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Entering York House has an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" feel. You climb a narrow stone staircase winding between walls hung with creepers and emerge into an urban garden ablaze with bougainvillea and shaded by the fronds of a 100-year-old palm tree. There's an impression of leaving the city far behind to join a realm of silence and calm. Crimson walls surrounding the courtyard once housed a convent built in the 17th-century for nuns of the Barefoot Carmelite order. In 1880 the abandoned convent was taken over by two English ladies who opened a guest house they named for their distant home town. With rooms installed in the former nuns' cells, York House became a firm favorite for discreet British travelers. Guests have included novelists Graham Greene and John le Carré. Over the years the hotel has had some ups and downs, but a makeover in 2003 ensured that a place that always oozed charm was equipped with 21st Century comforts. Most rooms fuse original features like wooden floors and stone arches with warm contemporary designs. For added style check into one of the "classic" rooms that are individually decorated with antique furniture, some featuring four-poster beds or hand-woven carpets, a much treasured traditional art form from the southern Portuguese village of Arraiolos. York House also boasts an excellent restaurant that spills over into the shady garden during summer time. The winter game menu is famed across the city, and politicians, diplomats, and business leaders drop in to lunch on the likes of stewed partridge or hare in port wine sauce.