Al Bander Hotel & Resort: The road leading up to Al Bander Hotel & Resort is littered on either side with industrial debris and discarded wasteland, meaning that any vacation feeling you might have been savouring, swiftly evaporates on the journey through Sitra. But perseverance is the name of the game, and is richly rewarded. Unlike almost anywhere else in Bahrain, Al Bandar Hotel & Resort looks out onto pure, unobstructed ocean. Sure, you don’t have a view of Manama’s several spectacular towers, but neither can you see any of the coastal mess that has sadly become synonymous with Bahrain’s coastline. With a meandering pool (apparently the largest in the country), the best place to position yourself is on one of the two sculpted beaches, which is where you really can kid yourself you are in a tropical paradise.
Call 17 701 201
Al Dar Islands: It’s not really a water sports club, but the fact it has some of the best beaches in Bahrain, make Al Dar Islands a definite on this list. Costing BD10 for a relatively pleasant boat ride to the islands (which includes the island’s entrance fee), the activities on offer include a range of boat trips, snorkelling and plenty of beach. This is also the location of the country’s Full Moon Parties.
Call 17 704 600
Amwaj Marina: Amwaj Islands, when finished, will offer the country’s most beautiful residential properties and a host of spectacular hotels. For the time being however, the place is a building site, with relatively little to redeem it. Amwaj Marina, the home of Team Pindar, is one of the best places in the country to park a yacht, and will play host later this month to the opulent Bahrain Boat Show International. It is also a great launch point for those looking to explore the oceans north of the country (where most of the best dive sites are located).
Call 16 034 492
Bahrain Sailing Club: With Bahrain being so small, it seems hardly fair to complain of anything being much of a driver, but you do wonder the reason for locating Bahrain Sailing Club in the middle of nowhere. OK, so it is next to Al Jasseyah Beach (think Soviet Baltic coastline thanks to the odd array of concrete ‘facilities’), Bahrain Sailing Club is one of the nicest looking clubs in Bahrain, and should be packed. With a rather stunning promenade enclosing a small and cutesy harbour, and sizeable beach and some of the most inviting water in Bahrain, the Bahrain Sailing Club is something of a diamond in the rough.
Call 17 836 078
Coral Beach Club: Coral Beach Club does not just offer a beach, water sports, restaurants, nightlife. It offers a lifestyle. Having recently been refurbished, this Mediterranean resort-style set up is where most ex-pats venture whenever they have a spot of free time. Indeed, hide the imposing skyline of Juffair and you could be in Cyprus. Add to this many of the best water sports facilities in the country (including a 56-foot dive and charter boat – the first of its kind on the island – which will be launched at the end of April), it is not hard to see why it’s so popular. To top it off, this is one of the only facilities which is actively pursuing a greater range of water sports facilities, meaning that it has surpassed most hotels in the country in terms of what it has to offer. In the evening this place becomes the location of some of island’s legendary parties (it was the hub of the F1 after party action), and is the only place to head for those looking to boogie the night away beachside.
Call 17 312 700
Bahrain Yacht Club: Situated next to Al Bandar hot & Resort in Sitra, the Bahrain Yacht Club suffers from the same industrial decay that blights the road through Sitra to where it is located. But, like its neighbour, does a great job of blocking it out once you get inside. The Bahrain Yacht Club has the best water sports equipment on offer, and is the place to head if you want to learn to sail.
Call 17 700 677
Novotel Al Dana: Located halfway between Bahrain Island and Muharraq, the Novotel Al Dana Resort is one of the few places in Bahrain in which you can actually feel like you are on holiday. A beach that wouldn’t look out of place in Spain, a great seafood restaurant and a range of water sports offerings (though no jet skis – a blessing for those looking of peace and quiet; a fatal omission for speed freaks) make this one of Bahrain perennial weekend hangouts.
Call 17 298 008
Marina Club: A stone’s throw from Coral Beach Club (and therefore crying out for comparison) Marina Club plays the sober matriarchal older sister to Coral Beach Club’s livelier sibling. With a sizeable but not particularly beautiful beach, and a couple of relatively good pools, the decking is astro-turfed, giving it an all-weather-pitch feel. The restaurants here are a hit and the views of Juffair from the club are relatively nice.
Call 17 291 527
The best free beaches
Sure, Bahrain’s water sports clubs might have some rather stunning artificial beaches, but if you are looking for a patch of sand on which you can park your towel for free, you are likely going to have to put up with a rocky shore, craggy water and litter/seaweed strewn sand. We give you the three best:
Bahrain’s biggest reclamation project to date used millions of tonnes of sand, and fortunately not all of it was built upon. There are almost no facilities to speak of (unless you have lunch at Muju in the Dragon Resort & Hotel, which has a nice patch of sand), the beaches here are clean, the water clear and, thanks to the reclamation, there are few rocks on which to wreck your feet.
Al Jazayer Beach
Located on the Western coast of the island, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had just rocked up on the Soviet Baltic coast thanks to the fact the beach is dotted with gaudy concrete umbrellas, random climbing frames and toilet blocks that epitomise all that is wrong with public loos. The water is not even that good, but with plenty of sand to stretch out on and a slim chance you won’t shred your feet having a quick dip, this makes the list.
It is hard to imagine a more depressing beach, but if you define a beach as that where sand meets water, then this place just about makes the definition. Epitomises everything that is wrong with the Bahrain coastline, the only redeeming feature of this place is the fact that it’s free.
Sail of the century
Despite its rich seafaring history, most of Bahrain’s population today appears to be thoroughly aquaphobic. We meet the people looking to put the wind into Bahrain’s water sports sails
Bahrain might be an archipelago, but you could be forgiven for thinking you had landed smack bang in the middle of the Empty Quarter from the lack of influence the surrounding ocean has on Bahrain today. But that was not always the case. The Bahraini society was for millennia associated with fishing, pearling and seafaring trade, and there was a time when you’d be hard pushed to find a local on dry land, most being on, in or under the sea.
But with the opening of the state-of-the-art Khalifa Bin Salman port threatening to make Bahrain the Gulf hub of shipping, the gradual increase in the influence that the sea is having on leisure time in Bahrain, and the new Team Pindar government backed initiative Sail Bahrain, launched late last year, the archipelago might soon see itself returning to its offshore roots.
Nick Crabtree, Director of Team Pindar and the Sail Bahrain Project, said, ‘The Sail Bahrain project is about returning Bahrainis to the ocean, which is essentially where their heritage has been for the past 4,000 years. It is about giving them the ability to use the sea again from a sailing and water sports perspective.’ Certainly, if the idea was to get Bahrain’s sailing community noticed, it has undoubtedly succeeded: on the way to the start of the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, the British crew inadvertently sailed into Iranian waters and were duly arrested, making headlines around the world and causing a diplomatic spat between Iran and the UK.
The fact that Team Pindar, one of the UKs most successful and respected sailing teams recently relocated to the country is perhaps demonstrative that the government means business, though they might have a bit of an uphill struggle, at least initially. As anyone who has been to a public swimming baths in this country can attest: many Bahrainis have not only lost the ability to sail; most can’t swim.
Susan Donkin (pictured), the water sports instructor at the Bahrain Yacht Club is enthusiastic about the country’s future: ‘Bahrain has a lot of potential and is a really great place for sailing.’ She regularly takes groups of locals and expat residents out sailing and is currently spearheading an expansion of the club’s teaching. With courses accredited by the UK’s reputable Royal Yachting Association, the club will be introducing sailing for children, courses designed for women, and is renovating its single-handed Laser fleet.
And while Bahrain might be almost devoid of animal life on land (in the Time Out office we once saw a cockroach), the sea is apparently teeming with life. Donkin says, ‘Dolphins are a common sight, and I have heard that there are rays around, though actually I haven’t seen any. You get the occasional turtle, and about five months ago I sailed into a herd of dugongs, about 30 or 40 of them.’ Well, OK, if not teeming, then certainly more lively than the occasional road kill on the road to Durrat Al Bahrain.
And with Team Pindar in preparations to open a water sports academy of excellence (‘It will do everything from teaching children familiarity with the sea right through to diving and jet skiing safely’), it seems that there will be as much life above water and under Bahrain’s oceans as on land soon.
The Bahrain Yacht Club, situated in Sitra, has a fleet of Cruisers (small yachts), Hobies (small catamarans), Picos and Lasers (small dinghies). The club offers group and private instruction. For more information visit www.thebahrainyachtclub.com or call 17 700 677. Team Pindar is initiating the Sail Bahrain programme in the country. For more information, visit www.teampindar.com.
Bahrain Boat Show International
Hiring a boat or bouncing around on the back of a banana at one of the water sports clubs might be fun, but anyone serious about sailing will want to invest in a boat of their own. For the second year running, the Bahrain Boat Show International, held at Amwaj Marina will have on display a number of first class yachts and sailing vessels from which you can choose.
When: April 20-24, opening times 5pm-11pm
Where: Amwaj Marina
What: The show will feature a number of super yachts, hovercraft, amphibious sports carts, and personal submarines.
Events: The highlight of the show is a charity Gala Dinner (date still to be confirmed at the time of going to press), though there will be jet-ski and water sports stunt displays throughout the weekend
How much? Tickets can be purchased in advance from Virgin Megastores in Bahrain City Centre and, oddly, at McDonald’s stores across the country. Regular tickets cost BD4, with children under 12 admitted for free. VIP tickets (which give you access to the enclosure housing the super yachts) cost BD15.