture holiday image – a hammock, golden sands and the waves in the background. Made up of 12,000 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean, there are approximately 90 resorts in The Maldives, ranging from reasonably-priced family-friendly ones to the more decadent, and an increasing number dedicated to preserving the environment.
Your holiday starts in the capital, Male (just 1.7km long and 1km wide), where you can get a real taste of Maldivian life in its bustling streets and market, before hopping on a speedboat or seaplane and heading to your chosen resort. Whichever you choose, you’ll enjoy stunning tropical seascapes and excellent snorkelling, diving and night-fishing, but each resort has its own unique selling point. If your main interest is diving, for example, try Helengeli (www.helengeli.net), which is the most northerly resort in North Male Atoll and has access to over 40 sites, plus a great house reef for snorkelling and an advanced dive centre.
Families can try the laidback Meeru Island Resort (www.meeru.com), which has excellent diving as well as its own boats for an add-on two-day diving safari, or full-on Club Med Kani (www.clubmed.com), offering every watersport imaginable, plus volleyball, fitness classes, nightly entertainment, a disco… you name it. But if all this activity has you running for cover, you’ll find sanctuary at the beautiful back-to-nature Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru (www.banyantree.com/maldives), where you can indulge in that turmeric and honey body rub with a clear conscience due to its serious focus on ecotourism. As for romantics, we’re in love with the Taj Exotica for its deluxe over-water villas, each with a plunge pool, and massages-for-two at the Ayurvedic spa (www.tajhotels.com).
May to October is monsoon season, so you can expect some tropical storms over the summer, but they seldom last long and the temperature remains consistent at around 30 degrees. A plus is that there are a few bargains when it comes to flights and hotel deals. Fly Qatar Airways has daily flights to Male via Doha. Your resort will suggest an appropriate means of transfer from there. Stay Book directly with the featured resorts. Prices vary, but most hotels are offering special packages at the moment.
If it’s a short break you’re after, there’s one corner of Arabia that seems like a million miles away from the rest of the Gulf. Salalah in the south-east of Oman is as magical for its temperature at this time of year as it is for its history and natural beauty, since at around 25 to 30 degrees it’s a whole lot lower than anywhere else in the region, thanks to the prevailing monsoon weather conditions. These turn the fragrant land of franckincense into one characterised by bubbling streams, waterfalls and lush green everything. An added bonus for those who ‘have surfboard, will travel’ is that the monsoon brings swells that make this a surfer’s paradise on either side of the peak, Khareef, in June and September.
Join the happy camping surfer community this month on Mugsayl Beach, known for its excellent surf and cool seafood café. And if you’re not into board games, then visit in July or August to enjoy the Khareef Festival under the warm drizzle, where there’s a kaleidoscopic melee of music, food, rides, and market traders selling everything from Yemeni honey to African necklaces. So the time-poor GCC-bound traveller can still enjoy an enriching experience over the summer.
Stay: During Khareef season, Oman Air is offering special deals on short stays in several of Salalah’s hotels, including the Crowne Plaza and the Hilton, both from BD197 per person sharing for three nights, including return airfares, room and breakfast.
The world through a lens
Award-winning Bahraini photographer Ghada Khunji, now based in New York, travels the world to capture images. My last trip was... Roatan Island – a stunning place in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Luckily for me, work and pleasure go hand in hand.
My next holiday will be... A trip to Bahrain to spend time with my family. Then I’m off to Oman, Yemen, the Sudan, Tanzania and South Africa. The things I want from a holiday are... A place that feels like home and that I yearn to return to, and somewhere with food and music that inspire me; a culture that re-invents me.
My most memorable travel experience... Hanging out with Che Guevara’s son.
My favourite place of all time is... Cuba. But from a visual photographic perspective I’d say India – its culture and the people are so varied.
My favourite city... Jodphur in India; I loved Aladdin as a child, and staying in one of its palace hotels makes you feel just like Princess Jasmine.
My favourite hotel is... The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain. I don’t usually go for luxury, but for a night of pampering this is great – the Club Room is superb.
I always pack... My camera, my flash, film, my iPhone and some kind of good-luck charm.
I always forget... Actually as a Virgo, I don’t tend to forget tangible things, so I’d have to say: my stress.
To take a good holiday picture… Treat your frame like a canvas. Look at every corner before you shoot; don’t cut out important elements and don’t include what’s unnecessary. Just because we now have ‘disposable’ digital negatives doesn’t mean one can’t take the time to compose.