Our recent trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain allowed us to experience two very different properties from the Rotana brand. Spending the first half of our stay in the heartbeat of this island Kingdom, amongst the thriving street of Manama. The Downtown Rotana offered us a glimpse at city living, ideal for the business traveller or those looking to be near the cultural attractions.
After a morning of sightseeing, including trips to the Tree of Life, Bahrain Fort, the National Museum and the bridge to Saudi Arabia, we checked into the ART Rotana for the remainder of our stay in Bahrain. A completely different property to the Downtown and one that presents a distinct resort vibe. Located on Amwaj Islands, a few kilometres from Bahrain International Airport, the ART Rotana is a complete contrast to the city property in Manama. A spacious five-star hotel covering extensive grounds and a stretch of private beach. Amwaj is defined by luxury living, a collection of man-made islands reclaimed from the sea (similar to Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah) and home to a number of floating residences, upmarket hotels and private marinas.
The ART Rotana’s glass facade rises out of the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf, appearing like a wave about to crest. An impressive structure that adds another architectural marvel to Bahrain’s distinctive skyline and marks a new direction for Rotana – a brand synonymous with offering value for money and proficient service. ART is an entirely different beast, aimed predominantly at the luxury market and the influx of weekend visitors from the causeway that connects Bahrain with nearby Saudi Arabia.
A sweeping canopy of steel and glass marks the entrance to the ART and we’re swept up in the ultra-modern look of a property, unlike any other Rotana. While many luxury hotels in the GCC look to replicate old world grandeur, the ART verges on futurism. A mixture of sleek minimalism and modernity, represented by clean lines, an abundance of windows and the occasional floral bloom. A funnel design is the focal point of the lobby and reaches skywards like a flower about to bloom and if you think it’s impressive by day, wait until the night fall, where a cascade of colours dance across the structure, illuminating the lobby in hues of neon colours, like something out of Blade Runner.
Our Rotana Club Suite on the 14th floor was insane! Situated at the summit of this pyramid shaped building, it’s not only the biggest suite we’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in but also the best equipped. Clocking in at a whopping 165 SQM, the door opens into a living area that will quite literally blow your mind and was more than sufficient for little old me, a lone traveller who felt somewhat lost in such a gargantuan space. The suite features a lounge area complete with leather sofas, deep pile rugs, and a 46-inch television, a writing desk (ideal for those who need to work/blog) a four seater dining table and small kitchenette. The sense of modern comfort is continued via an abundance of glass, striking silver light fittings and modern comforts such as an espresso machine. Again we must applaud Rotana in Bahrain for ditching the powdered coffee plaguing the UAE properties which really does detract from the luxury feel.
At first, the suite appears overwhelming as we’re taken on a tour of two bathrooms, the second of which has a large circular tub with LED lighting and sound system. Dual vanity units and a powerful rainfall shower decked out in natural tones help to bring a sense of serenity to the bathrooms and the inclusion of L’Occitane products again add an extra touch of class.
In the bedroom, you’ll find an additional flat screen television, writing desk and lounge area but it’s the bed that really matters. Super comfortable and close enough to the windows, allowing guests to admire the sweeping views of Bahrain Bay in the most relaxing way possible. For the technologically minded, the ART Rotana rooms will leave you grinning from ear to ear, for its smart design has been meticulously planned to ensure the utmost of ease. Plugs sockets and USBs can be found in abundance, while a handy media hub means connecting your laptop or smart device to the television is a breeze. Curtains and lighting are all remote controlled which is convenient, considering the size of the space. One minor criticism, the wifi was a little patchy in places, working better throughout the hotel grounds than in the rooms itself, but when you have a suite of this calibre to enjoy, you might not even notice.
Just when we thought we’d seen it all, we’re escorted to an outside terrace with another dining table, a luxurious cabana and wait for it… our own private Jacuzzi! Rest assured we spent more time here on the terrace than we did at the beach, despite the soaring temperatures. Surprisingly, this is not the pinnacle of accommodation at the ART Rotana, with the 264 SQM Amwaj Suite and the 373 SQM three bedroom Royal Suite completing the repertoire of 311 ocean facing rooms.
After gorging ourselves on welcome treats dusted in gold, we meander around the hotel with a sense of exploration. It’s a sprawling resort where you’ll find a gentleman’s barber, ladies salon, gift shop and spa. Typical of Rotana, the spa has no pre or post treatment relaxation rooms but does offer a range of good treatments including, massages, facials and wraps. We enjoyed a sixty-minute stress-busting massage (not that we really needed it, as the hotel promotes sheer relaxation) that was as professional as it was relaxing, though the treatment rooms (of which there are seven) appear to be hotel rooms with the beds removed?
Three temperature controlled swimming pools are the focal feature of the outside area. The main pool is flanked by dazzling white cabanas upholstered in lime green that blends well with the palm trees and manicured lawns. This is the family pool, replicating the scale of the hotel itself with its large body of water. Adjacent to this, guests will find a fully shaded pool for children, including a splash pad of fountains, water jets and a whole host of other fun features. If that wasn’t enough to keep the little ones occupied, the ART Rotana also features a mini water park complete with climbing structures and a number of brightly coloured slides.
Despite Rotana being firmly rooted in the family friendly vacation market, ART chooses to do things slightly differently to enhance its luxurious resort vibe. For a third swimming pool close to the shore is designated for adults only. Featuring a private bar for speciality cocktails, a booming sound system of dance anthems and a private outdoor Jacuzzi. Allowing adults to have their own sacred space will be a draw for many vacationers and appears to be a very smart move that we’ve seen a number of other properties embrace in recent months (including Dubai’s Waldorf Astoria).
This notion of adults only spaces also applies at the beach. A 150-meter swathe of sand is backed by calm waters looking more Caribbean than Middle East, is accessible to all. Offshore and accessible via a wooden bridge is a private island, a small patch of sand where you’ll find just six cabanas only for the adults. Those seeking seclusion, privacy or the feeling or being shipwrecked on your own tropical island, will find this notion very appealing. Though the noise from the water sports area and the constant hum of jet skis do shatter the illusion somewhat. The beach area is a lagoon with small fish darting beneath the still waters and ample sun loungers, daybeds and cabanas are available. Unfortunately, the beach does fall victim to the common problems that surround these man-made developments. Predominantly the ‘sludgy’ style of sand and steep drop-off, meaning the water gets deep alarmingly quickly. There’s also a kids club and gymnasium, meeting rooms and wedding facilities for those so inclined.
Prior to visiting Bahrain, the ART Rotana was already on our Radar for its plethora of dining options. Virtually everyone we spoke recommended the same place, informing me that WU, the ART’s Asian-style restaurant and shisha lounge was the place to see and be seen in Amwaj. As fate would have it, I didn’t actually dine at WU (though I will definitely be returning on any future visit to Bahrain) and instead ended up at Flames.
Flames is the signature steakhouse of ART and the only restaurant on my stay that I hadn’t eaten at elsewhere in the GCC. A sophisticated space that feels more lounge-like than fine dining, skewing somewhere between steakhouse and nightclub with pleasing hues of plum and silver. Flames is a well thought our space, offering curved screens as a means of privacy to individual tables. The menu may appear familiar to savvy UAE diners for it’s a hybrid of both the Rodeo Grill and Finz menus from the Beach Rotana in Abu Dhabi. A fantastic concept that mixes the very best of steak and seafood into a new iteration of the steakhouse with a slight Asian influence. Our menu choices were guided by charismatic restaurant manager Frebin Francis whose personalised service and engaging chatter certainly helped to put this lone diner at ease. We start with crab and rock shrimp dumplings prepared in a chilli glaze that adds not only moisture to the dumplings but an impressive flavour profile. Navigating our way through a fantastic Stockyard Silver 100% Wagyu, grain fed for 200 days with a marbling of seven, and cooked to a medium rare perfection. We’re reminded once again just how impressive the fine dining scene is in Bahrain.
The food may be great but it’s the cocktails that really excel. For Flames takes the popular choices of martinis and juleps and reinvents them with a unique twist. The Smoke Flamed Manhattan should not be missed for its beguiling blend of Bourbon, Martini Rosso, dark cacao and Maraschino liqueur. For the more adventurous, there’s chocolate and cotton candy concoctions.
Choices, the ART’s all-day-dining restaurant and a place that we’ve found problematic at other Rotana properties for its breakfast spread. Here things are a little different, offering a clean look of light wood, accentuated by the curvature of the wooden slatted ceiling and a buffet spread that’s not too big but focuses on healthy options and quality in conjunction with the expected live egg station. ART offers eight dining destinations in total including the sunset pool bar, Patisserie ART (a French inspired Patisserie), The Gallery Lobby Lounge (for light snacks, coffee and afternoon tea), Cellar 59 (a wine bar and tapas venue) and Rosso (an Italian restaurant that we struggled with at the Amwaj Rotana in Dubai but thoroughly enjoyed when sampling their Saturday brunch in Bahrain).
As expected from Rotana, all staff wear a proud smile and greet guests with such sincerity that we wish more staff in the GCC were trained in this way. We’ve said it before, but the customer focus at the core of the Rotana experience is one of the companies biggest selling points and we’re pleased to see that it traverses countries as well as properties, with the team at ART appearing genuinely pleased to have us visiting Bahrain. The fact that we received such seamless service across two properties is a testament to the team who get to know the guests and their names, and in the process adopt a far more personalised service style.
Would we return to the ART Rotana? In a heartbeat! The property is entirely different for the Rotana brand and something we hope to see them build on and implement elsewhere in the MENA region. Rotana has taken five-star luxury and pushed it one notch further, in a property by which all Rotana’s should be compared.
72 hours in Bahrain was not enough but it will always hold a place in our hearts. Not only was it the first place we’ve been recognised on the street for the blog (not once but TWICE!) but for the unparalleled service levels, the friendliness of the people and the promotion of culture. These combined factors make Bahrain a GCC destination waiting to be explored. So much so, that we’re already planning a return visit. Watch this space…
We were invited to stay at the ART Rotana. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE with some images used courtesy of Rotana Hotels.