Thursday 20 November 2014

War in Aleppo takes toll on the legendary Hotel Baron


Here is a short, sad article on Aleppo's wonderful Baron Hotel, my favourite hotel in the world, in one of my favourite cities in the world. Sad though the war is, I am glad that no worse has so far befallen the grand old lady than a roof
 perforated by gunfire and no guests for four years.

Mr. Mazloumian, the owner, is an exceptionally nice man, feline and gentlemanly. Arabs are wonderfully hospitable and warm and when you are a paying guest they are even more so. In the article he is quoted as saying of the fighting in Aleppo,
"You think all this will stop? It will take years."
Unfortunately, he is of course right. 

I stayed in the presidential suite, the rooms where President Assad senior had stayed in 1972 for $70, but would have preferred to pay less and stay where Agatha Christie or Laurence of Arabia had stayed. I wrote about my journey here and a brief note about the Hotel Baron here.

I like to google to find the oldest hotel in a town I visit and hope it is run to seed at least a bit. Wikipedia provides a useful list of such hotels here. Among my favourites are the Hotel Imperial in Jerusalem, the Hotel Londonskaya in Odessa and the Hotel George in Lviv. There is also the Grand Cafe des Londres in Constantinople. The Pera Palace was once delightfully late nineteenth century, like a London club in Constantinople, though not shabby  - it was my favourite place in the whole city and the only place that felt old-fashioned - but it was ruined by renovation. Now it's a five star place with air conditioning designed for Americans.

When I went I wanted to go from Bucharest to Aleppo by train but the Taurus Express had been suspended for four weeks. Now it has been suspended indefinitely, of course. I have since remembered the first lines of 'Murder on the Orient Express' which makes me regret even more not taking that famous train.

It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria. Alongside the platform at Aleppo stood the train grandly designated in railway guides as the Taurus Express. It consisted of a kitchen and dining-car, a sleeping-car and two local coaches.
Here is a conversation I had with a friend I made in Damascus who now lives in Bucharest. His insight into the war is worth reading.


  1. This is indeed dreadfully lachrymose, I thought Aleppo was one of the most bewitching & intoxicating cities I have ever had the pleasure to visit and I suppose what has befallen the Grande old Dame of a Hotel is only emblematic of the wider catastrophe that has befallen their country. The saddest part for me though in this piece concerns "the polished wooden bar with empty liquor bottles" this breaks my heart, oh how I would have loved to knock back a few high-balls with King Faisal or Kemal Ataturk back in the '30's 'hell the glory days of the glitterati - Oh, my boys, my boys, we're at the end of an age....

  2. Yeah I had a look at that place on Google images. It's the kind of place I absolutely love. I adore the Belle Époque faded gems of The Levant. And as imagined the bar looked as wonderful as I pictured I'm sorry I never went there. I miss The Middle East so much. Sadly it really has become too dangerous to venture there now. I'm brave but those sub-human ISIS scum are on an entirely new level of depravity....

    1. Nope. I have however stayed in The Cecil on Alexandria several times and I bloody loved it in there, smashing back the drinks like some straw fedora wearing linen clad rake of yesteryear.

  3. Sadly, I missed Aleppo during my visit to Syria (several decades, and wars, ago).
    If in Cairo, however, try the Windsor Hotel. I hope it has not become too "boutiquified" since my stay there. Imagine, the stairway walls were still adorned with Swiss winter travel posters from the 1930s!