This is your once in a lifetime journey and you want it to be unique. Forget about cookie-cutter hotels that you can find anywhere in the world; if you really want your trip to be a spiritual adventure try planning your next visit to include authentic hospitality experiences. With everything from big budget, low budget to no budget, the Holy Land offers unique accommodations for all types of travelers no matter what their finances are. Whether your taste is for a real hotel or something different, Travelujah has the inside scoop on how to experience the Holy Land and where to find authentic hospitality.
For a million-star experience, bring your yoga mat and sleeping bag to the official campsite in the Makhtesh Ramon National Park. Here in the vastness of the Negev Desert’s largest erosion cirque, sometimes called a crater, you’ll commune with the splendor of the galaxy obscured by the street lights of London. You’ll be dazzled by the Milky Way – an enormous banner of stars stretching across the sky so distinctly you can almost touch it. The price? Free. The number of fellow campers besides you and your partner? Likely none.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can stay at the palatial lakeside home of a British lord. Villa Melchett on the shores of the freshwater Sea of Galilee, a glorious relic of the British Mandate of Palestine, has been burnished to perfection as an ultra-luxurious three-suite lodge. Spread over two acres of manicured gardens in the shadow of Mount Arbel with its own private beach, the villa is simply fit for royalty. The retreat was built by Alfred Mond, a long-standing Member of Parliament and founder of Imperial Chemical Industries. Knighted in 1910, Mond was made Lord Melchett of Langford in 1928.
Between gratis and priced for blue bloods, Israel offers an intriguing variety of unique places to stay.
At the lower end of the scale of price but not necessarily luxury, the Holy Land’s many Christian guesthouses are especially inviting. Hidden behind large stone walls or beneath the ancient passageways and store fronts of well beaten side streets throughout Jerusalem one can find unique Christian guesthouses run by Christian churches from the around the world. Ranging from the small indiscreet Rosary Sisters on Agnon Street to the tucked away find of the Christ Church Guest House within the gates of the Old City or the 49-room former school converted guest house of St. Charles located in the quite hip and centrally located neighborhood of the Germany Colony, these guesthouses are generally short on typical hotel amenities such as telephones, dryers, and puffy big beds, but long on friendliness, cleanliness and great conversation with the Church community that manages them. Warning: be ready to make your reservation at least 6 months or more in advance though, in order to secure a room. Also, most of the Christian guesthouses, while open to all faiths, first and foremost prefer to accommodate pilgrims and several do have restrictions as to curfews and sleeping arrangements.
Similar attractive places that are long on charm and short on price are Beit Immanuel Guest House in Jaffa, the former home of Lord Ustinov, now owned by the Christian ministry CMJ-Israel, and Stella Maris in Haifa, which is run by the very friendly Carmelite Sisters. Though the purpose of these guesthouses is for Christian pilgrimage, religion is not an issue at any of these establishments. Indeed their sense of otherworldliness and spirituality enhance the pleasure of a trip to Israel whatever one’s faith. These guesthouses are priced for individuals from approximately $50 per person per night including breakfast.
Continuing in the luxury comes cheap category; the Jacir Palace Intercontinental Hotel was originally built as a fin de siècle mansion for the mayor of Bethlehem and his extended family. Following the 1993 Oslo Accord, Arab investors greatly expanded the former clan castle into a top-of-the-line inn. But because the economy in Bethlehem is far less developed than neighboring Jerusalem, a room here with breakfast costs around $165 per night – about a quarter of the rate of the comparable five-star King David Hotel five miles to the north.
Another historic site refurbished as a luxury inn is the Scots Hotel in Tiberias. Established nearly a century and a half ago as a hospital by Scottish missionaries, the complex of basalt buildings fell into ruin after a modern government hospital was built in the lakeside city. Completely renovated and reopened in 2004 by the Church of Scotland, the Scots Hotel today offers the intimate luxury that big hotels are unable to provide with prices over $275 per night and varying depending on whether you are in a sea view room, new room or antique room.
Secludedly set on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, the four star Pilgerhaus Christian guesthouse opened in 2000 on the site of a church, and is owned by the Church of Germany. This most charming of guesthouses offers 69 high level rooms complete with televisions and for the visitor interested in enjoying the peacefulness and tranquility of the Galilee, the expansive bamboo plantation on site is the largest of its kind in the country. Rates begin at around $225 for a double per night. Christian guesthouses can only be booked for groups of 7 or more rooms. If you would like Travelujah to arrange your group tour using Christian guesthouses, please contact us
The success of Tiberias’ Scots Hotel has inspired other hoteliers to establish boutique properties in historic buildings most notably in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv’s Hotel Montefiore is the Big Orange’s finest boutique hotel but two other properties recently joined this exclusive club including the Shalom Relax on Hayarkon directly across from the Hilton and the 12-unit hotel Gordon on the corner of Gordon and Hayarkon Street. Rates at these properties, a mere $360 and up including breakfast.
Just as the kibbutz is unique to Israel, so too are the kibbutz guesthouses scattered across the country. Two especially nice hotels are the Kibbutz Ein Gedi Country Inn located adjoining an oasis on the Dead Sea, and Lavi Kibbutz Hotel in the Lower Galilee between Nazareth and Tiberias.The former, perched on a cliff overlooking the lowest point on the face of the Earth, has an exquisite cactus garden. Hotel guests receive complimentary passes to the renowned Ein Gedi Spa with its mineral baths and Dead Sea mud.
Though less scenic, Hotel Lavi is popular because it allows guests to experience life on an Orthodox Jewish kibbutz. Guests can inspect the unique furniture factory which specializes in designing and producing accoutrements for synagogues, as well as visiting the dairy where cows are milked on the Sabbath without violating the biblical injunction against working on the seventh day.
Our personal favorite – If you really love animals, and just can’t get enough of nature don’t miss the Vered ha-Galil Ranch in the Upper Galilee. This 31 unit property was the first of its kind in the Galilee. When it originally opened people slept in huts but over the years lovely cabins have been added, most of which are equipped with small kitchens and jacuzzis. Recently 12 magnficient suites and a gorgeous pool were added, all overlooking the Sea of Galilee. This lovely guesthouse serves an enormous, cooked to order breakfast and is widely renowned for its restaurant, where it has served guests since the mid 1960’s and it is still known for some of the best steaks in the country. With the Mt. of Beatitudes, Korazim, Domus Galilea all less than 5 minutes away, there is much that can be explored even by foot. Here one can lay low enjoying a peaceful weekend getaway, or choose to embark on a horseback adventure from one hour to three days – and return to your bungalow to enjoy a glass of wine while soaking in a hot tub overlooking the Sea of Galilee. For a real treat, take a few hours and walk through the orchards. Make sure to take a bag with you because depending on when you come, you can pick the oranges, figs, pomegranates, berries and other fruits that are grown on site.
Finally in recent years Israel has been swept up in the B&B craze. From the Golan Heights in the north to the far south, one can stay in delightful zimmers – rooms (or more likely separate cottages) set up by farmers keen to broaden their income sources. Some today include amenities like Jacuzzis or swimming pools. The quaint towns of Safad and Rosh Pina, both in the Upper Galilee, are chock-a-block with B&Bs.
By Elisa Moed and Gil Zohar for Travelujah.
*For more information about booking an individual or group pilgrimage or tour to the Holy Land please contact us.