When Roman emperors ruled the world, loyal centurions of Roman legions completing loyal service could expect as a retirement gift, if they were lucky, the equivalent of several hundred acres of farmland in the southern Mediterranean, mostly in territories that are now within the coast. Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco.

Over the next two thousand years, these rich and fertile lands between the Atlas Mountains and the sea became wonderfully productive agricultural areas. There was a time, not long ago, when the vineyards of Algeria produced more wine per year than the entire state of California. The protective shadow of the Atlas, like the San Gabriels and other California coastal ranges, helped make the Algerian coastal belt a delightful place to live and work.

The modern nation of Algeria is gigantic, almost four times the size of Texas. Today, since Sudan split into two nations in 2011, it is by far the largest country on the entire African continent. Algeria the nation is named after its capital city, Algiers, called “Algiers the White” (the White City) for its beautiful whitewashed buildings that sparkle on the sunny slopes overlooking the sapphire-blue Bay of Algiers.

Visitors to Algeria often enter the country through Algiers, and it’s surely worth extending your stay there by several days if you can. Among its many treasures, Algiers is home to the famous Hotel St. Georges, a magnificent Moorish palace built on top of a hill in 1889. It was here that Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery led much of his North African campaign in the World War II, and was also the site of many important conferences between General Eisenhower and Prime Minister Churchill during the war.

After Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, the St. Georges was renamed Hotel El-Djazair, which has retained its name to this day. Many current guidebooks list El-Djazair as one of the ten or twenty most famous hotels in the world. The French writer Henri de Montherlant is said to have said, after a long stay there, “Heaven still exists!” because he found it so agreeable and the food so delicious.

Overlooking the bay from atop a high hill in the heart of a bustling city, it features fortress-like walls and a huge botanical garden, home to several rare Mediterranean trees. When visiting Algiers, this could be a good option for your first stay. You will be surprised how little it costs to stay in such a fabulous and luxurious hotel. In recent months, you could stay in El-Djazair for $150 a night per person, double occupancy. A comparable luxury hotel would cost you many times more than just a hop and a skip across the Mediterranean Sea in Italy or France.

Modern Algiers is big, beautiful and dynamic. It has magnificent restaurants, great architecture, fabulous beaches, a historic Casbah, enviable museums. You will especially want to savor the magnificent food in this seaside capital. I have too many happy memories of dining in Algeria to count, but if I had to pick a favorite restaurant, it would probably be El Cosaria, where my high expectations have always been met with fresh fish dishes prepared from that day’s catch brought in from afar. from the breakwater in the Bay, and the many variations prepared there from lamb, a traditional Algerian staple. The cuisine is typically Algerian and very well done. Although this is considered one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, dinner for two rarely costs more than $50 to $75. But you’ll want to do your own exploring!

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