The fading charms of the Palmyra hotel in Baalbek – Lebanon

Have you ever been to the hotel that time forgot? Where it feels like walking into the home of your bohemian great aunt – the one who entertained all the poets and artists of her day, who even had Jean Cocteau and Charles de Gaule around her dinner table.

When you visit Baalbek, you’re there to see the Roman ruins of Helipolis, the city of the sun and one of the greatest Roman cities of its day. And when you visit the Palmyra Hotel, you can feel the sense of the elegant travellers of the 30s and 40s, who passed through on their grand tour of the Middle East. It’s a little like walking into an Agatha Christie novel, where you expect elegant ladies with picture hats and gentlemen in linen suits to wander in, followed by their driver with a pile of crocodile leather suitcases.


But sadly the elegance of the past is now rather fraying around the edges, the handsome doormen are now aged retainers who sit tired at the door, waiting to open it for the occasional guest. As I passed through and murmured ‘Choukran’ the elderly doorman returned a long, croaky ‘Weeelcome’. The manager welcomed us into his ornately tiled office, complete with leather blotter and old fashioned telephone and not a computer in sight. But this is not stylish retro, it’s the real thing! At the suggestion of a hot bath, he looked a little doubtful but eventually the boiler was cranked up in time for us to bathe before bed-time.

In the lobby there are old velvet covered chairs, a few ancient artefacts that might have been pinched from the Roman remains, before that sort of thing was frowned upon, and the framed drawings of Jean Cocteau on the wall. They’ve obviously made and effort to spruce up the bedrooms, and I actually like that faded persian rug, velvet curtains and dark-wood furniture look. But the bathrooms, really did look as if they hadn’t been touched since the 40s!

We had to laugh at breakfast when my friend asked for an omlette, as an extra to the bread, jam and olives on offer. The waiter was extremely accommodating and actually popped out to buy the eggs especially for her! Although we were there mid-week, there appeared to be barely anyone there, and I suspect that most Lebanese visitors would turn their noses up at it in favour of something with more glitz and shiny marble. It really is waiting for someone to throw some money at it and turn it into a gorgeous boutique hotel with plumbing that works. I can’t help smiling affectionately when thinking about our stay at the Palmyra Hotel – it’s a lovely relic of the past, but only for one night!

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heatheronhertravels' Lebanon - Baalbek photoset heatheronhertravels’ Lebanon – Baalbek photoset

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  • Reply
    September 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Beautiful post, Heather, with a lovely touch of nostalgia. Although I like my comforts, I have a soft spot for these kinds of places that once held their special place in time.

    Nice photoset you have on Flickr, especially the evening shots.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    September 24, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    @ Gourmantic
    Thanks it was living on it’s past a bit – if anyone who has a Flickr account wants to do a badge like this you can find the badge here.

    Thanks to Caitlin on http://www.roamingtales.com/ for that tip

  • Reply
    September 27, 2009 at 7:04 am

    As much as I like luxury, these types of places seem to make more of a story that sticks. Love your description and I have to admit, I probably would’ve liked the experience too.

  • Reply
    Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels
    September 28, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Hmm. Lebanon. Now there’s a place that I’ve never considered visiting. But I do really like ruins, and I kind of like faded old hotels, to. I might just have to add this place to my list.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    That photo above looks familiar!! It’s the non-cheesy version of course 🙂

  • Reply
    Wine tasting at Chateau Ksara in Lebanon | Heather on her travels
    January 20, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    […] are grown, and one of the most commercial wineries in this area is the Chateau Ksara. After our stay in Baalbek, we drove south through the Bekaa valley and stopped there for a spot of wine tasting. The Ksara […]

  • Reply
    Rima Al-Husseini
    March 10, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Dear Heather,
    I was saddened to read your review about your stay at the Palmyra Hotel in Baalbek. Sadly, I agree with your opinion and impressions about the hotel. But I am also disappointed that you were not shown the annex–which is actually the “boutique hotel “ of which you speak in your speak.

    The Palmyra Hotel has been in my family for 20 years and I have been overseeing it’s upgrade and upkeep for that long against all odds. It has been my aim to maintain it as a destination for cultural tourism which has been non-existent , at best, in Lebanon for decades–especially in comparison with the glitzy glitter of Beirut hotels.

    All of this, obviously, does not excuse the bad service you experienced during your stay. This is especially frustrating to me since there is a boutique hotel, fully equipped; an integration of traditional Lebanese architecture and artifacts with the service and comforts of a modern hotel–only two doors down the road from the old hotel where you stayed.

    Deficient service does not only effect clientele. For me, and especially with the lack of sufficient tourism in Baalbek, it is a difficult choice between keeping an old, though relatively sub-standard staff, or a new professional, but unknown staff.

    I would like to take the liberty to send you, and your readers, some pictures of the new hotel–the annex–and I hope that you will be able to make the trip once again to Baalbek.

    Rima Husseini

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    March 10, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    @ Rima

    Although I did think the Palmyra was a little past it’s prime, I don’t think I intended to imply that the service was poor – I felt that all the staff were most charming and eager to help, and were particularly accommodating in finding us parking nearby.

    My friend booked for us and I don’t think that either of us realised that there was a newer annexe which might have suited us better, but I would certainly seek it out if I return to Lebanon.

    I can quite understand your dilemma in whether to invest in an old hotel, as tourism has taken a knock in Lebanon in recent years with political instability. Now that the situation is much more calm, I hope that more people will visit and enjoy the beauties of Lebanon and the amazing ruins at Baalbek. Then perhaps the old hotel will be restored to it’s former glory.

    Please do contact me by the e-mail you can find on my contacts page and send me any pictures of your new hotel annexe.


  • Reply
    Alex fr. Luxury Kuala Lumpur Hotel
    November 21, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Heather,

    I agree to you. That kind of service wasn’t bad at all. They are quite friendly and sincere in my opinion. The place is pretty nice in my opinion (probably I never been to this kind of hotel). If I were there, I’ll probably take a shot to spend some time there instead of those normal hotel I stayed most of the time during my travel.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Uh i found you looking for charms but nice reading never the less 🙂
    Selina´s last blog post ..Christmas Charms

  • Reply
    Paul Fitz
    January 12, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Stayed at the Palmyra Hotel about 5 times between 1994 and 2003 and loved it. a hotel with history and atmosphere of the ghosts of the past. Loved the two old boys (almost certainly dead now) who were always on duty. Who cares if it is ‘ a bit frayed at the edges ‘ still beats the sterility of modern hotels….oh, and for Romanists the view is quite good too!!!

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      January 12, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      @Paul – for sure it was atmospheric, would stay there again

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