North spas with real sparkle
A few days chilling in Israel’s lush north is a good plan, especially for frequent visitors, says Lydia Weitzman
YOU’VE DONE the whole t o ur i s t thing, and now you’re l ooking for something d i f f e r e n t a n d special. Somet h i n g o f f t h e beaten track, a base in Israel’s countryside that gives you all the pampering touches of a five-star city hotel.
In recent years, boutique hotels of the highest standards have been sprouting in the Galilee hillsides like wild mushrooms after the spring rains. But, rather like the wild mushrooms themselves, if you don’t know where to look for them, you might miss them completely.
Even when you are headed for the charming, Jerusalem-stone-clad Bayit Bagalil, hidden deep in the Biriya Forest above Rosh Pinah, you can get lost along the winding track before you reach the impressive gated entrance.
With just 26 suites in this quasi-European chateau, Bayit Bagalil is the ultimate boutique hotel: small, intimate and elegant. All the country-house clichés are here — a roaring fire in the hearth in winter; a diverse selection of books and games spread out on the coffee tables; bikes and picnic hampers for forest forays — but the overall effect is enchanting, making you feel as if you are a guest in someone’s country home. An eclectic mix of furniture styles casually arranged and an interesting collection of “souvenirs” garnered from around the world all add to the home-rather-than-hotel feeling. In fact, it is perfectly usual to chat with other guests over a pre-dinner drink in the lounge.
But however inviting the Europeanstyled interior is, this is Israel, with blue, sun-filled skies beckoning you to enjoy the many terraces and cosy corners, lavishly furnished with top-notch wrought iron and rattan furniture and stunning views across Rosh Pinah to Lake Kinneret. The outdoor pool, with its large Jacuzzi and padded sunloungers, is a far cry from the frenetic poolside scene at most Israeli hotels — no aerobics (or even kids) to disturb the tranquility. And everywhere, the sight and scent of pine trees.
Set in the heart of the forest and built into the hillside, the hotel is surrounded by nature, with easy walking trails and guided forest walks at the weekends. Just the thing to work up an appetite for the gourmet kosher
Bayit Bagalil, hidden away in the heart of the Biriya Forest above Rosh Pinah in the northern Galilee