In recent years Israel has caught up with the burgeoning specialty hotel market with some distinctive properties. On a visit to Israel in late 2013 we discovered three hotels worthy of mention.
Most large hotel chains in Tel Aviv have locations on the strip running along the beach on HaYarkon Street. Although the beach location is alluring, it is isolated from culture, restaurants, shopping and the heart of the city.
The Shenkin Hotel is challenging the location, location, location status quo by opening on a gritty but quiet residential street off of Shenkin Street, an up-and-coming boutique and café promenade. The philosophy of the intimate 30-room boutique hotel is Locals Know Best. The young, energetic staff of Tel Aviv natives is dedicated to providing the inside scoop on where to go and what to see. They were always more than eager to assist us with their know-how, and as sophisticated foodies, we asked about casual neighborhood restaurants. Their recommendations were spot on, as we had some of the best food in all of Israel.
The white hotel, which is in standing with the large concentration of Bauhaus buildings in the area, has the feel of the Art Deco hotels in South Beach, Miami. Small but well appointed Classic rooms (15.97 square meters) have the usual amenities of boutique hotels in this category, including free Wi-Fi, high thread count sheets, firm mattresses, flat screen television with free premium channels, in-room safe, walk-in shower and blackout curtains. One amenity made the hotel stand out from the rest: free international long-distance calls, saving us exorbitant fees when calling home on our mobile phones. Single 13-square-meter rooms are available in addition to 19.9-square-meter Superior rooms and 30.19-square-meter Junior suites, both accommodating up to three people.
Instead of offering the standard breakfast buffet that usually disappoints, the hotel gives out breakfast vouchers to either a nearby café or bakery café. We chose the café and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Every morning we enjoyed a delicious full breakfast including the local dish shakshouka, baked eggs in a spicy red sauce, along with a fresh salad, warm baked bread, and hearty overflowing mugs of strong coffee.
The hotel does not have a restaurant or room service but the executive lounge in the lobby offers complimentary serve-yourself coffee, juice, tea, and mineral water around the clock in addition to a computer, printer, and fax machine. A spa offering massages, facials, and manicures is located on the lower level and a rooftop salon with chaise lounges and hanging wicker chairs has vistas that extend to the Mediterranean.
Two hours south of Jerusalem in the Negev desert is Mahtesh Ramon crater, the largest in the world. Similar in geography to the Grand Canyon, the magnificent crater has an expanse 23.6 miles long by 2.3 miles wide and 1,600 feet deep. The connecting town of Mitzpe Ramon was founded in 1951 by workers building the road to Eilat and until recently only had a handful of rustic bed-and-breakfasts and camping grounds. All that has changed in the last few years as a chic boutique hotel and the first luxury hotel in the crater have opened.
Ten years ago, Parisian Arnaud Rodrigue instantly fell in love with the magical desert setting of Mitzpe Ramon and dreamed of opening a hotel. In 2010, he fulfilled his dream and Chez Eugene, a six-room boutique hotel, was launched. Crafted in a contemporary style, the rooms are more like luxurious apartments and our duplex room had a downstairs living room with concrete floors, pony skin rugs, a purple suede couch, and an upstairs bedroom with starched all-white linens. Some of the other individually designed rooms had private terraces with Jacuzzis. The restaurant offers some of the best food in the area and Chef Shahar Dabbah, formerly of Noma in Copenhagen (named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine), prides himself in using local produce and food products to create his inventive cuisine. The restaurant also serves wine produced from their own vineyards in northern Israel. The hotel will gladly set up local services such as massages in your room using essential oils and products from the Negev desert, plus excursions to farm stands with local cheeses, Argan oils and olives, and wine. They can also arrange treks, and bike and 4X4 tours to explore the surrounding deserts and national parks.
Just down from the road from Chez Eugene, one of the leading hotel chains of Israel, Isrotel, has opened the Beresheet Hotel, part of the Exclusive Hotel Collection. Perched on the cliff 8,600 feet above sea level, the property has unparalleled views of the Ramon Crater. The 111 rooms all face the crater and the ground floor suites have private plunge pools. Local materials of stone, wool, and glass have been used in the suites and the desert color palette is tones of beige, brown, and tan. To retain the peace and solitude of the surroundings, the hotel does not allow cars on the property and guests are transported in electric vehicles.
An outdoor infinity pool overhangs the crater, giving guests breathtaking views while swimming, and inside is a heated pool along with a spa, sauna, and fitness facility.
Chef Amir Kalfon has created a modern Middle Eastern menu and uses ingredients from small nearby farms and kibbutzim. A kosher menu is also available upon request and special arrangements can be made for the Shabbat holiday.
A unique amenity allows guests to arrive by helicopter from Tel Aviv.
Derech Beresheet 1, Mitzpe Ramon 80600