Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Safir

The Safir, central Algiers
Central Post Office, Algiers
On my visits to Algiers on behalf of Culturissima I invariably stay at the Hotel Safir on the city's esplanade. Built by the French in the early 20th century, the Safir is located just next to the Assemblé Nationale and overlooks the port of Algiers.

For first-time visitors to Algeria's capital, arriving at the "four-star" Safir can be something of a disappointment.

Before the disappointment, though, comes the fear: Why is there a road-block outside? What are all those policemen doing with guns?

The answer to the second question is simple: bugger all - they are trained by the French, after all. And the road-block? Well, because of the threat of terrorist attacks, security is pretty tight outside all the major hotels in Algiers. At the Aurassi, for example, cars are banned from parking within bombing distance of the hotel. At the George you have to endure three separate security checks before you're allowed to enter the historic interior (such draconian measures might seem something of a fag, but, once it's dawned on you that the George is one of the few places in Algeria that openly serves booze, well, they seem a small price to pay).

When I'm showing English guests around Algeria 
on behalf of one of Culturissima's clients, I usually advise them that, though they might be disappointed in the Safir on arrival, by the time they've tasted the other hotels that Algeria has to offer, they'll come to view the Safir as a pleasure palace. Sure, it's crumbling at the seams; sure, it's home to the world's oldest, scariest lift; sure, the staff all seem to have been trained under the Soviets" but it has a certain je ne sais quoiand, as most of the guests are Algerian, you're far less likely to be kidnapped here than anywhere else. 

The Safir - or the Aletti as it was known under the French - has a fascinating war-time history. More on that later. For the time-being, here are some photos taken in and around the hotel.

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