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Tel Aviv The beach in Israel’s most fashionable city.

Back to Israel-ity

Between its timeless history and innovative food, fashion and technology, what makes a trip to Israel epic goes beyond traditional expectations

by Elyse Glickman
PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE AUTHOR

 

THOUGH SOME PEOPLE TRAVEL to Israel to discover their religious and familial roots, savvy 21st travellers looking for the “trip of a lifetime” spiritual experience blending innovative luxury, eco-tourism, food and shopping offerings will discover what Israelis and long-time expats have known for years: everything that’s old is not only new again, but the uniquely Israeli lifestyle is constantly being rethought by and for future generations.

Though one cannot ignore the gloriously displayed reminders of civilization-defining moments from the ancient world, many Israelis under 50 cheerfully expound on how the food, fashion, spa and beauty findings makes Israel one of the most modern and progressive travel experiences anywhere.

While Israel’s world history paradox is striking (as enduring as human recorded history yet just over six decades old), its state of being in world affairs is just as complex. While Israel’s daily soap opera of political turmoil plays out on a global, melodramatic scale in international newsmedia, the close-up picture tells a different story. Small-town and rural Israel is warmly idyllic. Neighbourhoods in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv display the colour and joie de vivre associated with sexy, sophisticated destinations like Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Miami and Sydney rather than a police state often depicted in news footage.

 

The golden Golan and glittering Galilee

Northern Israel presents itself as a Garden of Eden, albeit with everyday sociopolitical realities that prevent it from turning into Disneyland. The Galilee is recognized as religious tourism-and-pilgrimage hub, with attractions that include Tiberius, Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes. The Golan Heights carries a little bit of baggage of political turmoil and border skirmishes. However, get past that and you will discover Israel’s north is a region with much to offer foodies, as well as wine drinkers, art and architecture buffs, outdoors-y types and even shoppers.

Though Pausa recently counted National Public Radio and top international news services as guests during the most recent Golan Heights conflict five years ago (with one reporter deftly commenting that it was the best place to stay in wartime), it is best known locally as a bastion of sanity, creativity and intellectual conversation that starts at owners Avigdor and Einat Rothem’s dinner table. To give the guests an idea of the home-grown pleasures that await them, the Rotherms present them on arrival with a glass of their very own lemoncello made from lemons grown on their property. Breakfasts are flawless and abundant, and are often followed by a walk through Avigdor’s gardens, where he will point out what plants and fruits made it into the previous night’s dinner.

Just like a visit to the Rotherm house, when you visit Roberg restaurant in the village of Livnim, you are-literally-part of Ilan Roburg’s family. Besides the fact that this restaurant will have you talking about Roberg’s artsy-but-approachable approach to kosher food months after the meal, they will send you home able to recreate those memories in your own kitchen. Although there are glorious views of the Sea of Galilee and nearby mountain ranges, you will be just as impressed with the ongoing footage on several flat screen TVs that show the different courses of your meal coming together in a way that picks up where the Food Network leads off.

Mitzpe Hayonym, founded in 1923, is a forerunner to the modern spa resort experience. The Rosh Pina resort today balances the timeless (1,000 m of organic hotel garden and fields with livestock, and views of Mt Hermon and Galilee) with the new (age) via art gallery shops, classes, soap making, bakery, spa and wine- driven Muscat restaurant. Guests will also be enchanted by personalities like resident artist Sara Shoval, a 65-year-old former dancer who lives her passion through the artwork, art class instruction, garden walks and body work (spa) services she provides for hotel guests.

‘With every guest, I try to pass on a bit of wisdom my original dance teachers taught me years ago,’ explains Shoval about the multi-faceted career and lifestyle she built for herself at the resort. ‘If you can dance, you can sculpt. If you can sculpt, you can draw. If you can draw, you can write and move on to new things throughout your life.’

Ambitious travellers will discover not all treasures and great discoveries are buried within, and the ancient city of Safed (Tzefat), the highest community in Israel, reflects this. The compact founding city of Kabbalah is packed with charming narrow streets, landmarks, synagogues, jewellery salons and art galleries, such as the Gallery of Mystical Art and Safed Candles. The 360-degree views from the nearby Villa Galilee Boutique Hotel are epic. However, pair them with Victorian manor house appointments, an expansive gourmet breakfast spread, vibrant floral landscaping and a nicely situated pool. What you end up with is a literal piece of heaven.

 

Hail Cæsarea!

It is hard to imagine that just a few decades back, Cæsarea (midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa) was best known as a beach with a few interesting scattered ruins. In its new incarnation—UNESCO World Heritage site—visitors can appreciate Biblical, Roman and mediæval antiquities alongside a frozen mint-lemonade or cappuccino at one of the relatively new cafes and via the high-tech Time Tower that brings history alive, and in 3D. The Roman Theatre still operates as a performance venue for international and Israeli pop and rock acts. Diving enthusiasts can enjoy viewing the underwater ruins in the archæological park beside the port.

The Art Nova Gallery, just outside the Time Tower, showcases statement-making art canvases made from felt-like synthetic fibres that do not collect dust. Top Israeli jewellery and home accessories designer Ester Shahaf has her flagship store on site as well. The modern side of Cæsarea offers a host of activities venues, from golf courses to day spas, boutique hotels, the respected Ralli Art Museum and a historic site that houses the remains of a magnificent palace with a mosaic floor of amazing birds and a rare and unique table top inlaid with glass and gold.

 

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: the global villages

Though “eternal city” Jerusalem and youth-driven Tel Aviv couldn’t be more different, both offer exceptional shopping, cultural and dining opportunities. While Tel Aviv is undisputedly Israel’s fashion centre, Jerusalem is no slouch when it comes to travelling in style.

The business-chic David Citadel Hotel and edgy Mamilla Hotel have location in their favour, with proximity to each other, trendy modern neighbourhoods and Old Jerusalem. They also have the advantage of sprawling terraces that make you feel as if you could touch the peaks, and spires of history. In addition to chic Israeli labels (Daniella Lehavi, Cassidi and Michal Negrin on the high end; Fox and Castro representing his-and-hers street wear) and international names (H. Stern, Mango, Topshop), Mamilla Mall’s narrow corridor is also a thought-provoking outdoor art gallery as well as a literal bridge between the modern and the ancient.

New York-based Simon Hatcher, who co-owns the eco-friendly Israeli-American line Mango Tree Fitted Bangles refers me to his Israel-based partners David Aviv and wife Helen Dukat, who aren’t afraid to find and recommend mind-blowing food and fashion outside obviously trendy areas.

Though Jerusalem has more than its abundance of museums, the couple points out that city parks, underrepresented in tour guides (perhaps for the better) are as alive with culture as they are with flora and fauna. ‘Sacher Park is our version of Central Park—a large, meandering green park in the city,’ Dukat says. ‘Monster Park is cool because of the Nikki de Saint Phalle sculptures that dominate the playground. Further afield, Park Denya is a nice quiet place to take kids, while teens will like Park Gilo with its skateboarding–scooter ramp and proximity to Bethlehem and a view of the notorious security fence, if you’re so inclined.’

Given the couple’s connection to fashion, a discussion about shops is inevitable. ‘I always tell people to stop by a shop called Ethnics, at 34 Jaffa Road. ‘It’s a cooperative of several well-known Israeli artists (Ayala Bar, Lali, Talma, Yoram Aviram) started by my friend David Yom Tov, who now lives in New York,’ says Aviv. ‘For the best prices on traditional Judaica, however, I recommend Meah Shearim and Geula. These are Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods, however, so be sure to dress appropriately.’

continued


Mitzpe Hayonym view


Neve Tzedek


Roburg food


Villa Galilee


Tel Aviv skyline


Jerusalem skyline


Safed


Beach sunset


David Citade Hotel

 

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Continued overleaf

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