Scots Guest House: Unforgettable Window on the Holy City

It is hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a stay in Jerusalem than Saint Andrew’s Scottish Guest House, practically on the seam between the Old City and the modern Israeli metropolis that serves as the capital of the Jewish state. The views from just about every vantage point — rooms, private balconies, rooftop, patio — are as stunning as you will find from anywhere in West Jerusalem, including the most expensive hotels in the city.

The building itself has a fascinating history. It was built with donations from the Scottish people in the early years of the British Mandate over Palestine, in memory of soldiers from Scotland who died capturing the city from the Ottoman Empire in World War I. The structure combines elements of Oriental and European architecture, enhanced by the distinctive ornamentation of Armenian tiles crafted by master artisans, whose expertise was very much in demand at the turn of the century.

The Saint Andrew’s Memorial Church and adjoining Hospice were completed in 1930 and have served Christian pilgrims ever since, with the exception of the unfortunate interruption occasioned by Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-9. When the war ended, the kirk found itself practically on the demarcation of the cease-fire line between Israel and Jordan, barely within the jurisdiction of the former, and cut off from the centers of worship in the Christian Quarter, which lay behind the Old City walls of the now divided city.

Over the decades, the guest house underwent several phases of renovation, culminating in the conversion (in 1986) of all communal bathrooms into en suite facilities for 19 double rooms. Yet, the management continues to retain many of the traditions of British hostelries: to this day, guest rooms do not have televisions; guests congregate in the library and sitting room to read and chat and savor the tranquil atmosphere. (Still, in a nod to contemporary mores, there are two large flat-screen TV’s in public areas — and even one equipped with a DVD player.)

The combination of modern comforts contained in a classical edifice of Jerusalem stone in an environment of old-world charm began to attract a much broader demographic of traveler, including Israelis and foreign tourists seeking to avoid the impersonality of today’s large hotels. Another attractive feature is the price, affording what the British call “value for money” in a city notorious for inflated hotel prices.

The inevitable downside is that St. Andrew’s is invariably booked solid most months of the year, with the exception of some periods in low season (mostly January and February). Booking well in advance is highly recommended; and in the summer and for holidays, absolutely necessary. “Simple yet more than adequate” is the phrase that perhaps best describes the decor. There is ample plain wood furniture in the rooms, whose nightstands are devoid of the most basic features we have come to expect, such as a simple clock radio. Similarly, the bathroom amenities are minuscule, and the sinks run with cold water only. On the other hand, the showers are enjoyably hot — and the towels are as plush as can be found in the most luxurious resorts.

The complimentary breakfast buffet is not as extravagant as many others in town, but it is undoubtedly satisfying and comes with fresh-squeezed orange juice and excellent espresso/cappuccino. The lavish weekend brunch, however (served Fridays and Saturdays, but not Sundays) is justifiably famous — and, not surprisingly, unbeatable value.

Finally, the hotel’s gift shop, Sunbula, is also very much worth a visit: it stocks a wonderful selection of Palestinian handicrafts — unique in the western part of the city — sold at non-profit prices (hotel guests receive a souvenir welcome gift).

You can spend a lot more money in Jerusalem and still not have as memorable views of the Holy City as you will marvel at from Saint Andrew’s Scottish Guest House. Even if you can afford more, consider spending one night here to experience this beautiful, classic setting. Or have tea or brunch in nice weather as the magnificent view enchants you.

Saint Andrew’s Scottish Guest House

Published rates: $150-$320 (for the extraordinary two-bedroom self-catering penthouse apartment)

Text and photos by Buzzy Gordon, who was a guest of Saint Andrew’s Scottish Guest House for purposes of review.

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