Stylish hotels, engaging activities throughout Israel

By Karen Loftus

Israel Beresheet HotelThe modern State of Israel, steeped in religious history, appears to be full steam ahead on the modern hospitality and tourism front.

Tourism remained at the 2.5 million mark for many years, but it jumped to 3 million in 2009, 3.5 in 2010 and is nearing the 4 million mark for 2012. There was an urgent need for more rooms across the country, and top properties popping up across the country have answered that call.

Together with a thriving wine culture, strong agritourism and world-class options for outdoor enthusiasts, there's plenty on offer in Israel for the inspired traveler who wants it all.

From Tel Aviv's hip haunts to Jerusalem's Old World wonders and the Sea of Galilee, it's best to hit the open road to explore the many corners of the Holy Land. (Click on the photos for more images and see the list below for links to explore the activities.) 

Here are a few activities well worth the stop, and hot properties that should top everyone's list.

The Mamilla Hotel

The Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem opened its doors over three years ago and is notable for setting a hip and contemporary tone throughout Israel, in the country's most religious and historical city.

The luxury lifestyle hotel, with its Holistic Wellbeing Center, wine bar and exquisite design by Piero Lissonim, is perfectly positioned in the heart of the city, with magnificent views of the Old City walls, the Tower of David and Jaffa Gate and set alongside Jerusalem's new shopping and entertainment experience, the Alrov Mamilla Avenue, Jerusalem's Rodeo Drive.

There is a lot of adventure to be had within the city. Haggling in the Arab market alone is an adventure, as is walking through Hezekiah's Tunnel, dug underneath the City of David in the eight century B.C.

At night, hit the bars while zipping through old city with a modern move on a Segway. The next day, head to the Jerusalem forest where you can go ATVing or mountain biking or make it an early day with a sunrise hike up Masada's snake path, finished off with a seamless float in the buoyant Dead Sea. It's a quick drive from Jerusalem's city center.

The Varsano

This boutique hotel is a seamless mix of past and present. Set in the picturesque Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv's oldest neighborhood, the luxury property offers an array of Mediterranean suites with modern amenities.

Built in historical houses with inner courtyards and evocative patios, Neve Tzedek's vibrant village within a city is just outside your door. Step out to experience the best restaurants, boutiques, bars, cafes and international galleries.

EfendiIf looking for aquatic adventure, opt for sea kayaking or a bit of windsurfing. Or take in a contemporary slice of Israeli life by biking along the promenade. Stop at lively local beach bars or simply soak up the ambience of Israel's sexiest city by sitting on the beach.

Efendi

Just a few months after Efendi's opening, it was touted as one of the world's best new hotels by Travel + Leisure.

It's easy to see why. This historical property is set on Israel's north coast in the old city of Acre, a Unesco World Heritage site.

With views of the Mediterranean Sea, the scenic mountains of the Western Galilee and the old city walls, famed chef and Efendi proprietor Uri Jeremias of Uri Buri restaurant painstakingly preserved the evocative property over an eight-year period under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority.

A 400-year-old Turkish bar; a renovated, restored and fully stocked wine cellar; and a preserved fresco of the city of Istanbul are but a few of the award-worthy turns within this beautiful boutique property. Remnants dating from as far back as the Byzantine era make the Efendi property a brilliant blend of Israel's past, present and future.

The best way to take in the city is to set out to sea via boat or simply with a swim off one of Israel's most beautiful beaches. Take a look back at the old walled city and the turquoise sea around you. Once back at Efendi, opt for a decadent adventure with a dip in the Turkish baths on site.

The Beresheet Hotel 

The flagship hotel of the Isrotel chain has been abuzz since its opening in 2011. The Beresheet Hotel is two-and-a-half hours south of Tel Aviv, set in Israel's Negev Desert.

The property is majestically set overlooking the 200 million-year-old Makhtesh Ramon crater. Electric vehicles are used to tote guests around the suites and main hotel, one of the many initiatives to maintain the otherworldly ambience and aesthetics. Every aspect of the property is nothing less than extraordinary, from the Brazilian wood to the indigenous stone.

There are endless adventure options in, around and en route to Beresheet. As you head into the Negev desert, stop at Ze-elim hot springs and at a Bedouin women's cooperative to soak up the indigenous culture. Sharpen your archery skills with a local lesson or kick back with a camel trek.

For an active option, head to nearby Ein Ovdat National Park. There are endless trails for inspired hikes in this rustic canyon. Stop by Sde Boker winery to load up on local supplies.

Once at the hotel, the best way to get your adventure edge on and truly take in Makhtesh Ramon is to rappel down the crater. In the evening enjoy the gourmet restaurant on site or opt to tipple back and simply soak in the outdoor pool on the cliff's edge and feast on the serenity and scenery.

 

Staying active in Israel

Israel has gone full steam ahead on the modern hospitality and tourism front, with top properties popping up across the country over the last couple years, complemented by unique activities available from Tel Aviv’s hip haunts to Jerusalem’s Old World wonders and the Sea of Galilee. Listed here are just a few things to do.

Acre  

Boat rides with Sea Service and Tours:
ybramly@012.net.il 


Jerusalem
Segway tours with ZuZu:
www.zu-zu.co.il/index-en.html  
ATV’ing with Traktoronim:
www.traktoronim.com/jerusalematvtours.html  
Mountain biking with SK Bike Tours:
www.skbike.co.il  
Masada and Dead Sea tours from Jerusalem with Egged Tours:
www.eggedtours.com/tours/masada-and-the-dead-sea  

Negev Desert
Women's Bedouin cooperative visit:
www.bedouinweaving.com  
Desert treks with Desert Eco Tours:
www.desertecotours.com/english/negev_info.asp  
Visiting Ein Ovdat National Park:
www.tel-tours.co.il/Ein-Avdat  
Rappelling in Makhtesh Ramon Crater with Adam Sela Tours:
www.adamsela.com  

Tel Aviv
Sea kayaking and wind surfing with Surf Point Kayak Rental:
www.surf-point.co.il  
Biking on the promenade with Te l-o-Fun TLV bike share:
www.tel-o-fun.co.il/en 

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