TAP Air Portugal launched flights to three new destinations on March 31, Tel Aviv, Dublin, and Basel. They were celebrated at Humberto Delgado Airport, Lisbon, with a welcoming speech by the airline’s CEO, Antonoaldo Neves, who said that these three brand new routes are “another step in the path of strong strategic growth that the company has been going through in recent years and will continue to develop.” He was joined by other officials in the festivities with a ribbon cutting and a special cake made in honor of the inaugural flights that was celebrated with music and Israeli folk dancing.
It was a great privilege to be part of this inauguration flight, which arrived on time on Sunday night at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The Airbus A321neo long-range plane, with 200 passengers on board, received a ceremonial water cannon salute before they disembarked to a warm welcome at Tel Aviv airport. It was a unique experience flying with one of the most vibrant and fastest-growing airlines in Portugal to a historic destination in the world like Israel. TAP’s schedule has a daily flight leaving Lisbon at 2:20 p.m. with an arrival time in Tel Aviv at 9:30 p.m. From Tel Aviv, flights will depart at 5:05 a.m., arriving in Lisbon at 9 a.m. An important innovation for all passengers: TAP will be the first European airline to offer gratis web-based messaging on long-haul flights onboard this aircraft. With the inauguration of these three new routes, TAP will fly to a total of 91 airports, in 88 cities in 36 countries.
At Ben-Gurion Airport, TAP Air Portugal CEO Antonoaldo Neves addressed the audience: “This inauguration of daily flights between Lisbon and Tel Aviv will create a new travel hub for Israel and will not only serve those seeking to travel between Portugal and Israel but also will provide a great platform for clients wishing to connect to North America, South America and to Africa.”
About four years ago TAP started to expand the connectivity from the Americas to Europe by adding flights, especially to the U.S. and North America, Toronto, JFK, and Boston, and they will be adding Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco this June. Among the speakers, Mr. Amir Halevi, director general of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, stated, “Israel is now celebrating another record in tourism. In 2018 we had more than a 20 percent increase of more than four million visitors and we hope to continue this trend with TAP with these direct flights from Portugal to Tel Aviv.”
Ms. Matilde Salvacao Barreto, Deputy Head of Mission of Portugal Embassy in Tel Aviv, added: “There is a strong and long lasting friendship between Portugal and Israel, one that we want to foster and deepen by these new direct flights, which represent a major step in that direction.”
TAP is growing by about 1.5 million passengers a year and is currently at 16 million passengers. Last year alone TAP had contributed about 4.4 million passengers in Lisbon as tourists and has been growing at an average of 10 percent per year. TAP adds on average 400,000 to 600,000 new tourists annually and by continuing this momentum TAP anticipates the arrival of 37 new aircraft by the end of the year and 71 new planes by 2025. Mr. Neves told NYJTG, “We believe there is potential to double daily flights in the future, as long as we have the aircraft. We believe in the market and there are 10 million passengers traveling to and from Israel per year and we just need a little fraction of that number.”
TAP also celebrated these first flights by inviting many guests to a special evening of delicious food and Portuguese music with Ana Stilwell and her group of accompanying musicians. Many representatives of TAP and Israel Tourism, as well as travel agents and journalists from around the world, were in attendance. At this special event, Mr. Neves addressed the audience: “If you ask me what TAP is all about, TAP is all about customer service, providing good fare, good prices, and we are very competitive.”
Mr. Diogo Lacerda Machado, a Board member of TAP Portugal, shared a remarkable story: “During our flight to Tel Aviv, we met a couple of ladies who were pursuing a trip of their dreams. One of the great things about being in the airline business is making tourists’ dreams come true. It was a remarkable moment for me to be a part of fulfilling this wish.”
A new project with the Chamber of Commerce and Israeli wine growers connecting 20 wineries from both countries focusing on gastronomy, wine routes, and tourism has opened a new window of business opportunities. Ms. Irit Freudenheim, the Portuguese Embassy Economic Attache, stated: “There are many bridges being built between both countries to prove that we are committed to this relationship.” With this new route, TAP will offer connecting service from the United States via its Lisbon hub. Like all of TAP’s “beyond Portugal” destinations, Tel Aviv qualifies for the airline’s stopover program. Travelers will be able to connect to 40 destinations through Lisbon as well as 10 cities in Brazil. They will also be able to take advantage of the airline’s “Portugal Stopover” program, which allows passengers to remain in Portugal for up five extra days between connections at no extra cost and enjoy discounts on a range of services, including hotels and restaurants. Mr. Neves told NYJTG: “We have a lot of incentives as for instance – free sightseeing for one day in Lisbon, special fares with the hotels, a tourist guide and also hotel discounts.”
When you begin your Lisbon journey with TAP Air Portugal Stopover, here are some places to visit:
* Torre de Bélm, Lisbon’s signature architectural landmark, or the nearby Jeronimos Monastery. Get to know more about Portugal’s role in the Age of Discovery at Ajuda Palace.
* The Maritime Museum, or Coaches Museum and Portas do Sol in Alfama, where the view will take your breath away!
* Relax away from the crowds and take in the sights from the highest point of the city at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte.
* Stop by Bairro Alto for your pick of restaurants and Fado music, or to enjoy Lisbon’s thriving nightlife.
When you start your Porto journey with TAP Air Portugal Stopover Program, here are some places to visit:
* Clerigos Church offers views across the city from its monumental Baroque Tower.
* Learn about regional history at the huge, Gothic Church of São Francisco.
* Livraria Lello & Irmão is a famous local bookshop with ornate decorations and an iconic red staircase.
Exploring Israel through the ages
As a returning visitor to Israel, I experienced once again this beautiful country that offers an incredible variety of landscapes and sights. Israel is right on the Mediterranean but has a window on the Red Sea. The North is all hills and forests while most of the South is desert. Some cities are incredibly modern and others are a walk through history. Israel is a safe country to visit and those who travel to Israel realize it the minute they arrive.
In January, Israel’s tourism industry saw an 11 percent increase in tourism entries, which brought $413 million in revenue to the Israeli economy. More than 4.1 million tourists visited Israel in 2018, an increase of 14 percent from 2017 and a record-breaking number for incoming tourists, with the growth 38 percent higher than in 2016. Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin stated that “the first month in 2019 continues the consistent record-breaking trend in incoming tourism to Israel that we have witnessed over the last two years and represented an unprecedented success of the Tourism Ministry in promoting Israel around the world in countries such as U.S., Germany, Russia, Italy, England, China, Ukraine, Brazil, and the Philippines.”
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the arrivals come from everywhere, and most North American travelers to Israel are not even Jewish, but rather Christians who are often connecting with the land of the Bible. From North America, Jews comprise about 40 percent to 44 percent of the travelers, while Christians generally hover at about 61 percent year to year and 40 percent of tourists have already visited Israel before. The largest number of tourists to Israel came from the U.S. with 813,500, France with 320,000, Russia with 303,200, Germany with 259,500, Britain with some 200,000, and from China with about 100,000, and the total keeps climbing. Tourism air connections would be essential for Israel as well as for its international viability. TAP’s new routes will contribute significantly to this segment.
The following are some of the many places to visit in Israel. I have my favorite ones, those that I keep going to every time I travel to Israel but I also love discovering new, less visited spots.
Tel Aviv and Jaffa
Tel Aviv is the obvious starting point of a trip to Israel, as this is closest to Ben-Gurion Airport. It is a fantastic, lively city that has a lot to offer its visitors. The center of Tel Aviv is packed with interesting sights and historical landmarks, such as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which is Israel’s leading museum of modern and contemporary art, and home to one of the world’s largest collections of Israeli art. Sarona, originally a German Templar colony, lies in the heart of the city, a small green oasis amid the glittering skyscrapers and city traffic that has quickly become one of the hottest destinations in Tel Aviv, with the restored buildings housing charming boutiques, galleries, a visitors’ center, and the modern Sarona Market building hosting an array of eating and drinking destinations.
Jaffa, the oldest part of the Tel Aviv municipality, is one of the must-see places in Israel. It’s a nice way to explore such a charming part of the city, which has a wholly different feel from the neighborhoods to the north – though equally fun. You will love wandering around Jaffa’s winding alleyways interspersed with art galleries, historic stone buildings, mosques and churches, the Jaffa Flea Market, and the Jaffa Port, which is one of the most ancient port cities in the world.
The Jaffa Hilltop and Garden Peak Park Gan HaPisga. Jaffa Park is on the hilltop is where the ancient city of Jaffa is located. On a clear day, from Gan HaPisga (Peak Garden), you can see all of Tel Aviv. Kids will also enjoy the Wishing Bridge, between the Jaffa hilltop and Kedumim Square. At the entrance to the bridge is a beautiful stone mosaic depicting the 12 astrological signs. The bridge is built at the location of an old fountain that was considered a wishing well according to local legend. If you put your hand on your zodiac sign and make a wish, it is supposed to come true.
Heading north to modern Tel Aviv, The Carmel Market is the city’s largest market. A vibrant outdoor souk, or marketplace, where traders sell everything from clothing to spices to fruit and electronics. There are also some really great restaurants, juice shacks and food stalls around the market – just wander along and nibble as you go. The hustle and bustle, vibrant noise, colors, and smells, as well as its reputation as the largest authentic Middle-Eastern style souk in Tel Aviv, all combine to make the Carmel Market a favorite destination for everyone.
A few blocks away is Nahalat Binyamin Market, which opens every Tuesday and Friday and is one of the best places in the city to find original, handmade items. Located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Nachalat Binyamin features a massive range of different arts and crafts items, including jewelry, presented by over 200 artists to offer fascinating creations to the public. It is a perfect place to shop and enjoy the flavor of the city. Visiting the Dead Sea, a two-hour drive from Tel Aviv, is a must during a trip to Israel. This is the lowest place on earth, surrounded by the stunning landscape of the Negev Desert. There are several beaches, each offering different experiences. The salty water of the Dead Sea is renowned for its health and healing properties and is so heavily concentrated with mineral salts that one can float naturally in it. It is one of my favorite places in the world and a must-see destination when in Israel!
Masada is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Israel and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This archeological site is an old fortress built around 30 B.C.E., famed as the site in which the Jewish rebels chose death by suicide over surrendering to the Roman army around 73 C.E. The views from the mountain, which overlook the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, are simply breathtaking.
A jeep tour in the Judean Desert in southern Israel with Barak Horwitz (email: email@example.com) really brings the region to life. For many travelers, the first glimpse of the rocky desert landscape of southern Israel will be their initiation into the desert, and the best way to explore it is by venturing off the road and into the hills and dry streams. It is an experience that will be hard to forget. It was absolutely incredible!
Finally, the timeless city of Jerusalem creates an unforgettable travel experience. This is an essential city to visit to ascertain a basic understanding of the country’s culture and history, not to mention a gorgeous and photogenic city. Every traveler should visit its most important landmarks, such as the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the surrounding Old City neighborhoods. Another must-see place and site of many a photo op for its stunning overview of the city is Mount Scopus, home to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
A fabulous way to explore the Old City is by exploring the Ramparts Walk, a gem hidden from locals and tourists alike. Hard to find, the Ramparts Walk is one of the most rewarding activities in terms of history, beauty and a greater sense of the geography of the place. The walk covers the Armenian Quarter and ends at the Jewish Quarter before the Dung Gate. Included in these sites are many of the Armenian churches and important historical buildings such as the Dormition Abbey and the Church of St. Peter. Visitors can walk over the stables, a flashback to the times of the old British and Jordanian rule, now the site of an Israeli police station. Descending before the Dung Gate it is just a short walk to the Western Wall (Kotel) and the surrounding sites.
Rebuilt Jewish Quarter and Cardo – The Cardo is an area in the Jewish Quarter that has been excavated to reveal an ancient Roman road. All that really remains are some stone columns and arches that probably were entrances to shops. There is a mosaic on a wall from an ancient synagogue depicting the entire Cardo area as it appeared in ancient times. Today the area has many shops and galleries with incredibly beautiful Judaica for sale. A beautiful place with a treasure trove of history, it is a combination of old and new Jerusalem.
Story & photography by Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York Jewish Guide.com
The author took part in a press trip sponsored by TAP Air Portugal and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.