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!