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By Sekka Editorial
If there’s one destination in the Gulf that all Khaleejis would agree they love to visit, it’s Bahrain. And it’s not just because its people have a reputation for being the friendliest and sweetest in the Gulf. Historically, the island kingdom was a hub for natural pearls, thanks to the pearl beds that are abundant in the Gulf waters surrounding it. Even Jacques Cartier, of the internationally renowned Cartier jewelry brand, paid a visit to the country to purchase some of its fine pearls in the first half of the 20th Century.
With time, and due to shifting industries, Bahrain became more of a financial and tourism hub. Just this year alone, more than 3 million people have visited the country according to Bahraini officials. More and more hotels are opening to cater to the growing demand from businessmen and tourists hailing from the Gulf region and beyond, who are eager to explore its ancient ruins, experience its bustling shopping destinations, restaurants, beaches and meet its people.
One property that recently opened its doors is the award-winning Merchant House, a boutique Campbell Gray hotel that is situated in the beating heart of Bahrain’s capital Manama. We were invited to stay at the hotel, which opened in February 2019, last month and we give you five reasons why you should stay there the next time you’re in the kingdom:
1. It’s an authentic Bahraini experience
Over the years, Manama has housed many of Bahrain’s families and is home to the historic Manama Souq today, which is characterised by its narrow alleyways, its old coffee shops, and the variety of its shops and kiosks. The bustling souq’s main entrance is Bab Al Bahrain, which is literally a minute’s walk away from the hotel, situating the propety in the midst of old Bahrain. The souk and the rooftops of old buildings are even visible from the upper floors of the hotel, perfect for those who are looking for an authentic experience.
The building the hotel is in today was built in the 1949. At one point it was a government office building, a commercial building at another, and was even rumored to be a hotel (a different one) in yet another. It was acquired in 2011, and underwent approximately eight years of renovations to become the Merchant House Hotel it is today. When you step into the hotel, some of the first things you’ll notice are the grey columns throughout the lobby. These columns are the only things that were purposely left intact from the original building, a testament to the ever-changing city of Manama.
Other things you’ll notice are the old photos of the country and its people that populate the hallways between the suites upstairs, as well as the suites themselves, which further evoke a strong sense of history in the hotel.
In addition, many of the hotel staff are from Bahrain, meaning that local insights from the country are always on offer, which is a plus for any visitor.
2. It feels like home
The highest aim of every hotel in the world is to make their guests feel like they’re staying at their home away from home, but few are able to achieve it. The Merchant House is one of those few. And we can say that with determination as we’ve visited our fair share of hotels around the world.
The Merchant House is a suites-only hotel. The sizes of the 46 suites that the property boasts range from 40 to 60 square meters, with the smallest suite being the Urban Suite and the biggest being the Signature Suite, in which we stayed. This makes this property perfect for those who are travelling with family or as a part of a group. And if more space is needed, both the Urban and Signature Suite categories have the option of being connected as two bedroom suites via a private entrance foyer.
All suites feature a king sized bed, a spacious living room and bathroom, and a kitchenette that comes with a small dining table, a coffee machine, a microwave, a fridge, a freezer, a sink, as well as plates and utensils. These features are bound to make any long term stay a comfortable one.
3. It’s every art enthusiast’s dream
Have you ever dreamt of sleeping in the same room as a painting by Gauguin or Chagall? That’s exactly what you can do in the Merchant House. There are 300 artworks spread out throughout the hotel. You’ll find different artworks in the lobby, the hallways and the library (which we’ll tell you about in a bit). We recall passing by Damien Hearst in a hallway once, as well as an Andy Warhol every day on our way to breakfast at the Indigo Restaurant. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Artwork by Paul Gauguin, artwork by Marc Chagall, and artwork by Andy Warhol. Photos courtesy of the Merchant House Hotel.
Each suite also features two to three artworks that are unique to it. So, it’s safe to say that no two guests will experience the same stay. Though there are internationally well known names, 80 percent of the artworks found in the hotel are by local established and upcoming artists. They include Bahraini artists Abbas Al Mosawi, Mariam Fakhro and Lulwa Al Khalifa. Nasser Al Zayani is the Bahraini-American artist behind the artwork that is featured in the showers of every suite. All the artworks were especially curated by the brand founder Gordon Campbell Gray himself, and will look dazzling on anyone’s Instagram feed, in addition to the overall vibrant and young design of the hotel.
4. And it has a library!
If you weren’t sold by reason number 3 alone, then perhaps this will change your mind. Located on the first floor, and overlooking the lobby from above, is a heaven for bookworms. The library at the Merchant House is cozy, quiet and warm. It’s the perfect place for a guest to unwind and catch up on some reading. There are hundreds of books to choose from, ranging from books on Bahrain’s history and oral folklore to books on art to poetry to works of fiction. And, to top it all off, you can order food and beverages to nibble on while you read, including afternoon tea. Can it get any better than that?
5. The food’s great too
Speaking of food, the Merchant House’s Indigo Restaurant is a rooftop restaurant with great food and an equally great view of Bahrain’s skyline and the hotel’s swimming pool. The restaurant, reminiscent of an English garden due to its floral décor, offers indoor seating as well as outdoor seating on the terrace, perfect for the coming winter evenings. It can even be entirely booked for private events.
The menu is international and extensive, and the staff is friendly and attentive. For breakfast, we recommend ordering the grilled halloumi with the smoked chipotle chili jam, the blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and vanilla cream, and the French toast. For dinner and dessert, we recommend the sublime risotto funghi and chocolate fondant with strawberry ice cream.
We’d definitely come back to stay in this property again. To book your stay today, click here.
**This article was edited to reflect that the building was built in 1949, not the 1950s.