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Lucire: Volante
israel



Beresheet: a desert dream

The year-old five-star luxury resort not only raises the stakes for Negev Desert tourism but also puts visitors with the Israeli south’s past and future
by Elyse Glickman

 

When one arrives at Beresheet in the emerging community of Mitzpe Ramon, what will be most striking—especially at sunrise or sunset—is the way this elegantly sprawling resort looks both ancient and modern at the same time. At certain times of the day, the structures of suites and rooms that wind around the hills look almost resemble a gold chain.

The public areas and private spaces carry the theme forward, with interiors and appointments that are strikingly simple yet plush at the same time. After a full exploration of the property and its offerings, the hotel’s name, which is an Old Testament reference to ‘the beginning’, is genuinely fitting.

Beyond the “wow” moments that follow arrival and check-in, there are many other surprises in store for the guest, whether they are people used to staying in boutique or luxury properties in city centres or travellers actively seeking a retreat in a place that could be described as ‘God’s country’. The resort seems to lie precariously at the edge of the Ramon Crater, which goes on for miles but is occasionally dotted with sightings of remote bikers and hikers. The hotel also offers early morning photography lesson hikes, empowering guests to capture the drama of the location for posterity. The outdoor yoga classes are as breathtaking as they are restorative.

Inside the building, no detail of a perfect civilized vacation is overlooked. Unlike many of the resorts in the Dead Sea region, the food is on a par with top Jerusalem and Tel Aviv destination restaurants. Most of the ingredients are painstakingly culled from local farms, collectives and purveyors like Kornmehl Cheese Farm, and the breakfast buffet is truly a culinary highlight, inspired by regionally authentic recipes forged with a 21st century sensibility. Likewise, the guest rooms and suites are luxuriously appointed, and most boast heavenly views.

There is also a wellness aspect to the experience, and Sylvie Cohen-Gabay, General Manager of Beresheet, goes on to explain the room amenities and products used from the spa are for the most part fashioned by local companies. Staying at this resort, whether you are an adventure traveller or a luxury enthusiast, will put you in touch with the soul of Mitzpe Ramon, which is just starting to come of age as a community and population centre in the Negev, and according to her, embodies David Ben Gurion’s vision for making the desert bloom.

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‘Why should people come here? It is a good place with uncommonly good food, unusual activities and an unforgettable environment that can’t be duplicated at other properties in Israel or elsewhere,’ muses Cohen-Gabay. ‘I believe Americans will discover things about the Negev and be moved by them in unexpected ways, perhaps forever changing any preconceived notions they may have about the Negev beyond Ben Gurion University, whose technologies and programmes have helped local businesses serving the hotel grow and create interest in their products among people living outside Israel.’

The story behind this beautifully paradoxical hotel is equally complex and compelling. Widely credited for helping transform Eilat into a destination resort area, Isrotel founder David Lewis contacted then-PM Shimon Peres out-of-the-blue about the possibility of building an entity that could help transform remote Mitzpe Ramon into a tourist destination. As the two were good friends, Peres took a leap of faith and paid a visit to see the Isrotel Ramon Inn, which was up until then public housing. As Mitzpe Ramon was not even a village at that point, the sticking point was in the question of whether or not it could it be a destination? Lewis responded by taking the PM to visit the crater, which he felt may influence his decision.

Initially, Peres’s response was, ‘I love Eliat. I love the sea. I have a yacht down there and there is a lot to do, but the desert is not my thing.’ Undaunted, Lewis told Peres to think about it. Six months later, Peres was back to tour Mitzpe Ramon, from top to bottom, every stone, animal and landmark, according to Cohen-Gabay. From there, Lewis proposed he could open up a property which would providing jobs and other economic opportunities to the community. A few weeks after that, the concept, originally a four-star hotel, was hatched, and the budget was initially ₪100 million. When funds to support the ambitious undertaking rose to ₪220 million, the property plan was reconfigured for a five-star hotel.

In order to make Beresheet stand alone as an entity that could literally spell the beginning for Mitzpe Ramon’s emerging community, Lewis travelled to resorts around the world, from Morocco to Thailand, and other five-star resorts in areas that were not highly developed that found unique architectural and æsthetic ways to tap into the natural, unspoiled appeal of its surrounding geography.

‘The whole Beresheet philosophy encourages people to go out, see the crater and experience elements of the environment that will make their stay different from anything they experience in Israel,’ says Cohen-Gabay. ‘To make the destination as attractive to locals as to visitors, we are working with local businesses to pick up in developing the area where the government left off. More needs to be done to develop this as a tourism area, so our mission as a hotel is to bring our region up to a higher standard. When we source local products for the Beresheet experience, everything is crafted by hand from meals to amenities, which appeals to both the locals and luxury travellers.’

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Cohen-Gabay adds that Ramon Crater and the Negev are fertile territory when it comes to extreme sports including hiking, biking and power walks. Those less athletically inclined will find plenty to see and do, among the area’s historic sites and fossils, wildlife, wineries, cheese farms and alpaca farms. Furthermore, the concierge service can arrange a variety of activities such as a Jeep safari, cooking classes, wildlife tours, group bike rides, cooking classes, helicopter tours and even day trips to Eilat.

While there are no theatres or boutique shopping a la Tel Aviv, Cohen-Gabay points out that when you come to this resort, the point of it is to get you back in the thick of nature. She says that Beresheet is ideal for conventions as attendees will tend to stay close to the resort and will be more inclined to do take advantage of group activities and guided excursions that will shape the way they view the area and its natural beauty.

While Beresheet is not officially a green hotel with the LEED certification, management has instituted all kinds of ecoconscious practices to ensure the last great frontier of Israel is lovingly cared for. While the cheeses on their expansive and exceptional breakfast buffet are sourced from local cheese farms including Kornmehl, barramundi fish are farmed in the area along with cherry tomatoes and other vegetables from organic facilities. The hotel has a complex rubbish-separating system to whittle out oil, paper, plastic, glass, and food waste. Oil goes to industry or a safe place for removal. They have a towel washing policy to conserve water, and laundry facilities in Eilat. It is also the first hotel to open an electric car powering station.

Though most of the visitors come from within Israel and from Europe, and many of those visitors are non-Jewish, Cohen-Gabay predicts the number of US visitors will increase in the coming years. In their first year of operation, they were fully booked well in advance for Passover and the High Holidays. Additionally, they have played host to a handful of bar mitzvahs and weddings. One bar mitzvah family staged the actual ceremony in the crater.

When Beresheet opened for business on April 17, 2011, Shimon Peres was reported to say at the grand opening gala, ‘For me, this is a dream come true. As I travel a lot in the world, and I can tell you this is the Taj Mahal of Israel.’ Cohen-Gabay notes that on that day, there was a photo of Peres shot on the balcony that evokes a similar shot of visionary Theodore Hertzel. It is an auspicious sign that this resort has effectively, yet elegantly, straddled the timeless appeal of nature and history with the future of Israel’s expanding scope of tourism. •

 


 

‘To make the destination as attractive to locals as to visitors, we are working with local businesses to pick up in developing the area where the government left off. More needs to be done to develop this as a tourism area, so our mission as a hotel is to bring our region up to a higher standard. When we source local products for the Beresheet experience, everything is crafted by hand from meals to amenities, which appeals to both the locals and luxury travellers’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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