The Merchant House: Bliss in Bahrain

This recently opened boutique hotel is a strong contender for the GCC’s best. (Supplied)
Updated 26 August 2019

The Merchant House: Bliss in Bahrain

DUBAI: A couple of years ago, I interviewed the founder of Campbell GRAY Hotels, Gordon Campbell Gray, whose most well-known venture in the region is the spectacularly homely-yet-luxurious Le Gray in Beirut, Lebanon.

During our conversation, he discussed some of the gripes he had about other boutique hotels or chains. For instance, he questioned why a shower tap had to take a few minutes for the water to be warm.

“Imagine how wasteful that is,” he said, going on to add that guests should be able to jump into the shower and finish in a few minutes.

So, on my recent visit to Campbell GRAY’s The Merchant House in Manama, the first thing I did was, of course, test the shower. And true to form, the hot water was almost instant.

It’s this attention to detail that has enabled the company to retain its status as one of the best hoteliers in the world. Campbell Gray himself is apparently involved in every aspect of each hotel’s creation, design and philosophy. And no two properties are the same.

While the company has avoided rapid expansion in the region — it doesn’t want to lose its sense of exclusivity — it’s now beginning to establish a firm presence in the Middle East outside of Lebanon. First in Amman and now in Bahrain.

The Merchant House, which is just a short drive from Bahrain International Airport, is the brand’s first hotel in the GCC, and what a debut to make. Superb is an understatement. This boutique property — which launched earlier this year — consists of 46 uniquely-designed suites, each with its own art pieces.

And if you’re into your art, then this is a dream stay. Partnering with a VIP Bahraini collector (who has chosen to remain anonymous), The Merchant House features an extensive contemporary art collection, with works by local artists including Dawiya Al Alawiyat, some regional names, and some international heavyweights such as Virut Panchabuse, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol.

The rooms themselves are almost works of art too. Every little thing has been thought of, from the bathroom amenities where all packaging is recyclable (the hotel operates a non-waste policy, therefore expect things like biodegradable straws being used instead of plastic) to the shape of the ice. There is no ice bucket here. You get a pull-out fridge/mini-bar and an individual freezer filled with oval-shaped ice. And naturally, you can expect all the usual niceties like comfy robes and slippers.

The library on the first floor is not to be missed. It holds more than 1,000 curated books for guests and visitors to enjoy with a cup of tea. There’s also the property’s signature restaurant, Indigo on the rooftop, with a stunning terrace for the winter time. Lifestyle elements include an outdoor pool, a gym, and a spa promoting the Bahraini brand Green Bar.

If there is one drawback to staying at The Merchant House at the moment, it is the location. Yes, it’s next to the retro-styled faux-historic Bab el-Bahrain souk area, but a souvenir-hunting type of getaway isn’t for everyone.

The hotel is great for those staying in the city for business meetings nearby, but one can imagine it being quite tricky to lure visitors away from the more upscale Bahrain Bay area near the seafront. According to the hotel’s management, this has been accounted for. The Merchant House has arrived at a time when the surrounding area is being renovated to attract more visitors to downtown Manama. Judging by the progress, this will be become one of the Bahrain’s ‘must-visit’ places over the next year.

Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

Updated 19 September 2019

Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

  • The Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage”
  • She said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager

QUEBEC CITY: After living and crooning for years in Las Vegas, French-Canadian superstar Celine Dion returned home to Quebec to kick off her first world tour in a decade on Wednesday.
At 51, the Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage,” which will be her 12th in English and is due out on November 15.
The first single “Flying On My Own,” featuring her powerful vocals backed by techno beats, has already hit the airwaves, while three more dropped Wednesday: “Courage,” “Lying Down” and “Imperfections.”
Known for her blockbuster ballads, Dion said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager Rene Angelil.
“When I lost Rene, he wanted me back on stage. He wanted to make sure I was still practicing my passion,” she said. “I wanted to prove to him that I’m fine, we’re fine, we’re going to be OK. I’ve got this.”
So, after more than 1,140 concerts for 4.5 million fans over 16 years in Sin City, she bid adieu to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with a final two-hour show.
“Courage is exactly the way I feel,” she told public broadcaster CBC at the time, talking up the upcoming tour of the same name.
“In the past three years, it has been difficult for me to talk to my children, to raise them, to lose my husband, wondering am I going to sing again... so much has happened, but at the same time I feel that I’m in control of my life.”
Some 60 dates in North American have been confirmed so far, her label said, with two arena shows in Quebec City on Wednesday and Saturday kicking off the tour, which will run through April 2020, and will be her first world tour since 2008-2009.
Her show was almost two hours of mastery, as she performed some of her greatest hits — from “I’m Alive” to “My Heart Will Go On” — as well as new material to an ecstatic crowd of roughly 20,000.
“It was really impossible to miss Celine at home,” Nicolas Delivre, a French university exchange student in Montreal, told AFP.
Donald Berard, from Quebec City, said he had grown up listening to Dion. “We love her like a member of our family.”
“Courage” marks the first album and tour in Dion’s long career without Angelil, who steered her success beginning in 1981 when he mortgaged his house to finance the young teen’s debut album.
The pair began a personal relationship in 1988 when she was only 19 years old, and married in a lavish ceremony in 1994. Angelil died of throat cancer at age 73.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Dion revealed that she longs for the hugs and laughs that come with a relationship, but added, “I’m not ready to date.”
The youngest of a family of 14 children raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Dion has sold 250 million copies of 23 studio albums in English and French, including collaborations with French singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder.
Back in Canada, she told the Montreal Gazette that the tour schedule was “a little crazy,” but that she had found time in advance to take in life’s small pleasures.
At a press junket last Friday, Dion told Radio-Canada: “There are good wines that age well, and there are good wines that age badly. I hope to be a good bottle of wine.”
“I’m not a new Celine,” Dion added. “I’m a continuity of myself.”