Rich in art and historical landmarks, the Kingdom of Bahrain is often referred to as the melting pot of the GCC – a multi-cultural society that fuses superb authentic traditions of warm hospitality with an urban, laid back lifestyle. Offering an abundance of adventure, cultural activities and plenty of things to see, eat and shop, Bahrain is starting to really showcase all the wonderful things the small, yet mighty country has to offer. Historically, the kingdom was a hub for natural pearls, thanks to the pearl beds that are abundant in the surrounding waters. Even Cartier 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, over the years Bahrain has become more of a financial and tourism hub and with that shift, more and more hotels and fine-dining restaurants have opened to cater to the growing demand from businessmen and tourists hailing from the Gulf region and beyond, eager to explore its ancient ruins, experience its bustling shopping destinations, restaurants, beaches and more. One of the many hotels that has made its mark on the island over the last few years is The Merchant House, a quaint yet quirky boutique hotel located next to the vibrant Bab Al Bahrain souk, in the recently regenerated downtown Manama district.
With only 46 beautiful suites, The Merchant House is the home to up and coming local and international artistic talent, featuring a unique collection of contemporary art mixed with exceptionally curated design, modern comfort and refreshing colours. Residential in feel, each suite features a king sized bed, a spacious living room and bathroom, and a kitchenette that comes with a small dining table, coffee machine, microwave, fridge/freezer, as well as plates and utensils making both long and short term stays a comfortable one. There are 300 pieces of art spread out throughout the hotel and you can expect to find different masterpieces in the lobby, the hallways and the library (which we’ll tell you about shortly) – think Damien Hearst and Andy Warhol interspersed with local Bahraini artists such as Abbas Al Mosawi, Mariam Fakhro and Lulwa Al Khalifa – you’ll also find pieces from Nasser Al Zayani, the Bahraini-American artist who is responsible for the artwork that is featured in the showers of every suite.
If you don’t fancy eating in your kitchenette, or do not want to trek for your tea too far from the hotel, The Merchant House has two delicious and distinctive restaurants under their roof. The team of skilled and creative chefs have experimented and designed the ideal menus for both Indigo Restaurant and Bar and Café Gray, drawing inspiration from their successful counterparts in La Gray, Beirut. Covering all occasions from a romantic dinner to a light bite while catching up with a friend, the dishes focus on using fresh, seasonal and locally sourced quality products to ensure that you enjoy every flavour in its optimum stage. Whilst Café Gray offers a loungy atmosphere on the ground floor amidst the lobby’s concrete columns, Indigo, on the rooftop, offers al fresco dining with its outdoor garden terrace. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all-day drinks & bar snacks, the menu fuses Mediterranean and Asian authentic delicacies to offer a delicious dining experience with exceptional blends and flavours. With an emphasis on sharing, Executive Chef Robert Shipman, has designed a menu that draws from his experience throughout southern Europe and his time working with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
There is also plenty to do and see outside of the hotel’s artistic interiors. Offering a vibrant contemporary art scene, indulge in exhibitions at the Bahrain National Museum and the La Fontaine Centre for Contemporary Art. There are also a few private galleries that are worth a visit including the Al Oraifi Museum on Muharraq Island. Make time to explore the city’s unique architecture of its century-old houses, mosques and monuments, all oozing with tradition and religious significance. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bahrain Fort or the (Qalat al Bahrain) is considered to be the site of the ancient capital of the Dilmun era and the site museum has 5 exhibition halls and houses artefacts reflecting the rich legacy and history of ancient Bahrain. Delve further into the exquisite and fascinating history of Bahrain in the shade of buildings and historic monuments like Al Fateh Mosque, Abdullah Al Zayed House for Bahraini Press Heritage, and Kurar House. Shopping is also a popular pastime on the island – pick up spices, souvenirs and delicious sweets such as halwa at the Manama Souq, but don’t even think about paying the quoted price for things. Haggling is half the fun anyway! Also, check out City Centre Bahrain. The largest mall in the country, it’s packed with more than 340 exclusive brands outlets and 60 dining destinations.