It's not easy to find a good and affordable place to stay in Jerusalem, and when visiting the 'Eternal Capital' most tourists opt for chain or boutique hotels in the West (the most modern part of the city). But if you're willing to look beyond the conventional then walk through the Damascus Gate and inside the Old City's walls. Not far along the Via Dolarosa, an inconspicuous brown door hides a real treasure. And this abode, by the way, offers far more than a bed for the night - there, you can partake of German and Austrian fare, relax on a beautiful terrace and enjoy the most remarkable view of Jerusalem. Welcome to the Austrian Hospice.
The history of the Hospice goes back over 150 years. In 1847, Pope Pius IX decided to to re-establish the patriarchal seat in Jerusalem, which had been abandoned since the late fourteenth century. At the time, in fact, it was under the control of the French Protectorate, but the Austrian monarchy was determined to establish their own presence in Jerusalem. And so a piece of land in the Old City, on the Via Dolorosa, was found and, in 1856, the first foundations were laid. Seven years later, it was opened as a resting place for pilgrims.
Up until World War I, the hospice took in only travellers - firstly from the wealthier classes but later on from all backgrounds. In 1918, however, the building was turned into an orphanage and, after World War II, was taken over by the British and used as a military hospital. In 1948, it was captured by the Jordanians but after the Six Day War (when returned to Israeli control) it fell into disrepair. Only in 1985 did it return to Austrian hands, and shortly after renovations began in the hope that it could be returned to its original function.
Today, it is run under the auspices of the Archbishop of Vienna but endeavours to be known as a meeting ground for different peoples - after all, it lies in close proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western (Wailing) Wall and the the Dome of the Rock, all extraordinarily holy places for Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, within the walls of the Hospice, you do feel the Catholicism - in the form of murals, spartan decor and a beautiful chapel for quiet contemplation.
The Austrian Hospice offers pristine private rooms (plainly decorated, with floor tiling) and dormitories for those on a budget, and it serves an excellent buffet breakfast, which will keep you going for a good few hours. It also offers a cafe, where you can grab a coffee, drink a beer and order Middle European specialities including goulash, Sachertorte and apple strudel. Outside there is a wonderful terrace where you can relax and soak up the atmosphere, in private, secluded surroundings, just a stone's throw from the endless comings and goings on the Via Dolorosa. Early in the morning, and at sunset, the views from its roof are simply magnificent.
The Austrian Hospice also offers regular cultural events and daily Catholic masses. It's easy to fall into conversation with people here, either at breakfast or on the terrace and its location within the walls of the Old City means you can walk everywhere very quickly. The only real drawback is that they don't take credit cards! So if you're looking for an afternoon coffee and strudel, or a place to hang your hat for the night, make sure you've got shekels, euros or dollars in your pocket.
Via Dolorosa 37
Tel: 00 972 2 626 5800
Website: www. austrianhospice.com