ISRAEL Boules and boutiques
is taking place inland as well as along the waterfront.
It is hard to think of an urban thoroughfare more rewarding to wander the length of than Rothschild Boulevard, lined with international style and eclectic buildings which, although not yet totally rescued from urban decay, are gradually being spruced up to reflect the glorious architectural heritage of the 1920s and 30s.
And this is not just some arcane avenue for architecture buffs, but a green throbbing heart to Israel’s White City.
You do not need to know your Bauhaus from your Russian rural romantic to get a kick out of strolling the central green reservation of Rothschild on a Friday or Saturday, passing promenading families, kibbitzing canines, boules players and art lovers enjoying the decorated cows or ships or whatever is the theme of the annual sponsored art exhibit (this year it has been globes, and quite fantastic they are).
At the apex of Rothschild, which wraps round the city from north to south, and more or less parallel to the beach, is Shenkin, street of fashionistas and fairy-lit outdoor cafes.
But shoppers who find Shenkin too young, too overwhelmingly busy or ever so slightly over, are gravitating to the trendier, southern end of Roth- schild where it runs into Neve Tzedek, within spitting distance of Jaffa. It was, in fact, the overcrowded alleys of mediaeval Jaffa — another picturesque tourist joy — which prompted the establishment of Neve Tzedek in 1887, the first settlement to be built outside the walls of Jaffa on the dunes which 25 years later became Tel Aviv’s first neighbourhood.
Five years ago this neighbourhood was derelict, but the artists moved in, and now all who own property there must be laughing all the way to Bank Leumi.
Despite its bizarre appearance — rows of chic boutiques and restaurants surrounded by builders’ rubble — Neve Tzedek is making a huge comeback, with lovely old buildings being renovated and new buildings going up under the strictest conditions in what is now a conservation area.
To see why it is hot, start at the Suzanne Dellal dance centre, charming oasis of green space and culture, then wander up Shabazi Street trying not to shop till you drop — which is hard with homegrown designers like Sigal Dekel, Ma Yu, Ma Cherie with its eclectic embroidered velvet gowns and coats and Dounia, surely the most original handbag emporium in the world, stitching leather to gloriously eclectic fabrics.
Shabazi is a five-minute walk from the Dan Panorama, which offers exceptional value for a beachfront hotel, the best breakfast in town and fast access to fashionable Chinky Beach.
A £3 taxi ride brings you to the revitalised port, where the beautiful people sip cocktails with sand between their toes at Shalvati, or freshlysqueezed superjuice at the Gazebo bar in front of the Ella Yoga Centre, as well as great coffee and infusions at numerous cafés.
Low-cost fares also offer an opportunity for a culture break in the so-called “museum quarter” in Ramat Aviv. It is so worth finding two or three hours to spend at the magnificent Diaspora
Museum on the campus of Tel Aviv University.
It tells, most entertainingly, the story of who settled where and did what, offering the possibility to study one’s own family on the spot.
Nearby is the equally engrossing Palmach Museum. But it offers only guided tours which must be booked in advance — it would have been nice to know that ahead of time, and also to find some signs in English.
This lack of English signage on a significant number of establishments, including trendy restaurants and boutiques, is something the Israelis will have to address if they are serious about attracting foreign tourists.
I would love to be able to tell you the exact location behind Rothschild Boulevard of Pasha — home of gloriously wonderful kosher Turkish food, served with great panache — but my Hebrew is not up to reading the address off a card. It was, happily, just up to identifying Orna and Ella on Shenkin, where the yam pancakes and delicious salads and pastries are to die for, and also to locating Suzana, at 9 Shabazi, opposite the entrance to the Dellal Centre and perhaps the most charming alfresco lunch spot in town.
It is hard to know what is missing from Tel Aviv’s offering, except, perhaps, a few boutique hotels — and they are already coming up in Neve Tzedek and elsewhere — and better, more userfriendly public transport.
One is unlikely to have granted one’s wish for shops, markets and museums to close later on a Friday afternoon, but the restaurants, bars and clubs are at their busiest on Friday nights.
But if Friday evening and Saturday are imperfect for shopping and culture in Tel Aviv, there is nowhere more affecting to attend a Shabbat service than at the Western Wall, and the miracle of Jerusalem is reason enough to book a low-cost flight to Israel.
Flying budget to Tel Aviv: page 56
Tel Aviv’s beach: just a pebble’s throw from shops, nightlife and hotels
A refurbished building on Rothschild with its resident sculptures