Bahrain might not be the most familiar destination to European travellers, but the small Middle Eastern island has a number of lavish hotels – not least the Ritz-Carlton.
A clutch of leading brands, including Sofitel and Jumeirah, are also present, with the larger, beachfront properties having tended to dominate the hospitality scene - until now.
Opening earlier this year, the team at the Merchant House has been working hard to establish the property as the first luxury boutique hotel on the island, and have been causing quite a stir.
The first hotel in the GCC from Campbell Gray Hotels, the property follows on from the success of Le Gray in Beirut and offers something new to a younger generation of travellers.
Located next to the vibrant Bab el-Bahrain Souk, it is part of an exciting redevelopment of an often-neglected part of the capital Manama.
“We are confident that with its central location, beautiful facilities and comfortable all-suite accommodation, the Merchant House is something rather special,” explains Gordon Campbell Gray.
Calling in for the night during a recent stopover in Bahrain, I loved what I found.
The entrance is bright, colourful and welcoming and, with only 46 beautifully appointed suites, it rarely gets busy.
Concrete pillars run through the bottom two floors of the hotel, allowing guests to trace the history of the building and giving the place the feel of a Berlin warehouse.
The name, Merchant House, is a literal description of the first incarnation of the building.
At one point, the location was right on the seashore, with the building acting as the first port of call for goods arriving from around the world.
Land reclamation projects in recent decades have pushed the hotel further inland, but this heritage lends the building a feeling of permanence.
But it is the artworks on display that are the real stars of the show.
There are over 200 pieces lining the walls, many drawn from the Bahrain Art Fair and composed by Bahraini artists – indeed, the ambition of the hotel is to showcase local talent in the most public areas.
There are some more famous gems located in the suites, including an Andy Warhol, but you will have to spend a few nights to see the best of them.
Upstairs, on the first floor, there is also a library of 1,000 books – some of which even appear to have been opened.
Curated by Ultimate Library, the volumes draw on the history of Bahrain, the local culture of pearl diving and architecture to give guests countless hours of pleasure.
With Campbell Gray Hotels being an English company, the library has naturally just launched an afternoon tea offering, with a Middle Eastern twist.
There is also a private space on the second floor, which can be used for dining or smaller corporate functions.
Check-in is speedy and efficient, and quickly we are upstairs.
While all the suites are suitably roomy, the largest are not the most expensive – the hotel also considers the views when pricing, with those giving the best vantage point commanding the highest rates.
This makes sense when you realise some of the windows open directly on to next door buildings.
Our ‘Urban’ suite is crisply decorated, blending modern comfort, refreshing colours and pieces from the art collection.
In keeping with the merchant navy theme, the primary colour scheme in the bedrooms is blue, red and white.
This is then given a different spin in each suite by being accented with yellow, orange green or aquamarine depending on the room.
Rugs and carpets are custom hand-tufted in India, while upholstery has been sourced from interior design firm Svenskt Tenn Stockholm in Sweden and Villa Nova in UK.
There is also a residential feel, with a kitchenette, dining and sitting area included.
Nancy Huang, rooms division manager with the property, explains: “We have not tried to create a home away from home – that is not possible – but we have attempted to create something convenient, something desirable for our guests.”
In a rare development, the in-room technology also works flawlessly, allowing guests to open the curtains and control the lights with the minimum of fuss.
The walls, however, while immaculately curated, are surprisingly thin, allowing us to hear conversations and more from next door.
Every aspect of the Merchant House has been planned and designed to be fun and relaxed.
General manager, Justin Kim, adds: “There is an increasing demand for individuality, originality and perhaps, most important of all, intelligence, in hotels which the Merchant House recognises.
“I am looking forward to welcoming guests from across the world to this stunning hotel.”
This is certainly the case on the top floor of the hotel, where all manner of goodies await.
First a smallish pool – more useful for Instagram than swimming lengths – offers some superb views over the surrounding area, while a fully-equipped gym is also on offer.
Indigo, the sole restaurant, is another treat.
Looking like an English tearoom relocated to the Arabian Gulf, it houses floral patterned chairs among real flowers with the scent creating the feeling of gentle relaxation.
The fine china is a nice touch, and the menu of English and Japanese cuisine a further delight – I have not take so long to choose what to have from so many delicacies for a long time.
Breakfast is also à la carte, meaning there is no unsightly scrum over the buffet.
We visited in early November, when the weather was beginning to cool, and the hotel was moving into peak season.
European guests are frequent visitors, but the Merchant House is likely to rely on Saudi guests - arriving from just over the King Fahd Causeway - for the bulk of its business.
Leaving the hotel, and behind the Bab al Bahrain gateway, lies the Manama Souq.
This is the place to go for perfumes, precious metals, herbs and spices.
Split into several segments comprising food, textiles and crafts, guests can take in the exotic fragrances and colours that define the old quarter.
When you find your way out again, the cool, calm interiors of the Merchant House are ready to welcome you back.
The Merchant House features a unique collection of contemporary art and bursts with exciting work by well-established Bahraini and international artists alongside talent from around the Gulf.
Rates start from £249 per-room, per-night, including breakfast.
Find out more on the official website.