Stay in an Ottoman palace in Syria, in Beit Safran
Stay at Beit Safran (Saffron House), a traditional Ottoman palace, in Syria
Even before the Arab Spring and the conflict of 2011 tore Syria apart from, probably due to a water crisis, it was not a very touristy country. Instagram experiments had yet to begin and Syria, apparently, was not well set up for long-haul travel or as a destination site. But as the The Middle East opens its arms to the world and as Syria tries to heal its wounds from a decade of civil war, there are plenty of new worlds and cultures to explore.
I traveled to Syria over 20 years ago and I could say that the experience made me feel like I was traveling in a time machine. I guess it’s the same feeling for tourists who visit Cuba or East Germany after those places have been somewhat detached from the world. During my trip, I went from Turkey to Aleppo, and it was a new world. Lovely people looking for links, old sites with very few visitors and cars from generations ago. We were invited to eat and Syrians invited us to their homes, eager to chat with foreigners.
One of the best memories I had was being locked away in a crusader castle for the night where we could wander with the ghosts. It was just me and Cara, together, and common sense should tell two female travelers never to do such a thing, but my Spidie senses told me that Syria is safe for women and we were protected.
As the elaborate and luxurious morocco riads we stayed in moroccothe Levant region (Lebanon, Syria, Israel) has its own style of elaborate estates and Ottoman palaces. These are living estates, converted to today, but many Ottoman palaces are abandoned as seen in Turkey.
In Syria, where tourism is reopening, you can visit these Ottoman estates, frozen in time. We have stayed in Magical Estates as we traveled through Aleppo and Damascus and if you are looking for an offbeat trip try heading to Syria.
A Swiss-Syrian couple sent us updated images of a boutique hotel they run in Damascus called Beit Zafran Hotel. The couple also run a tour company that can provide you with local and sustainable travel options, but when we were there it was quite easy to get around by dolmus or minibus commonly used in the Middle East.
Adnan Habab and Gabriela Wengert write: “We are a tranquil urban retreat nestled in a historic district of churches, mosques, souks (old bazaars) and winding streets. Once you enter the house, the charm and sophistication of the house is unmistakable.”
The meticulously restored Ottoman mansion (built in 1836) has been redone to its authentic form: its 12 exquisite rooms and suites are built around the house’s two inner courtyards with their magnificent original marble fountains and the scent of jasmine.
The “liwan” (a long, narrow-fronted hall or arched portal in ancient and modern Levantine houses that is often open to the outside) with its original wooden ceiling and stucco decoration is a sitting area open to the courtyard where you can escape the heat and buzz of Damascus.
Damascus is the southernmost city of Syria, founded in the 3rd millennium BC. It was an important cultural and commercial center, due to its geographical position at the crossroads of East and West, between Africa and Asia. The old town of Damascus is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
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