Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Talisman Hotel, Damascus

We have always loved Damascus. We used to hang out there a lot when we were with the embassy in Amman. Weekends we would drive up and stay with friends at the embassy there, or they might drive down and stay with us. I remember shopping at one time, and in a shop along the Street Called Straight when I caught a glimpse of the shopkeeper and his friends, drinking tea, not oblivious to us, but also not attentive to us, and all of a sudden, I could see through the centuries, I could feel the weight of the history of this city, that the citizens of Damascus have seen so much of civilization and we were mere mists, appearing for a short time and disappearing again, nothing of substance, nothing of importance in a city which endures and endures.

You really have to love Damascus to go through what we had to go through to get to Damascus – it took months for us to get visas. Our government publishes advisories telling us NOT to go there, and we in our arrogance, figure we will be OK. We also know that when we re-enter our own country, we will get additional scrutiny for having put Syria in that little block where they ask where you have travelled between your last visit and this visit.

When the blogger Gastronomica was blogging, he wrote about staying in the same hotel in Sidi bou Said, Tunisia that we had stayed in and thoroughly enjoyed, (the Dar Said for anyone going to Tunisia, is just minutes from the Tunis airport in the beautiful hillside village of Sidi bou Said, minutes up the road from the old city of Carthage). He wrote about a hotel in Damascus called The Talisman which I immediately looked up online, and immediately bookmarked.

The Talisman was formerly a family palace, fallen on hard times, gutted and renovated with enormous care. No matter where you set your eyes, there is something of beauty. The furnishings are beautiful, chosen with taste and restraint. The colors are both traditional – and modern – and very exciting.

The entrance to the Talisman is on a tiny little hard-to-find street, barely big enough for a taxi:

00talismanentrance.jpg

We would never have heard of The Talisman without Gastronomica’s recommendation, but on our very first morning there, we met a woman with the December 2007 Conde Nast Traveller featuring Damascus, and recommending The Talisman if you couldn’t get into Dar al Mamluk, a much smaller hotel not too far from The Talisman. We saw the Dar al Mamluk, and a nearby merchant said the rooms are much smaller than the Talisman, and not so exquisitely furnished. We have not seen the rooms for ourselves.

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From the moment we arrived, we loved The Talisman. You are located a mere minute’s walk from the Street Called Straight. You can get anywhere in the old city in ten – fifteen minutes walk. You are one minute from a nearby Amin Street where you can catch a taxi anywhere in the city. What we loved the most about the location was that we could walk and walk and walk – and we did. Every day, we walked the city.

The service you get at the Talisman is personal and attentive, without being intrusive. Breakfast is cheerful and plentiful, served buffet-style in a rosy-red room filled with antiques and two bustling, good-humored waiters who keep your coffee and tea cups full.

00breakfastsetup.jpg

The rooms are huge. We only reserved a regular room; you just never know looking at pictures on the internet what a place is really going to look like, so we had thought that if the room was too small we would ask if any suites were available.

When we got to our room, we were blown away by their concept of “regular”. It was spacious. Compared to most hotels, the “regular” rooms were HUGE! The bathroom had both a huge bathtub and a modern shower, and they both worked and had plenty of hot water. We had space enough to invite an old friend to our room; we had our own seating area.

00roomview1.jpg

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00bathroom.jpg

We loved the attention to detail, the room furnishings, even the light fixtures:

00coffeetable.jpg

There are also two lounges, one outside, one inside, and tables around the pool where you can sit and soak up some sunshine, even in the midst of winter.

00talismanlounge.jpg

00talismanchristmasdaysunshine.jpg

The Talisman is a treasure, with its attention to detail and to cheerful, attentive service. One of the things we liked the very best about the Talisman is the pride the Damascus citizens take in its restoration. One shop, where we had bought from the current owner’s father, told us with pride that his shop had provided many of the lamp fixtures for the hotel. Most shopkeepers and restaurant people had visited the Talisman at some time or other; they all spoke of it with pride. Who can blame them? The place is a gem.

There were many families staying there. There were many English and French, and even . . . yes, Kuwaitis. If there were one drawback, it would be that there is a mosque nearby whose muezzin at 4 in the morning is purely awful; the call to prayer is flat, and garbled, and awfully loud in addition, but the hotel can’t be faulted for that which it cannot control.

We would stay there again in a heartbeat – and hope to.

January 7, 2008 - Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Holiday, Travel | , , , ,

21 Comments »

  1. Nice pictures
    What is your line of work like?

    Comment by Kaos | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks, Kaos. Happy to see you again! What you been up to?

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. My friend, you have no idea how much I love vicariously taking your travels with you. You haunt an area of the world I would never be exposed to. My travel goals are in much different areas and I hope to share them with you when they happen. I still treasure the days I spent with you in Qatar and often stop and remember the education you gave me in a few short days. Looking forward to this summer!

    Comment by momcat | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. Didn’t you visit me twice in Qatar, Momcat? I can’t remember. . . I do remember what fun we had.

    Life is funny. We never know what it has in store for us. You might make it to Damascus, and if you do, I hope you will stay at the Talisman! 🙂 I’ll post some Damascus photos later, maybe tomorrow. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. looks like something from the time of the caliphs, very nice

    Comment by bored q8i | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. Ooh, how lovely. I adore Syria too.

    Comment by harmonie22 | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  7. Unfortunately only once. I was going to visit again but you moved to Kuwait before I could get there.

    Comment by momcat | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  8. bored q8i – Could be! Damascus is such mix of historical influences. More photos today and the rest of this week. 🙂

    harmonie22 – I would go back every year if it were possible.

    momcat – Well, we must have crammed two visits worth of fun into one!

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  9. Hmmn…what’s with the Syrian love affair?
    Tell me is Adventure Man originally from Syria?
    Did you get an opportunity to go visit the Villa Moda in Damascus? They tell me it’s a store to die for in terms of its layout and shopfloor design.

    Comment by You guessed right | January 9, 2008 | Reply

  10. Harmonie22, I am not surprised. 🙂 But I am delighted to know you find it as special as I do.

    BL, is that you???

    Partly, it is nostalgia – we lived in Jordan and spent a lot of time in Syria. I was able to go on a couple archaeological trips and have seen parts of Syria few tourists ever see. Who knows why one place has appeal? No, AdventureMan is not Syrian. 🙂

    Also, Syria is a great value for the money. With the dollar taking such a beating, it is nice to travel somewhere where we can still travel well, and reasonably. And remember, we love to walk.

    I saw lots of signs for Villa Moda and I have heard the Damascus one is FABULOUS! It was one of the few international stores I saw signs for – no American chains at all! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 10, 2008 | Reply

  11. Oh Intlxptr, it’s gooorgeous! I am in love! I share your love of Damascus. Did you really have to wait months for your visa? I arrived at the border (Damascus airport) without visa, and they granted it immediately. I consider myself very blessed then.

    Comment by Aliyah | February 2, 2008 | Reply

  12. Aliyah – We’re American. For us, it takes time to get approved, and sometimes you don’t get approved! Lucky lucky you, to just show up and get a visa!

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 2, 2008 | Reply

    • The same for me, when I go to America. There is a justice, each of us can get somewhere easily, elsewhere with problems. It is just fair, isn’t it?

      Comment by George | July 7, 2009 | Reply

      • I suppose it is “just” but I don’t have to like it, George!

        Comment by intlxpatr | July 9, 2009

  13. I also am in love and cannot wait now to go. I think I will follow in your footsteps and stay at the Talisman too.

    And your pictures are just beautiful too! How was the food BTW? Would love to know 🙂

    Comment by Ms. Baker | February 9, 2008 | Reply

  14. Oh, Ms Baker, you are in for a treat! Take your good walking shoes – honestly, there is so much to see, and you really have to be on foot to appreciate it all. The food was GREAT. It’s mostly all Lebanese/Syrian, although there are some ethnic restaurants in the big expensive hotels. Our favorites are all within 5 – 10 minutes strolling from the hotel: Naranj, Old Town, Kawali. There is also a schwerma stand over on Shari Amin that has really good schwerma, and Rossini for Italian food. All just steps away. I can hardly wait to go again!

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 10, 2008 | Reply

  15. Intlxpatr, so it’s kind of like, ‘it’s pay-back time’? Sooo not fun then. Well, at least you can say it was worth the wait!

    Comment by Aliyah | February 12, 2008 | Reply

  16. Aliyah – Yeh, I totally understand. So not fun, but once we got there, everyone was SO kind to us.

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 13, 2008 | Reply

  17. Love this post and would love to go there

    Comment by jewaira | July 9, 2009 | Reply

  18. I yearn to go back. It’s one of my favorite places of all. Stone Town in Zanzibar being another – both great walking places.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 11, 2009 | Reply

  19. […] a hanging of the Roman Arch on The Street Called Straight; the last time we stayed in Damascus, at The Talisman, we stayed near this landmark, near Bab […]

    Pingback by 7 Spice Grocery and Grill in Mobile, AL « Here There and Everywhere | February 23, 2015 | Reply


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