It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive northwest to Tel Aviv (an hour by helicopter), which was founded in 1909 on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund just north of the old Arab city of Jaffa. Today, the two are combined in the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, with Jaffa having become a district of galleries and restaurants. A thriving Mediterranean city of about 415,000 people, Tel Aviv has an almost exclusively Jewish population. If you stroll along the seafront promenade and watch the surfers, the bikers and the joggers, you feel yourself to be in Europe; the Middle East and its intractable problems seem strangely far away.
During the 1930s, many German Jews fled to Tel Aviv to escape the rising Nazi menace, and, as a result, the so-called “White City” contains more than 4,000 buildings in the then-fashionable Bauhaus style. The main artery of the district is Rothschild Boulevard, lined with palm trees. And it is in this neighborhood that Tel Aviv’s principal boutique hotels are located.
We first checked into the Alma Hotel and Lounge, next to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on the corner of busy Yavne Street. Constructed as a private residence in 1925, the striking building has had a colorful history nearly coterminous with that of the city. Although I wanted to like this place, my initial impression was negative. The reception is in the former hallway, a congested and inconvenient space, and the young receptionist was flustered and irritable. The property’s 15 rooms are individually decorated and stylishly furnished, but both our bedroom and bath were cramped. The hotel’s restaurant, the Alma Lounge, is under the control of chef Yonatan Roshfeld, who established his considerable reputation at Herbert Samuel, often cited as the best restaurant in Tel Aviv. Requesting a table for dinner, we were told that none was available, but that we could eat at the bar if we liked. At this point, we were treated to a rather condescending smile. Clearly, we didn’t understand that you couldn’t just walk into a place as hip and happening as the Alma Lounge, even if you were staying in the hotel. Fortunately, the food was excellent, and we enjoyed a digestif in the hotel’s pretty private garden. But this property is best left to the 30-something advertising executives who appeared to form a significant proportion of its clientele.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Excellent cuisine in the Alma Lounge; the pretty private garden.
DISLIKE: The location on the corner of a busy street; the cramped reception area; the small bath in our room; condescending staff members.
GOOD TO KNOW: You can eat in the restaurant without having to stay here (providing you make a reservation well in advance).
Alma Hotel and Lounge 86 Deluxe Room, from $400; Executive Suite, from $450. 23 Yavne Street, Tel Aviv. Tel. (972) 3-630-8777.
Located five blocks away, the Hotel Montefiore is also housed within a structure dating from the 1920s. Here, too, the ground floor contains a fashionable restaurant and a rather hectic reception area. Fortunately, this time at check-in, the staff were friendly and anxious to please. The principal drawback to the Montefiore is that the 12 rooms are all the same size and, in my opinion, smaller than is convenient for two people. The décor is undeniably attractive, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and framed black-and-white photography, but when I wanted to set up my laptop, I found myself obliged to rearrange the furniture. Our black marble bath was well-appointed, with an effective walk-in shower, but could only be used by one person at a time. Clearly, this is a boutique property, and what you gain in character you tend to lose in convenience. Although I have recommended the Hotel Montefiore for several years, I have been forced to revise my opinion. In the recent past, it has been the foremost boutique hotel in Tel Aviv, but this distinction is almost certain to be usurped by The Norman when it opens in August.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Location on an attractive street in the “White City;” lively ground-floor restaurant; helpful reception staff.
DISLIKE: The rooms are all the same size and are on the small side for two people; the lack of fitness facilities.
GOOD TO KNOW: On a sunny morning, it is fun to have breakfast outside overlooking the street, but you’ll have to rise early to get a table.
Hotel Montefiore 88 Superior Room, from $410. 36 Montefiore street. Tel Aviv. Tel. (972) 3-564-6100.
Those in search of a larger, full-service property may wish to consider the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel and the Carlton, though neither fully meets the criteria that would lead to my unequivocal endorsement. A new option is provided by The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya, which debuted last December. Located in the burgeoning northern suburb of Herzliya, the 115-room resort is surrounded by upscale restaurants and shops, and overlooks a marina and the Mediterranean. Aside from the standards of comfort and professionalism that you might expect to find at a Ritz-Carlton, the property offers a Shiseido spa and the Herbert Samuel Restaurant, an offshoot of the famous establishment in the center of the city. The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya sets a new standard for seafront properties in Tel Aviv; the drawback is that it is located a 20-minute drive from the principal places of interest.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The spectacular sea- and marina-view location; the superb (kosher) Herbert Samuel Restaurant.
DISLIKE: The distance from central Tel Aviv.
GOOD TO KNOW: Many of the global high-tech firms are located nearby, so this could provide a base for both business and leisure.
The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya 91 Deluxe Oceanview Room, from $625; Junior Suite, from $925. 4 Hashunit Street, Herzliya. Tel. (972) 9-373-5555.