It was four years in the planning. Pondering my next city break, I decided to venture further than the usual Paris or Amsterdam (not that they aren’t great) upon realizing Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel is only a five hour direct flight from London Heathrow Airport. Even better, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are both a mere one hour’s drive from the airport which means visiting one of the oldest and one of the youngest cities in the world is very doable in a short vacation. Then the pandemic hit. Followed by political unrest.
The American Colony Hotel Jerusalem
My dad has a saying, “If you’re going to do something do it right.” So I decided to stay in arguably the best hotel in each of the two cities: The American Colony Hotel Jerusalem and The Jaffa in Tel Aviv. The style contrast between these two equally luxurious hotels reflects their respective environments: old school charm in the former; contemporary glamour in the latter.
The Jaffa Tel Aviv
Pray in Jerusalem; play in Tel Aviv. They might be near each other geographically, but the two cities are light years away from one another in just about every way. Jerusalem, the Holy City for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Tel Aviv, the liberal playground of the Middle East, best for beaches and nightclubs.
Tel Aviv Coast
I didn’t set out to be politically correct but ended up with a Muslim walking tour guide in Jerusalem and a Jewish driver in Tel Aviv. As a Christian, this made for some interesting conversations. A common theme was everybody agreed trouble can bubble under the surface. “At least in Northern Ireland there are just two sides,” a bookshop owner wryly said, referring to the complicated politics of Israel (I am originally from Belfast but have lived in London for the last 16 years). Still, I felt totally safe.
White City Tel Aviv
Seeing the ancient sights was awe-inspiring: the Bible brought to life. The Walled City of Jerusalem is surprisingly compact. Who knew Tel Aviv has the world’s best collection of ‘International Style’ 20th century architecture? Food was superlative everywhere, from falafel at a stall in a Jerusalem market to high end cuisine in Shila restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Flora and Fauna Jerusalem
Sharon Ehrlich Bershadsky, Director of the Israel Tourist Office, told me, “Israel is tiny in size but massive in what it offers visitors. This fascinating country has been truly blessed with so many positive attributes: great weather, diverse landscapes, great culinary traditions, and millennia of history and archaeology to explore. Israel’s holiday perfection is all wrapped up in one little package!”
My late mom had a saying, “There are no pockets in a shroud.” It wasn’t that mom was a spendthrift – she just believed in enjoying carefully chosen luxuries. My holiday to Israel cost a queen’s ransom. It was worth every shekel.
The Garden Tomb Jerusalem
Stuart Blakley is the author of ‘Sabbath Plus One: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’
Images © Luxury Travel Magazine / Stuart Blakley