Regular dance parties and a chilled out youthful atmosphere are making Al Dar Island one of the hippest destinations in Bahrain
It’s getting on for 6pm and the blazing sun is sinking languidly towards the horizon. Out on the water, a large mixed group of western expats looking for a bit of weekend rest and recuperation away from their base in Saudi Arabia, are perched on a floating platform telling jokes and taking in the final few rays of the day.
Beside me, a long-haired gentleman with a bandito moustache and a bandana grins enthusiastically, lights another roll-up cigarette, raises his glass and proposes a toast. ‘Welcome to Al Dar,’ he says as the lilting sound of reggae music pours out of the stereo and into the balmy evening air.
It would be pushing the constraints of reality to liken Bahrain’s hippest new island resort to any commonly held perception of paradise. A tiny and somewhat scruffy speck of sand separated from one of the less attractive tracts of the mainland by a mile or so of sea, this is no Thailand.
What it is, however, is a microcosm of what makes Bahrain such an appealing place. Compact, friendly and imbued with a refreshing joie de vivre that puts visitors at ease immediately, this unassuming little destination is the perfect place to put your life on hold for a few hours. The island’s burgeoning popularity is attributable to a range of factors. Families appreciate getting the opportunity to let their kids splash around with impunity in the shallow waters. There’s also peddle-boats, kayaks and a range of junior-friendly boat excursions available including a dolphin watching tour and trips to some of the nearby islands.
It’s among the Kingdom’s growing contingent of hip young things that Al Dar is making the most pronounced impression. As anyone who has ever watched the sun go down at Café Del Mar in Ibiza or danced manically in the waves until way past dawn at Kho Phang Ngan in Thailand will know, there’s something about being on an island that lends itself to a little bit of harmless debauchery. But the Middle East is not exactly regarded as a stronghold of liberal mores, and when it comes to letting your hair down, Al Dar is more of a slightly risqué feather cut than a full blown shaggy mane. Nevertheless, there’s a palpable sense of youthful exuberance about the place that makes it unlike many other destinations in the Gulf.
As a veteran of several campaigns on the after-hours party circuit in both South East Asia and Europe, I was slightly disappointed that my own pre-Ramadan visit to Al Dar didn’t coincide with one of the full moon bashes held here. Since the island was taken under the ownership of Rashid Investment Holdings and the benevolent and open-minded auspices of Shaikh Hassan Bin Rashid in 2007, several shindigs have been held on its sandy shores with a wildly eclectic soundtrack provided by the best in local mixing talent as well as international DJs. Two more are planned before the end of the year.
As it was, I was happy to make do with a day of unapologetic loafing that involved little more than a copy of a British music magazine, a few dips in the tepid Gulf and more than a couple of journeys from sun-lounger to fully-licensed beach bar and restaurant for sustenance and refresment. After watching the last breath of sunlight ooze out of the day, I was ferried back to the mainland towards an evening of flight delays and stress. It may not have been the perfect way to end the day, but the interminable hours of transit at least gave me time to savour the lingering memory of an unpretentious getaway that asks very little but gives plenty in return.
Al Dar is accessible via sea taxi from the port of Sitra, around 20 minutes drive from Manama. For more information on activities and forthcoming events see www.aldarislands.com or call 39 469 9676.