Old City feel, modern touches at Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem


A stone's throw from the majestic, historical Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City walls, the Mamilla Hotel is one of the newest, and chicest, accommodations options in one of the world's most ancient cities.

The hotel, opened in June 2009 by owner Alrov Luxury Hotels, was designed as part of the tony Alrov Mamilla Avenue shopping mall development, which runs from the hotel property to the Jaffa Gate, by famed Israeli architect Moshe Safdie.

Sporting cool, contemporary interiors by Piero Lissoni, the Mamilla debuted during a veritable miniboom in Israeli modern architecture, opening within the same one-year period as the nearby Chord light-rail bridge by Santiago Calatrava and, farther afield, the acclaimed Design Museum Holon by Ron Arad, near Tel Aviv.

Although most certainly a contemporary piece of architecture, the Mamilla pays due homage to its biblical-era environs with design touches such as interior walls made of the same Jerusalem stone, a pale local limestone, used on the hotel exterior (as required under city zoning laws).

"The design and architecture of the hotel, combining the old and the new, sets the Mamilla apart from the other hotels in Jerusalem," said David Tucker, vice president of marketing and sales for Alrov Luxury Hotels, describing the hotel as "unique in its category."

The property's 194 rooms and suites also feature dark wooden floors, beds with metal headboards, custom furnishings and starkly simple bathrooms outfitted with large, rectangular soaking tubs; rainfall showerheads; and liquid-crystal walls that turn clear or opaque at the flick of a switch.

Checking in to check out

On a recent late Friday afternoon, checking into the Mamilla proved a soothing respite from the blazing sunshine of a Middle Eastern city and the frenetic pace of a largely Jewish one rushing to get everything done before the Sabbath started at sunset.

Mamilla Hotel guestroomThe hotel's cavernous main lobby -- both cooled to a comfortable temperature and cool with its stylish furniture, sculptures and coffee-table books -- brought to mind an ancient Israelite or Roman temple.

I was shown to my expansive accommodations, a 560-square-foot Mamilla Suite comprising a living room and a bedroom, both with views of the Old City walls; a bathroom, separated from the bedroom by that high-tech liquid-crystal wall; a guest restroom; and an ample walk-in closet.

Room features included two flat-screen LCD TVs, a king-size bed, a pull-out sofa bed and a work desk, while amenities on hand ranged from the usual standards, such as hair dryer and bathrobe, to special items available on request, such as nonallergenic pillows and duvets. As I was staying in suite-level accommodations, in-room WiFi access was complimentary.

The other accommodations at the Mamilla include 323-square-foot studio and 388-square-foot executive rooms as well as 700-square-foot residence suites and one 1,227-square-foot presidential suite.

Unpacking and donning a swimsuit in my walk-in closet, I headed down for a dip in the indoor swimming pool, lined with large lounge chairs and manned by a lifeguard, despite its small size and shallow depth.

The pool is part of the Mamilla's Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Center, which also includes a state-of-the-art gym; a luxury spa; an all-organic lounge and bar; and a "calming area" where staff offer classes in meditation, yoga, tai chi and Pilates.

The open-air portion of Akasha can be found atop the hotel, on the rooftop sundeck. After my short swim in the basement-level pool, I headed up and out to dry off in the rapidly dissipating Jerusalem sunshine.

The sundeck, equipped with cushioned lounge chairs, umbrellas, showers and restrooms, also boasts breathtaking views of the Old City. The facility is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer and is closed in winter months.

As it was nigh on 6 o'clock and I was still gazing at the surrounding cityscape, a hotel staff member gently reminded me of the sundeck closing time. Not ready to relinquish the view, I walked down a flight of stairs to the hotel's Rooftop outdoor lounge and restaurant to order a cup of coffee.

Mamilla Hotel rooftop sundeckBut with the Sabbath rapidly approaching, the coffee bar at the Rooftop, it turned out, was closing up shop, too. As I rode the elevator back to my suite, it occurred to me that I'd better check to see whether any of the hotel's other food outlets -- the Dining Room, the Patio, the Mamilla Cafe, Mirror Bar, Winery or Espresso Bar -- would be open for business during the Sabbath.

Staff at the concierge desk informed me that the Dining Room was indeed open for a Sabbath dinner; in fact, Friday night is the only night the venue, normally serving breakfast and lunch, is open for meals.

It suddenly dawned on me that the Mamilla is a kosher hotel, with restaurant and bar menus and operating hours dictated by Jewish dietary law. The Winery, for example, stops serving at 6 p.m. on Fridays, and the Mirror Bar is not open at all.

As I'm not of the Jewish faith, I decided to skip the Sabbath meal on site and inquired about other dining options. Choices were limited, as largely observant Jerusalem nearly shuts down for Sabbath. But the diligent concierge -- Anna, a Hebrew- and English-speaking transplant from Poland -- managed to secure me a reservation at Sakura, a Japanese restaurant within walking distance on nearby Jaffa Street.

Focus on leisure

According to Tucker, the Mamilla attracts mainly a leisure clientele. "Our guests come from a wide range of mix, either for business or pleasure, although as [Jerusalem is] a city of tourism, our main segment is leisure," he said.

Asked to drill down even further and describe the type of leisure traveler the Mamilla attracts, Tucker said the property "markets to guests who would like to visit Jerusalem and stay in a superb hotel, in the best location, with a lifestyle experience."

That demographic seems to be responding: The Mamilla has enjoyed an average 70% annual occupancy rate since opening.

The property is a member of the Berlin-based Design Hotels collection that works "in close cooperation" with luxury operators such as Abercrombie & Kent and Tauck Tours as well as with Virtuoso member agencies, according to Tucker.

"We do work closely with travel agencies in the U.S. and also with agencies in Europe, and we do pay commissions to travel agents abroad," he added.

For destination news and updates worldwide, follow Ken Kiesnoski on Twitter @kktravelweekly.
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI