Private hot tubs and pools abound at Jerusalem hills hotel named for Labor Zionist

Gordonia Hotel, the latest iteration of Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha’s 80-year hospitality operation, draws guests who want views and pillow menus

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The views from the private pools and hot tubs gracing most of the rooms at Kibbutz Maale Hahhamisha's Gordonia hotel (Courtesy Gordonia)
The views from the private pools and hot tubs gracing most of the rooms at Kibbutz Maale Hahhamisha's Gordonia hotel (Courtesy Gordonia)

It’s unlikely Labor Zionist thinker Aaron David Gordon would have taken a dip in the private hot tubs and pools featured at Gordonia, the Jerusalem hills boutique hotel named for the Zionist youth movement based on his beliefs.

Gordon, widely known as A.D. Gordon, was heavily influenced by Leo Tolstoy and the religion of labor, and when he finally arrived in Ottoman Palestine from Russia in 1904 he lived simply, supporting himself as a hired agricultural hand.

Times changed, however, and Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha, named for five of its founders who followed the Gordonia movement, has long made hospitality its main industry, banking on the clear Jerusalem air and views of the Jerusalem hills as a draw for visitors.

The name Gordonia remembers the hotel’s history and past, but there’s no connection beyond the name, said Zohar Ron-Gerbi, a third-generation kibbutz member who handles marketing for the hotel, carrying on the hospitality profession learned from her parents and grandparents.

That’s for sure, because this jewel box of a hotel in the Jerusalem hills has come a long way from its original incarnation. The 40 rooms — many with their own private deck, hot tub and pool, along with sumptuous bedrooms where guests can choose from a menu of pillows and spacious bathrooms with heated towel racks, double-sized showers and standing bathtubs — are a therapeutic balm for any vacationer, offering a fast route to rest and relaxation.

Then again, that’s always been the message from these hills.

An aerial view of Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha in 1955 (Courtesy Maale Hahamisha)

The Ma’ale Hahamisha kibbutz founders established a simple sanatorium for vacationers in 1940, expanding it with four more villas in 1945 and adding other structures over time. They reconfigured the guesthouse as a hotel in the 1980s.

In the earlier years, when Ron-Gerbi’s Austrian grandmother was running the hotel dining room, many guests were Holocaust survivors paying for their stays with German reparations. Later on, Israeli companies paid for convalescence vacations for their workers.

Zohar Ron-Gerbi’s grandmother, right, who once ran the Maale Hahamisha hotel dining hall (Courtesy Zohar Ron-Gerbi)

In 2011, Ma’ale Hahamisha sold the hotel to the Nakash Brothers of Jordache jeans fame.

The Nakashes have quietly amassed a group of Israeli hotels. They own and operate the Setai Jaffa and Kinneret, the Herbert Samuel hotels and Bayit Bagalil, and own the Ramot Resort, Gordonia and its sister hotel, Yearim, used for conferences and larger gatherings.

The Kerem Hotel Group, a partner of Eshet Tours, rented Gordonia for a period of 20 years, and now handles the hotel operation.

What the Nakash partnership offered was financing to renovate the Gordonia, renovating more rooms with pools and hot tubs “to create another kind of experience,” said Ron-Gerbi, who credits Kerem owners Gadi and Efraim Pribar as the visionaries.

Now this latest NIS 20 million ($5.2 million) renovation has doubled Gordonia’s size, adding 16 more suites for a total of 40, including one rooftop suite with a hot tub, lap pool and sauna; the other 27 suites have hot tubs and pools.

The hotel complex still feels cozy and intimate, with rocky paths leading from one set of suites to another, over to the outdoor pool and the dining room and lobby for a change of scenery or meal.

There are pillow menus and sumptuous bedding options at the recently renovated Gordonia Hotel (Courtesy Gordonia)

It’s a hotel for adults only, ages 18 and up, and while the expansive couches in each suite could easily be made up for a teenager, that would certainly cramp everyone’s style, especially at NIS 2,000+ for the suites.

The biggest advantage Gordonia has is its location, close to Jerusalem and about 45 minutes from the country’s center, making it easy to get away for a night or two.

Guests can lounge in the small but comfortable lobby that abuts the dining room, where bottled drinks, espresso and tea, wine, nuts and dried fruit are available throughout the day.

The recently renovated salon overlooking the views of the Jerusalem hills at the Gordonia Hotel (Courtesy Eran Turgeman)

But it’s just as easy and far more comfortable and private to change into a complimentary robe and relax on a private deck, taking dips in the hot tub and heated pool.

For a change of scenery, guests can make their way to the 15-meter infinity main pool, an inground stretch of steaming water under the open skies overlooking the Jerusalem hills, soon to be joined by a sauna and outdoor bar.

The outdoor heated pool overlooking the Jerusalem hills at Ma’ale Hahamisha’s Gordonia hotel (Courtesy Yael Valero)

It’s also well worth the effort to take a walk in the Ma’ale Hahamisha forest before breakfast or at some point during a stay, to explore trails that provide a green belt around the towns of Ma’ale Hahamisha, Neve Ilan and Abu Ghosh, with markers and monuments remembering those who once settled the land.

Breakfast and dinner are served from the same small, dining room, and dinner is dairy only, with a menu of fish and pastas augmented by a buffet of salads and desserts.

While Gordonia is surrounded by the Jerusalem hills and an array of local wineries, the hotel doesn’t yet offer a full wine list or cocktails, partly due to the toll taken by the pandemic in getting the newly renovated accommodations up to speed, said Ron-Gerbi.

The hotel does have day tours to local wineries such as Flam, and also plans on hosting intimate shows and salon lectures for guests. It also sells day passes to the hotel spa and facilities.

Winter prices are lower right now. A junior suite with private pool and hot tub overlooking the hills is NIS 2,612 (around $687); one with a view of the gardens is NIS 2,422 ($637). Suites without the private pool and hot tub start at NIS 1,600 ($421), while suites with a shared pool cost NIS 2,092 ($550).

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