Amwaj Islands, Bahrain

Photo: Rotana Hotel Management Corporation

Bahrain wants to be a player in the Middle East. It’s watched Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha—its neighbors in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—emerge as wealthy, global cities. Its own constitutional monarch wants in on the prosperity. Manama has turned into a financial hub. The economy is being opened to foreign companies. Plus the expat community is growing. But human rights, women’s rights, and censorship continue to plague the island nation. Can Bahrain become the tourist destination that it desperately wants to be?

Its hotels certainly make you think so. New resorts can’t be built fast enough. Upscale international chains—including the Ritz-Carlton, the Westin, and the Four Seasons—have already opened their doors. More properties are currently in the works. Bahrain’s hotel industry is booming.

So, since summer lasts until the end of October, you decide to check out Bahrain for yourself. Its 33 islands sit in the Persian Gulf off the east coast of Saudi Arabia. Qatar lies to the southeast. From Manama, the capital, you cross a long causeway to the Amwaj Islands. The man-made islands were created to increase Bahrain’s waterfront property. They increased the expat population in the process. Expensive homes, pricey shops, and yacht-filled marinas have taken over the islands. Amwaj Island, the main island, has a central lagoon and the Al Marsa Floating City. It has an art-focused hotel now, too.

Photo: Rotana Hotel Management Corporation

Rotana, an Abu Dhabi-based hotelier, opened their first Bahraini hotel on Muharraq, the northernmost island, in 2013. ART Rotana followed on Amwaj Island two years later. Mesmerizing architecture welcomes you to the waterside hotel. Its entrance and lobby look like a honeycomb overhead. Sunlight pours through the triangles during the day and then lights dance around them at night. More lights, plus music, surround a dancing fountain. Your welcome is complete with a glass of much-needed Arabic coffee.

After getting your caffeine fix in the sleek glass lobby, you head upstairs to find your room. Each and every room in the hotel has a view of the Persian Gulf’s pale blue water. You can see it from your classic suite’s comfy couch in the living room, king bed in the bedroom, and jacuzzi on the terrace. There’s a huge bathroom with a circular tub, too. The room comes with access to the Club Rotana Lounge, an even larger living space where morning coffee, afternoon high tea, and evening canapés are served.

The Club Rotana Lounge is far from your only dining choice, though. Four fine-dining restaurants serve steak and seafood, Italian, tapas, and Asian cuisine. An all-day buffet has walls lined with baskets of bread, fruit, and veggies. Light snacks are served in the Gallery Lobby Lounge overlooking the fountain. Plus nibbles, sandwiches, and cocktails are delivered around the Sunset Bar near the pool. It overlooks the golden-sand beach.

If Bahrain gets its act together, this stretch of sand, which is dotted with sturdy palm trees and cloth-draped cabanas, could easily become your go-to spot on the islands. If is the key word here.

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