By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman
I met Guido Romero for the first time 3 or 4 years ago, on a drive out of Amman with a mutual friend. Guido is from an Italian family inextricably linked with the 20th-century development of Amman. His grandfather, Dr. Fausto Tesio, founded Jordan’s first hospital, in 1921, and Guido’s mother, author, artist and gallery-owner Flavia Romero, set up Amman’s famous Romero restaurant group, also playing a prominent role in the cultural life of the city over many years.
Guido is a doer, with a business head screwed on very tight. When I heard he was setting up a B&B, I guessed it might be good. I got in touch, and was lucky enough to spend a couple of nights there. He’s calling it By The Lemon Tree.
The B&B made it into the 2013 Rough Guide to Jordan – and the UK Independent on Sunday ran my review a couple of months ago – gratifyingly, across a double-page spread – though by then word-of-mouth (and positive online reviews from customers) was already having an impact. From what Guido has been saying, the place is pretty much full, pretty much all the time.
Amman needs more of this. Guido tells me he’s got all sorts of plans, for this property and others – and I believe him. Guido gets things done. I’m happy to count him as a friend, but here’s a shameless plug anyway: go to Amman and stay at By The Lemon Tree. It’s really rather nice.
Here’s the Independent on Sunday article:
B&Bs are a Middle Eastern rarity. In a region which 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 amongst 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, plain 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 ensuite 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. Wifi is fast and free – I got a reliable signal everywhere. 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 for which the B&B is named. It’s quite a spread: after tea and fresh-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. Beware, 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, on the Friday I stayed, I strolled three minutes up the hill to the Stop and Shop minimarket, 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 him for tales of local history.
It’s a few minutes’ walk to the contemporary art gallery Darat Al Funun (+962 6464 3251; daratalfunun.org), shoehorned into an atmospheric old villa amid trees and views. Open 10am-7pm, closed Fri; admission free. Several more galleries and arts venues lie within walking distance, including Jordan’s National Gallery (+962 6463 0128; nationalgallery.org), showcasing a fine collection of contemporary Islamic art. Open 9am-7pm, closed Tues & Fri; admission JD3 (£2.50). After exploring the downtown souks, head over to Rainbow Street, a funky quarter of espresso bars, pavement cafés and antiques shops, enhanced on summer Fridays by a relaxed flea market of clothes, crafts and music known as Souk Jara (facebook.com/soukjara).
Near the B&B, in another of Webdeh’s old townhouses, Maria Haddad runs Beit Sitti (+962 777 557 744; beitsittijo.com), an impromptu cooking school where you spend a couple of hours learning how to chop, prepare and assemble your own three-course Arabic meal under expert supervision. Bookings are essential, from roughly JD35 (£31) per person. For another culinary adventure, book at The Winemaker (+962 6461 4125; zumot-wines.com), a combination 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 11191, Jordan (+962 777 955 559; www.bythelemontree.com). Doubles start at JD50 (£45), including breakfast. There’s a two-night minimum stay.