The souks (undercover markets) of Aleppo are truly magical. Colourful soap stalls sit next to huge sacks of coffee and walnuts. There are delicious sweet treats to sample and fine fabrics to marvel at. Unforgettable.
In the centre of Aleppo by the Great Mosque.
Google map: bit.ly/gAaD3H
My daughter and I reached Aleppo's souk by bus from Damascus, then by walking through progressively narrower streets, pretty much following the throng.
It was pistachio season and photogenic trays of nuts were on sale right and left. But the souk is great for not bring a tourists' pastiche. It has many rope stalls, plenty of domestic items - much like a UK everyday market with added panache and intimacy.
We ate rich, hot foule (beans with tahini and oil) in a cramped servery with men having their lunch break; then chatted to a young jeweller - I wear his earrings, inlaid with tiny dots of silver, back home in the Midlands. He then recommended a fabric shop and my front door now has a curtain embroidered with pomegranates.
The souk isn't enormous, but is a working place shot through with the skills and traditions of an ancient city.
To top it all you can climb up the ancient settlement and look out over the city, or just meander back to the bus chewing apricots, munching pistachios or pondering more textile purchases in the less atmospheric shops. Syria's many things, including tough for many, but here's a trip in which the old Middle East abuts the new and for that it sticks always in the mind.
Easy from arrival in Aleppo.
Google map: bit.ly/95ynN8
The best coffee I had in the whole of Syria was from a hole in the wall at the entrance of Khan al Gumruk, deep inside the Aleppo souk. The man in charge dispenses tight espressos for pennies.
Tucked into alcove just outside the entrance to the Khan Al Jumruq, Aleppo souq
Last November I went on a photography holiday to Syria with a company called Frui holidays. It was a fantastic trip because I was able to practice my photography in some truly amazing locations such as Palmyra, Krak des Chevaliers and Aleppo. I was also looked after from start to finish by the tutors and guides so I'd also like to recommend Frui holidays.
I owe my insights into even the least visited tourist attractions in and around Aleppo to the very friendly and competent Mahmoud Lababidi (which is why I know and love Aleppo more than Damascus). He is a qualified tourist guide and working as an English teacher at a local high school. He can also assist with the hire of a car and driver for day trips.
Mr Lababidi can be contacted by mobile phone no: 00963 (Syria) - 955276368 or email: email@example.com
This is a beautifully restored Turkish bath dating back to the 14th century. The bath is reserved for women on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9.00 - 18.00 hours and for men at all other times.
When I was there, I shared the bath with two local families (from toddler to grandmother). They were all happily and noisily washing each other, feasting on the sumptuous food they had brought along and later dancing and singing to the beat of the upturned plastic wash bowls. Once they had realised that I was not interested in being left in peace I was made to participate in their merry-making. The bath also has a nice rest area, where one can recline on comfortable seats and order coffee/tea or a water pipe. A thoroughly wonderful experience.
About 200 metres south-east of the citadel, near the covered bazaar, everyone will be happy to point out directions
Situated about 40 kms NW of Aleppo, this ruined basilica and associated buildings is famous for being the place where St Simeon sat on his pillar for 36 years. But its real attraction is the stunning site and spectacular architecture, the church when completed in 490 AD was the largest in the world. Visiting St Simeon combines well with many of the nearby Dead Cities and other sites in the region.
A few kms beyond Deir Semaan. Entrance 150 Syrian pounds.
Aleppo is famous for its olive oil soap, much of which is mixed with other oils so there is a great choice.
The most precious of the regular combinations has 60% laurel oil and sells for 75 Syrian pounds (about 75p) per block. Try to track down a bar from Al Joubali soap factory in the old city.
Widely available in the souks of Aleppo
Of the listed restaurants in the Christian quarter of Aleppo, this is the best value in terms of atmosphere and food. It has two entrances, one signed from the side of the Armenian cathedral and the other from Qastal Ibshir Pasha street. Beer and wine on offer.
See above for directions. tel 2224462.
100 metres from the souk complex, very much part of the old city, this 18th century house has been converted for bed and breakfast accommodation (12 rooms).
It would be hard to imagine anywhere with more atmosphere, even if the facilities are not luxurious. Very helpful staff, happy to organise day-trips at a reasonable price. The only drawback is that it's a 20 minute walk to the Christian quarter if you want to have a restaurant meal with alcohol. I paid £12.50 per night for a single.
Clearly marked by signs, about 200m from the Bab Antakia gate to the Old City. www.halabiatours.com
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