Tried & Tested

Hotel check: The American Colony

16 Aug 2012 by Jenny Southan

WHAT’S IT LIKE? This historic five-star hotel has been operating for 120 years, and is named after an American Christian utopian community led by the Spafford family that settled in Jerusalem in the late 1800s. When it opened in 1902, it soon became frequented by travellers from the West looking for more upmarket lodgings in the famous city, and became known for being neutral territory – a place where journalists, Arabs, Jews and diplomats could convene peacefully – in this troubled part of the world. Even today it is run by the descendants of the founding Christian society, and famous guests have included Lawrence of Arabia and Bob Dylan. It is also a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.

Upon arrival, my taxi passed through a gate and pulled up outside the entrance, whereupon a smart porter opened the car door and ushered me in. Even though it was dark outside, I could see beds of flowers and hanging vines festooning the exterior. In the Main House’s marble-floored reception area, I was given a glass of champagne while my details were processed and room key issued. A bellboy then showed me to my room, while carrying my case.

WHERE IS IT? The hotel is positioned in Palestinian East Jerusalem, almost on  the border with Israeli West Jerusalem. It is ten minutes on foot to the Old City and a 45-minute drive to Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv.

ROOM FACILITIES Bedrooms are spread across four buildings, each with their own gardens, and including the New Wing where most of the executive rooms are. The interiors are a slightly faded blend of Ottoman, Arabic, European influences – and no two rooms are the same. Those in the new wing are themed, each floor with a different name – Swedish, Spafford, Allenby and TE Lawrence.

The East House has tiled floors, white walls and arched ceilings, while the stone Cow Byre – dedicated to extended stays – has beamed ceilings and rooms with kitchenettes. Palm House is currently closed for refurbishment until spring next year. In contrast with all the other rooms, the recently designed Penthouse suite, in the East House, is highly modern, with a black sunken bath, an iPod dock, LCD TVs, wood panelling and an outdoor terrace.

Amenities that come as standard include free wired/wifi internet, 24-hour room service, safes, minibars, flatscreen TVs, robes and slippers, workdesks and en suite bathrooms. I was staying in a Junior suite, which had a spacious open-plan living area with a leather couch and coffee table. The tiled floor wasn’t very cosy and the dominance of dark wood and slight mustiness in the air made it feel ever so creepy at night. The simple bathroom featured a combined shower and bath, and American Colony-branded towels and bathing products. Given the fact that every room is different, to some extent it is potluck what you get and whether the ambiance and style is to your taste.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS I didn’t have a chance to eat lunch or dinner at the hotel, but did grab breakfast in Arabesque restaurant in the Main House. There was an extensive buffet laid out with lots of interesting Israeli salads, hummus (my favourite), bread, pastries, fruit, yoghurt, eggs, cheese and cold cuts. Other options for eating and drinking include the Courtyard for all-day al fresco dining, Val’s Brasserie for casual bites and afternoon tea, the Cellar bar, the Summer bar – where you can drink cocktails under palm trees, and the Terrace café, for coffee and a sandwich.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES There is a business centre with computer terminals, free internet and printing, plus one meeting room. Events can be held in Pasha room or outside in the gardens.

LEISURE FACILITIES Open from May to October, the newly renovated swimming pool is lined with Italian glass tiles and edged with Jerusalem stone. A gym with free weights, treadmills and spinning machines overlook the pool, and there is also a sauna. For those that want to pick up souvenirs, there are a number of shop selling carpets, books and antiques. The incredible sights of the Old City are close by, as is the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept.

VERDICT There are only a handful of five-star hotels in the city, but the surrounding gardens of the American Colony make it a wonderful oasis to escape to. The staff were very welcoming and it felt a privilege to be staying in such a historically significant property.

FACT FILE

HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 93 rooms across nine categories – Standard (single bed only), Superior, Extended Stay, Classic Pasha, Deluxe Pasha, Junior suite, Room No Six, Suite and Penthouse suite.

ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The free wifi and generous open-plan living room.

PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in October started from US$430 for a Superior Double room (including breakfast; cancellation up to 0900 the day before arrival).

CONTACT 1 Louis Vincent Street; tel +97 226 279 777; americancolony.com

Jenny Southan

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