Tourism in Israel has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years.
Great novels — like tormented romances — should begin in great hotels, and if I were writing one set in Tel Aviv, I would have to put the Hotel Montefiore at the top of the first page.
My own relationship with the White City’s preeminent boutique hotel is both short and semi-secret, but what I can say in this space is that it involved some especially delectable cuisine. That’s because the hotel’s restaurant is one of the most renowned in the Middle East, and not because it serves typically Middle Eastern fare.
What you can count on instead is contemporary brasserie cuisine “under a Vietnamese spell,” as they themselves say, and as you tuck into your tuna sashimi or spring rolls from the comfort of your leather cushioned seat ensconced among oversized potted palms, you can taste a sense of place that transcends your plate.
You might not think of Israel as a luxury destination, but despite the challenging geography of which it inexorably forms a part, tourism there has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years.
A lot of the focus is on Tel Aviv, which while not Israel’s capital is definitely its crossroads of cool. It’s a city always on the move, with a nightlife scene that can rightly be called sleepless, vibrant street art and even classic spots like the Montefiore that are always buzzing with new energy and creativity.
Consider an upcoming event at the 12-room hotel, which is in a refurbished 1922 building in the eclectic style (in the heart of the Bauhaus District). As part of a one-off collaboration with the Institut Français of Israel, the restaurant will host Chef Michel Sarran of the eponymous two-Michelin-star restaurant in Toulouse, France for “So French, So Good,” an exclusive culinary experience and tasting menu Feb. 8-10.
The three-day event will include Sarran partnering with Chef Moran Yanai of the Hotel Montefiore restaurant to create special dishes and an exclusive menu melding the hotel’s French-inspired seasonal fare, local Israeli produce and imported goods, and Sarran’s distinct approach to French-Toulouse cuisine. Sarran, also a host on France’s “Master Chef” TV series, will arrive one day prior to the event and collaborate with Yanai on one-off dishes never before tasted in Tel Aviv.
For a country its size, Israel packs in many different flavors, so, of course, any trip to Tel Aviv should also include excursions outside the big city. Just this month, Men’s Journal christened Israel “the next mountain bike destination,” and there’s a year-round sporting culture to back that up.
For those who like to pair exploration with luxury, there’s the Negev Desert, which forms a triangle of largely desolate topography with the Red Sea resort of Eilat at the southern tip. In the middle of this empty expanse is the Makhtesh Ramon — the world’s biggest crater formed by natural erosion — and right at the edge of it is a resort called Beresheet. It’s very Nouveau Israel, located near the frontiersy Negev Desert town of Mitzpe Ramon, on the ancient Spice Route about two hours south of the Dead Sea.
Beresheet aspires to eco-sensitivity: after parking, the only way to get around is by electric golf cart or on foot. Many of the suites have their own swimming pools, but the big one has an incredible view of the crater. The restaurant features organic cuisine and a decor that — thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass walls — opens up to the desert views. While the emphasis at Beresheet is on low-key luxury, activity options abound, including a full-service luxury spa.
Scoring even higher on the hideaway front, there’s the Nahal Haro’a Farm. This off-the-beaten-path place is located in the Negev Highlands near Sde Boker, where David Ben-Gurion is buried. Hiking trails lead to the Nahal Hazaz Riverbed where one can see cisterns built by Nabatean folks some 1,500 years ago.
The farm features only two guest cabins, each constructed of desert stone by owner Avi Saragosti. There are large picture windows to drink up the endless desert views, and each cabin is gorgeously furnished. Wake up to a farm-fresh Israeli breakfast fit for a movie mogul, with eggs, granola, fresh bread, vegetable salads, and yogurts and cheeses made with goats’ milk from Saragosti’s very own goat herd.
For the best flight connections to Israel, consider JetBlue via New York; the airline has a codeshare agreement with El Al Israel Airlines.
Visit haroa.co.il and nirotrip.com for more information.
By Anthony Grant