In 1963, the InterContinental in Amman* opened, becoming the first five-star hotel in Jordan. In the years since and despite an influx of high-end options catering especially to the business traveler, the “Intercon” has retained its allure. By this point it is a hotel woven into the very fabric of the place it inhabits, having transcended its well-known global brand to become a singular point of reference in this ever-expanding desert city.
Staying here not because I was a business traveler but because I was tagging along with one, I was surprised to be so charmed by the “Intercon.” Yes, it’s an international chain, and yes, its 440 rooms spread over the vast footprint of a building erected in a decade known for its unfortunate conceptions of such—they don’t make lobby ceilings this low anymore, for one thing, and the hotel scores no points for its boxy exterior. The hotel has a few scratches and scuffs to show for itself, but the faded glamour in this case is an improved glamour; it makes you feel like you’ve wandered into a good story.
The story, though, is a complicated one. Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the east, Syria to the north, and Isreal/Palestinian Territories to the west. Of the countries in this part of the world, it generally stands out as a stronghold of tolerance and stability. Still, there are signs of potential threats at the Intercon—cars can’t drive up to the entrance, instead letting passengers off near the street. If a car does drive close to the building, it is scanned with a bomb detector before anyone is allowed to exit. Bags entering the hotel go through an X-ray machine, people a metal detector. These measures might have invoked fear, but instead they made me feel taken care of.
Once inside, the more conservative norms out on the street give way to an emphatically global atmosphere, where something close to anything goes. The lobby is vast and soothing in its endless stone beige. Foreigners hang out here for obvious reasons, but the three restaurants off the lobby are popular with moneyed locals, as well. I dined alone one night at Bourj al Hamam, the hotel’s excellent Lebanese restaurant, and was more or less ignored by other patrons. I welcomed this. Wandering around Amman, I attracted notice as a solo Western woman, and disappearing into the crowd inside the hotel became my way of relaxing. This is a popular venue for Jordanian weddings, as well—you’re close to guaranteed to come across one during your stay, which is a fun bonus. (I didn’t eat at either of the other two other restaurants in the hotel, one Indian and one Mexican, but heard good things about both.)
Up in the room, the decor was showing slight wear – minor spots on the carpet and walls and a design scheme that probably seemed more of the moment in the late 20th century. And there were some quirks, like a shower that leaked onto the bathroom floor outside of it, a comforter that was slightly too small for the otherwise very comfortable king-sized bed, and not quite enough closet space for two people, one of whom had a good amount of business attire to keep wrinkle-free.
On the other hand, I was never anything less than comfortable here, and felt particularly content sitting at night in the soft light, sipping a Jordanian red wine and flipping through a magazine, while behind me through the window, a sweeping view of the city presented itself. And some little, thoughtful touches make a big difference: American power outlets next to the Jordanian ones, for example, and gloriously large bath towels. In addition, the wifi worked great throughout my five nights in the hotel.
I spent the most time during my stay in what may be the Intercon’s best-kept secret, the Club InterContinental, a top-floor lounge where complimentary snacks and coffee are available throughout the day, and cocktails from 6-8pm. If you’re expecting to spend a good amount of time in the hotel, the extra charge for access to it can make a lot of sense. The lounge’s many nooks, with sinky sofas and velvet armchairs and dining tables, along with its panoramic views of Amman, were my sanctuary here—during a couple of my days in Amman I ate all of my meals here.
The staff throughout the InterContinental Amman are flawless in their work, from housekeeping to the concierge to the restaurant hosts and waiters to the staff of the Club InterContinental. I’d gladly trade a freshly renovated room in one of the newer hotels for the warmth coming from these people any day.
On my final day in Amman, I ran out of verve for exploring the city solo, and instead took to the InterCon’s glorious spa, spending time in both the whirlpool and the steam room. The highlight, though, was the indoor pool, and I don’t typically even like indoor pools. This one had a bit of magic in it. I was there alone, swimming languorous laps in a room lit, it seemed, mostly from the pool itself. The temperature was perfect, both in the air and the water. It was true luxury.
-review and photography by Sarah Stodola