27 October 2016

The impressive villa at the Ritz Carlton Bahrain
The butler did it!
Their friends said, Where? But everything about their stay in Bahrain made Piers Morgan and his sons want to go back for more. And what made it so fabulous...?
See our offers to Bahrain
View our hotels in Bahrain
he first thing I discovered when planning my trip to Bahrain was that it is it not considered a remotely cool place to go. My friends in London’s media society do not, it turns out, associate the place - just above Qatar in the Middle East - with anything fun or glamorous, as holiday destinations go. But I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve somewhere hot with my sons and figured that nothing could be as bad as the one I spent in a well-known resort a few years ago.

Attendance at the hotel’s £300-a-head ball was compulsory, even for my three young boys – who got in half price for the lobster, caviar and champagne feast, but refused to consume anything but Coca-Cola and half a plate of chicken nuggets and chips. Making it about £20 a Coke, £10 a nugget and £5 a chip. But still – why Bahrain? Admittedly, it’s quite a weird place. An archipelago of 33 islands, it lies in the Persian Gulf midway between Saudi Arabia and the peninsula of Qatar. Dependent on pearl fishing until the early 1930s, its fortunes were transformed by large-scale oil drilling. In terms of mass tourism, there’s not a lot going on to be perfectly honest. If you want a party, then go to nearby Dubai.

Bahrain, which is known for being one of the more liberal Gulf states, has just as good weather and beaches. We arrived at 8pm from a quite superb six-hour British Airways flight. They’ve got these reverse bed things in Club class now which means you can sit facing each other before lying down to sleep. It took less than 20 minutes to get through Bahrain airport’s customs and into the minibus and just another 15 minutes to whisk us to the Ritz-Carlton Resort and Spa, where our spanking new villa awaited us.

We swept through the main hotel area (an impressive bejewelled palace-like structure, very Arabic and very smart) down through some tree-lined little roads and there it was. Not so much a villa as a mini colonial-style mansion. And there he was – our ‘lifestyle butler’, a small smiling Indonesian man called Samsul. Our party – me, my sons Spencer, 12, Stanley, eight, and Bertie, five, my brother Rupert and his girlfriend Chloe – walked inside and gave a collective: ‘Oh. My. God.’
The sumptuous interior of the villa
Enjoy your meals alfresco on the villa patio
There was a dining table for 16, a fully-stocked kitchen, a computer area, PlayStations, DVD collections, endless books and CDs. If I sound a little over- excited about this villa it’s because I was. It was astonishing. Three other members of staff had arrived by now to help Samsul look after us.

We woke at 9am to find a sumptuous breakfast awaiting us. Plates of fruit, fry-ups, pancakes, freshly ground coffee, juices. My boys quickly fell in love with Samsul because he was such a cheerful chap. They particularly liked the little button you pressed on the phone at any time of day or night to summon The Butler. ‘Hi Samsul,’ went one 8am conversation. ‘It’s Stanley. Please could we have a football, Wedding Crashers, and some Coke. Thanks.’ Ten minutes later, there it all was. And so we settled into our routine, which turned out to involve eating, and a lot of lazing about.

The weather for the first few days was pleasant – around 70°F, but with a briskish wind. Warm enough to sunbathe but blustery enough to warrant a T-shirt come 3pm and a jumper at night. But for the last couple of days, the wind died away and it felt properly hot. Samsul said that from mid-February onwards it is like that every day. The pool was gorgeous but the beach was even better. Man-made from reclaimed land, it was gleaming white, cleaned every day, and devoid of other human beings save a German family from next door. The sea water was clear, warmish, and refreshing. It was like having your own little piece of paradise transported to your front door. And quite surreal when you turned to look the other way and saw you were virtually in downtown Manama, skyscrapers looming just a few hundred yards away.

There was almost no need to step outside the villa, but if you did, you’d find a fleet of golf buggies to give you a lift to wherever you wanted to go. We hopped aboard to go to the main hotel twice, and both times enjoyed the most magnificent meals: Italian one night, the steakhouse the next. So what happened on New Year’s Eve? We had a team meeting and decided we would do the usual and just have dinner in the villa. But at 8pm, two staff arrived with free champagne from the management, and Samsul burst into the room with 50 balloons of all shapes and sizes shouting ‘Happy New Year!’ My kids screamed with delight and spent the next two hours bursting the balloons.

Then we found a Michael Jackson video tribute night on MTV – he had apparently been living in Bahrain. My brother and I celebrated by drinking too much Jack Daniels and all the male staff started moonwalking around the villa. Including Samsul – who, you will be unsurprised to hear, performed it better than Jackson.
Now I’ve stayed in some nice places. But this was something else altogether. Three vast bedrooms, my master suite bigger than my flat back in London and containing a hot tub so massive my boys preferred swimming in it to the private infinity pool outside our back door. There were plasma TVs everywhere, by the beds, the baths, and a gigantic monster of a screen in the sitting room.
"And there it was. Not so much a villa as a mini colonial-style mansion."
At midnight we popped some poppers, cracked open the champagne, cranked up the music and had a party. We did venture out of the hotel grounds a couple of times – once to go shopping in Seef Mall, a sprawling 100,000 square metre emporium including 16 cinema screens, a bowling centre and a Magic Island children’s centre with every conceivable amusement.

Bahrain sports some exotic souks, with gold the favourite ware. Bartering is fully expected.The main tourist attraction now is the Formula One racetrack, set spectacularly in the desert and resembling a space age mirage complete with a main grandstand that looks like an Arab tent in an oasis of palms. Other sites worth visiting include the Al Areen Wildlife Park, flamingoes and oryx being the favourite inmates, Manama’s Great Mosque, and the 18th century Riffa Fort, with its fantastic views over the Riffa valley.
"There was almost no need to step outside the villa, but if you did, you’d find a fleet of golf buggies to give you a lift to wherever you wanted to go."
Relax on the beach at the Ritz Carlton
The hotel pool at the Ritz Carlton Bahrain
The Ritz Carlton Bahrain
For golfers, there’s an excellent course 20 minutes’ drive from the Ritz Carlton. The scuba diving is also said to be spectacular. I found the people delightful, particularly with children. And there are plenty of bars – the Trader Vics 500 yards from our villa being especially nice. Bahrain is more relaxed than most Middle Eastern countries regarding alcohol – the maxim seems to be: just don’t make an idiot of yourself. But if you are looking for a week, or even just a long weekend, that gives you great weather all year round, a fabulous beach, a villa to die for, and a butler like Samsul, then the Ritz Carlton Resort is absolutely perfect. There’s a great spa, with all the hot new treatments, two well equipped gyms, and lots of big pools by the hotel. But it’s the lifestyle butler that makes this such a special place.

There was a moment that summed it up for me. A mouse had crept in from outside and my boys and Chloe had screamed and jumped on to the table. Samsul grabbed a broom and spent the next half an hour pursuing this mouse as if his life depended on it. Finally, Samsul cornered it, scooped it into his hand and ran outside to free it again. It was an oddly touching little vignette. I would have bet my car that he’d have killed it but Samsul doesn’t kill things – he just likes making the world a better place.

And trust me, he makes your world a far better place. These villas are not cheap, but they won’t utterly smash the bank balance either. What they are, are some of the best villas you’ll have ever stayed in. Correction. It was the best villa I have ever stayed in. And if you go, ask for Samsul. Tell him my boys miss him terribly. And so does their father. When I got back and told one of my friends all about him, she just sighed and said: ‘I want one.’

Original article published in Jun 2008. All info and prices correct at time of publication.

0330·100·2220i 0330 calls are included within inclusive minutes package on mobiles, otherwise standard rates apply. X 0330 calls are included within inclusive minutes package on mobiles, otherwise standard rates apply. X