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There is a bit of a rivalry between Bahrain and Dubai. The history of trade and friendship between Bahrain and the West, particularly UK, goes back decades, and until maybe fifteen years ago, Bahrain was considered the jewel of the Gulf, people would go there from around the Middle East for weekends for shopping or R&R and to get thing that weren't readily available in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or even the UAE - basic foodstuffs, clothes, a drink...
Now of course, all eyes are on Dubai and what the next massive project will be - the biggest this, the biggest that.... Bahrain can't compete on that scale but is building, is updating, and is already ahead in many ways - it is a democracy, alcohol can be bought in shops and the people are hospitable and friendly.
For an island, Bahrain has remarkably few decent beaches. Most of the hotels are built along the corniche, facing the sea but on the wrong side of the road - and there is no beach anyway. Until recently, the only hotel with access to any beach to speak of was expensive, glitzy Ritz Carlton. However, The newest hotel, the Novotel Al Dana, has tried to get in on the act, built in traditional Arabesque style, with access to a beach, albeit a lagoon.
ARRIVAL When we arrived it was already dark. The airport pick up that we had booked went to plan, there was a chap with a sign with my name on (Mr V. Boy... no, not really) and he led us to the car park where a minivan rolled up a minute later. Our bags, cases, pushchair, baby, all got thrown in the back and off we went. But with the baby in our arms! Within minutes we were driving over the bridge to the main island that forms Bahrain and, less than ten minutes after leaving the airport, we were pulling into the hotel.
CHECK IN Stepping out of the minibus, there is no grand entrance into the hotel. The doorway looks like it might as well be into a storage room. However, no, it takes you into a small room where you climb a flight of steps into the reception area, where there are three check-in desks, one of which was manned, taking several calls and doing other things at the same time. All things considered, we checked in fairly quickly, though it did take ten minutes or so.
ROOM Our room was in a block set just a short way back from the pool. We walked around the pool, into a corridor that looked rather like cloisters, up to the end and ours was the last room.
They had very kindly upgraded us to a suite, which sounded fantastic as we could let the vodkababy sleep in the bedroom while we relax in the living room. Eventually he did, and we could then look around and see what joys the suite had to offer. The answer was...not many.
The hallway was a large, square, tiled floor, with two cupboards, then off to one side another area which was bare and empty - quite a waste of space. They could easily have put a table in there, or a sofa, there was so much space, but it was just wasted. Leading off here was a bedroom, a bathroom and a living room.
The bedroom had a double bed - and now a cot as well - with bed-side tables. There was a cupboard with the TV and minibar and also a work desk; it struck me as as being pretty pointless having the minibar and the work desk in the bedroom, seeing as there was a living room as well. It would have made more sense to have these in the living room so one person can work or drink while the other goes to bed, but this was not the only oddity.
The living room was a good size, simply but comfortably furnished with two sofas, in al "L" shape, a coffee table and a further side table and a TV/cupboard unit. The sofas were just about in the middle of the room, leaving large amounts of space behind them - which was wasted - except for anyone who gets a kick out of standing behind sofas, like a stand lamp.
The bathroom was standard, hotel bathroom with the usual potty facilities, bath, shower and amenities. However, we were two adults and one child but they gave us just two towels. So, the missus and I drew lots over who would dry their face with the baby's botty towel. Actually no we didn't, but you get the idea.
The rooms were in keeping with the Arabesque style of the resort. The floors were tiled, the walls bare, with little decoration, but with inset arches and rectangles, like bricked up windows. There were very few pictures on the walls. The ceilings were wooden patterned.
ATTENTION-DEFICIT DISORDER The strange thing was, they had made a lot of effort to supply comforts to the rooms, but had not made any effort to make sure it all worked. And even if it could, it sometimes didn't.
We had booked, and confirmed, a cot and when we checked in, the receptionist had phoned to order it. But of course, when we got to the room it wasn't there. After 20 mins we called reception and they said they would hurry it along. Ten mins later there was a knock at the door, and there was a chap delivering a spare bed. We sent him away and called reception again, and finally they brought the cot. By this time the poor chap was so exhausted he collapsed into it and was asleep before he was horizontal.
I've mentioned the work desk and minibar in the bedroom...two towels for four people...hold on, there's more. There was not a single mirror in the bedroom - how stupid is that? Even more stupid than this: there was a kettle, teabags, coffee, milk, sugar, great we can have a brew. Hang on - there are no mugs!
We took the kettle through to the living room and plugged it into the wall, but the cord was too short to reach any of the tables, so it sat on the floor. We turned the telly on, but could barely hear it, so we turned the volume up - but it would only go up to 3 1/2 out of ten. The volume would NOT go any higher than a third, so we had to get the engineer out to adjust it - along with Housekeeping for the cot and the towels. We didn't bother mentioning that the TV guide was over a week out of date.
EATING AND DRINKING We had beakfast every day in the Zytoun restaurant, the other side of the pool. The breakfast buffet was quite extensive, laid out over several tables with wide choice of western and local dishes. The waitresses were pleasant and helpful and made a fuss of the baby.
The Novotel is also known for La Perle, an exquisite restaurant overlooking the sea offering top notch tuck.
There is also L'Alize, a more casual restaurant with live music, and Bellevue lounge bar.
There is also, of course, room service. The promise to deliver in 10 to 30 minutes (huh?); the first time, we called them after 35 minutes and they apologised for a problem in the kitchen. when it came, the food was excellent.
SERVICE All of the hotel staff that we met were very friendly. Everyone that we met at the restaurants, everyone who came to the room to fix things that we complained about, was charming and pleasant. When I had to go out at 3am to get something from the 24 hour pharmacy (no, I had not pulled and needed condoms, it was something for the baby!) the guys at reception were concerned and helpful. Really, very welcoming and friendly, like most of the people we met in Bahrain.
OTHER STUFF The hotel has its own private beach, in a custom-built lagoon, and within the hotel there is a pool, surrounded by the rooms. There is "Curves" fitness centre and gym (I always thought it was to get rid of unnecessary curves!); a sauna (though in summer, just walk outside); and a souvenir shop and florist.
For the work-minded, there is a business centre which is open 8am to 5pm, so not the best for business but, if you are using it as a holiday resort, then probably good enough.There are also conference facilities for 20 to 150 people.
LOCATION About ten minutes from the airport and five minutes from the city centre. It is located alongside one of the two bridges from the main island that is Bahrain, to the island where the airport is. This is a little away from the centre, so you cannot just walk out into the souk, you need taxis - and they are expensive and rarely use meters. However if you don't mind haggling, or have your own transport, then the location is fine!
SUMMARY A beautiful, stylish hotel offering a much-needed beach resort accommodation in a wonderful Middle-Eastern country. The food was excellent and the people wonderful. The rooms were comfortable, if basic. If only they could sort out the details, the little ones that matter, then this would be high up on the list of places to stay.
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