B&B and Beyond: By the Lemon Tree, Amman
Family drinks parties and an elaborate breakfast spread help to make Matthew Teller feel at home in the bustling capital
Saturday 25 May 2013
B&Bs are a Middle Eastern rarity. In a region that favours five-star glitz – and where complex guest/host dynamics can foster a confusing kind of arm's-length hospitality – chances to stay in local homes are few and far between. The Jordanian capital Amman, though, is starting to break the mould. By The Lemon Tree stands hidden among the old villas of Jabal Webdeh, a mostly Christian district on a hill above Amman's downtown bustle. It's a perfect way to duck out of Jordan's standard offering of a big hotel in some bland tourist zone. Webdeh forms one of the capital's loveliest residential quarters – arty, tasteful, and walkable. You live among the comings-and-goings of an Ammani family. The streets smell of pine and sun-warmed limestone. Birdsong prevails.
The B&B occupies an extended 1960s townhouse alongside the Italian Embassy. But despite its evocative name and leafy location, you'll search in vain for chintzy domesticity – and forget altogether about Arabian-style swagger. Interiors are sleekly modern: white walls offset with dark woods and antique chests, with floors of cool polished tile and cream canvas drapes to filter the bright sun. Six doubles and four twins all include en suite bathrooms, a touch clinical with their neutral colours and designer fittings.
From the large common area, arrayed with sofas, dining table and ultra-modern kitchen for guests' sole use, stairs lead up to chairs and loungers on a shaded roof terrace. Wi-Fi is fast and free. Each guest gets a free bottle of wine on arrival, along with an open invitation to join the host family's weekly drinks parties.
A trio of staff – Rowena, Juvi and Lisa – keep everything shipshape, which includes serving breakfast al fresco in the rear courtyard, under the huge lemon tree after which the B&B is named. It's quite a spread: after tea and freshly squeezed juice, I had hot toast (the bread is home-baked), scrambled eggs, tomatoes, grilled halloumi and – a rare delicacy hereabouts – proper bacon, everything served on handmade local crockery. After all that, pancakes with maple syrup seemed an over-indulgence. Take note, though: no breakfast is served on Fridays, Jordan's one-day weekend.
Amman's always busy downtown hummus parlours are a short walk away, but instead I strolled three minutes up the hill to the mini-market, assembled my own breakfast and picnicked on the roof terrace.
The owner, Guido Romero, whose Jordanian-Italian family has roots in Amman stretching back almost a century, lives downstairs, while the B&B occupies the building's two upper floors, reached through a separate entrance. There's not much molly-coddling – Guido, with characteristic forthrightness, has titled a section on the B&B's website "Do Pay Attention!" – but instead you can expect razor-sharp repartee and cheerful down-to-earth practicality from a guy who is always ready with a laugh and a story. Guido's grandfather founded Amman's Italian Hospital in 1921: tap Guido for tales of local history.
It's a few minutes' walk to the contemporary art gallery Darat Al Funun (00 962 6464 3251; daratalfunun.org; closed Friday; free), shoehorned into an atmospheric old villa amid trees and views. Several more galleries and arts venues lie within walking distance, including Jordan's National Gallery (00 962 6463 0128; nationalgallery.org; closed Tuesday and Friday; entry JD3/£2.50), showcasing a fine collection of contemporary Islamic art.
After exploring the downtown souks, head over to Rainbow Street, a cool quarter of espresso bars, pavement cafés and antiques shops, enhanced on summer Fridays by a relaxed flea market known as Souk Jara (facebook.com/soukjara).
Near the B&B, in another of Webdeh's old townhouses, Maria Haddad runs Beit Sitti (00 962 777 557 744; beitsittijo.com), a cooking school where you spend a couple of hours learning how to prepare your own three-course Arabic meal. Bookings are essential, roughly JD35 (£31) per person.
For another culinary adventure, book at The Winemaker (00 962 6461 4125; zumot-wines.com), a retail outlet and private restaurant run by local vineyard-owner Omar Zumot: a tasting of his world-class wines, accompanied by light bites or a full meal, sheds memorable new light on Jordanian culture. Prices vary.
By The Lemon Tree, 1 Hafeth Ibrahim Street, Jabal Webdeh, Amman, Jordan (00 962 777 955 559; www.bythelemontree.com). B&B doubles start at JD50 (£45). Two-night minimum stay.
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