Israel has 3,000 years of history, sunny climes for more than half the year and a trendy culinary scene, but never enough hotel rooms for its increasing number of tourists (some 3.6 million in 2018).
That’s been good news for investors and hoteliers, who never tire of creating, renovating, restoring and constructing new accommodations for tourists to Israel.
New hotels, whether in the trendy city of Tel Aviv, the historical spread of Jerusalem or in the farther-flung reaches of the Negev and Galilee, abound, from intimate boutique offerings to beach-side private villas. (There are also some budget hotels under construction, particularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, slated to open in 2019.)
Five long-awaited hotels, four in Tel Aviv and one in the Galilee, have opened in the last year, and are well worth a visit.
The Drisco, American Colony, Tel Aviv
No expense was spared in the $35 million, 10-year extensive renovation of this jewel of a boutique hotel in Tel Aviv’s American Colony, a neighborhood initially founded by American colonists in the 1860s. The Drisco is a restored version of what was once the Hardegg Jerusalem Hotel, a luxury hotel built in the mid-19th century by American brothers John and George Drisco.
Carved wooden headboards and carefully restored stencils and ceilings, complimentary drinks and snacks in the cozy lounge bar every afternoon, and a curated Ottoman-inspired menu in the dining room create a genteel atmosphere at The Drisco, which appeals to international travelers as well as Israelis, who want to explore Jaffa from this corner of the neighborhood. (It’s also something of a mecca for adults, as the lack of a pool means fewer families with kids head here.)
The three-story Norton House, which most recently housed historic fashion label Maskit, is part of the complex, renamed The Villa Drisco, with a five-room suite and Maine-style porches, perfect for larger family getaways. The Drisco is part of the Leading Hotels of the World group, and some of the hotel’s 42 rooms offer full views or glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea, the rooftops of Jaffa or the neighboring courtyard.
6 Auerbach Street, valet parking, not kosher.
Privacy is the game plan at Setai Galilee, a sprawling resort on the northern shores of the Galilee where each spacious white wood-and-glass villa boasts its own pool or Jacuzzi, depending on which kind of flotation you prefer. (Each villa has two floors, the upper floor offering a Jacuzzi, the lower level with an in-ground infinity pool.)
The 110-room resort, part of the Miami chain owned by Nakash Holdings of Jordache designer jeans fame and designed by the same architecture firm that created Isrotel’s Beresheet Hotel on the Ramon Crater, offers all kinds of luxuries, including spacious, two-sink bathrooms with deep tubs, stall showers, and roomy living rooms alongside the king-size beds. The hotel’s amenities include a two-floor spa (with a spacious Jacuzzi that easily fits at least 10 guests at a time), another structure that houses the lounge/bar with plenty of cozy couch seating for guests, and private helicopter tours that take off from the nearby shore.
But while the hotel is building another 47 rooms, it is located on a stretch of nature reserve shore that is generally home to simple camping grounds that Israelis flock to during vacations. The nature reserve location means that, technically, anyone can set up a tent on the stretch of brown sand visible from the amoeba-shaped pools.
Still, “I don’t usually have strangers just ambling up here,” said general manager Ofer Hayut.
The hotel has had a hard time finding appropriate staff, said Hayut, with the only people available from nearby Tiberias, a working-class city in the north. “They don’t always know how to speak to guests,” said Hayut, who has already hosted Conan O’Brien and other local celebrities.
Still, the crowd of mostly Israeli guests, who gleefully ride the hotel bikes up and down the strip of sidewalk alongside the villas, and happily drink cocktails at the outdoor bars, don’t seem to mind at all.
Sea of Galilee, kosher.
Setai Tel Aviv, Jaffa
There’s also the Setai Tel Aviv, another long-awaited restoration from the same hotel group, but with a far different vibe.
The luxury hotel is located at the very entrance of Jaffa, currently the coolest neighborhood in Tel Aviv in what was the former, Ottoman-era Kishle jail. The now-grand structure, facing Jaffa’s famed Clock Tower square, is the result of more than 20 years of preservation work led by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The urban resort has 120 rooms, some overlooking the sea and some looking out on the port, but every guest benefits from the multiple inner courtyards planted with olive and citrus trees (these same spaces were once prison yards) and the standout rooftop and pool, where one can stare out at the blue sea as the sun sets, seemingly at the very edge of the infinity pool.
22 David Raziel Street, valet parking, kosher.
The Jaffa, Old Jaffa
The Jaffa, another new luxury hotel in the port neighborhood, is also a restoration tale, first planned as the W Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Real estate firm RFR Holding LLC bought the 18th century French hospital built by a French philanthropist with the intention of turning it into a W hotel, and ended up partnering with Marriott International to open the 121-room luxury hotel.
The structure, located in Old Jaffa, was built within the walls of a 19th-century complex that once housed Jaffa’s French Hospital, and architects John Pawson and Ramy Gill transformed the original structure into a blend of modern-meets-historic. Hotel rooms vary between original rooms and a new wing, but all have high, vaulted windows and ceilings, lending to the airy, relaxed feel of the hotel’s interior.
History reigns, for the most part, with arched colonnades, thick stone walls, a vaulted ceiling in the former chapel that is now the bar, original Carrera marble stairs still form the part of the main staircase, and the remains of a 12-century Crusader-era wall in the lobby. The only things that seem slightly out of place are the lox and bagel sandwiches and tuna melts on the menu at Golda’s Deli, the hotel’s all-day eatery.
2 Louis Pasteur Street, valet parking, not kosher.
Fabric, Nahalat Binyamin
On a far smaller note, the newest hotel from the Atlas boutique hotel chain is inspired by the multiple fabric shops that line the streets in this south Tel Aviv neighborhood. Atlas’ Fabric has a local, industrial feel, with clean lines, colorful art and a dog-friendly policy if guests request the addition of their furry friends.
While it isn’t a youth hostel, there are bunk beds in some rooms, and an all-day bar known as Bushwick, named for the formerly rough Brooklyn neighborhood. This one serves fine cocktails, part of its collaboration with the local Imperial Cocktail Bar group. There are other noteworthy details as well, such as the rooftop, outdoor shower for a post-beach rinse, and the clever beach bags and free bikes available for guests’ use.
28 Nahalat Binyamin Street, parking in nearby lots, kosher.