24-Hour Room Service: American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

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The Independent Travel

Room at the inn is not a problem these days in this corner of the Middle East. The usual $25 per person per night surcharge over Christmas and New Year has been suspended at the American Colony Hotel. Like other Jerusalem hotels, it is far from inundated with visitors. Current Foreign Office advice says: "The risk of terrorist attacks within Israel and the Occupied Territories, including in Jerusalem, remains very high."

For those who take the risk, the American Colony is the address of choice. There's a real sense of romance about it that transcends the tragedies of the city. It was built around 1860 as a pasha's palace. To cut a colourful history short, in 1896 God-fearing American immigrants, the Spaffords, moved in to the empty palace, bringing with them the multinational, charitable community that they had established over the previous 15 years in Jerusalem's Old City. Encouraged by Baron Ustinov (Peter Ustinov's grandfather), overseas visitors began to stay at the American Colony when they needed a base in town and, gradually, it developed into a hotel. In the troubled 20th century, it featured in attempts at a peace process: the first direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which led to the Oslo agreement, were held in room number 16.

To be impressed, try to time your arrival around dusk. Sweep up by car to the leafy entrance and, getting out, ignore the lights coming from the reception for a moment and go straight ahead to the spectacular courtyard restaurant, with its blue tiled tables, fountain and candles.

Then, when you've checked in and checked out your room, head off for a pre-dinner tipple in the Summer Bar (or, in cooler months, the orientally inspired Cellar Bar). Enjoy the greenery from the bottom of an American Colony Delight (white rum, orange juice and grenadine) or a cool Maccabee beer - or come back later to choose from a wide variety of malt whiskies (no doubt a legacy from the journalists).

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The American Colony Hotel is at PO Box 19215, Jerusalem 97200 (00 972 2 627 9777, www.americancolony.com)

Transport: the hotel is about 10 minutes walk north of the Old City and about the same distance north-east of the shops.

Time to international airport: There is a small airport near Jerusalem but, from the UK, most visitors fly to the international airport, Ben Gurion, in Tel Aviv and then take a shared taxi for the 35-minute drive to Jerusalem.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

The opulent rooms are scattered among several characterful buildings and there's a swimming pool, peaceful gardens, a courtyard that's been in so many films it's practically a Hollywood star in itself, two bars and the Arabesque restaurant.

Freebies: Used to be Ahava, the well-known Dead Sea mineral-based brand but now Nina Ricci.

What to book: Room 1, the pasha's room, is the most popular but, if it's booked, try rooms 3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 15, 16 or 114 - his wives' rooms.

Keeping in touch: some rooms have broadband internet access besides the usual telephones and televisions.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Single rooms cost from $230 (£155), doubles from $290 (£180), including breakfast and service (foreigners escape VAT).

I'm not paying that: there's a 10 per cent discount if you book via the internet. But you might be able to do even better negotiating direct with the hotel.

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