Tel Aviv, party town

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Lisa Armstrong

JERUSALEM MAY HAVE the Mount of Olives, Yad Vashem (the un­for­get­table Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Cen­tre), the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and end­less shops sell­ing shei­t­els (those wigs ul­tra­ortho­dox Jewish women wear), but Tel Aviv, its way­ward sis­ter, has the joie de vivre, the world-class restau­rants, the bars, the bou­tique hotels.

The wide, sweep­ing beach that flanks the city – thronged with jog­gers in the early morn­ing, bug­gies and de­signer dogs the rest of the time – gives it its char­ac­ter. De­spite thriv­ing tech, fi­nance and med­i­cal in­dus­tries, it’s still a beach city with a party at­mos­phere. Is­raelis used to have a rep­u­ta­tion for rude­ness, but they’ve been on a charm of­fen­sive. Still, the prox­im­ity to Gaza, around 50 miles away, gives the city an in­ten­sity, and some star­tling con­trasts: or­tho­dox Jews cov­ered from head-to- toe with their an­kles in the sea, just along from cov­ered Mus­lims, right op­po­site Manta Ray, a fash­ion­able beach­front restaurant.

We stayed at The Drisco, a stylish bou­tique ho­tel in the Amer­i­canger­man colony. Built in 1866, think crenu­lated roof, tiled court­yards, a rooftop bar, a highly rated new restaurant called George & John and epic Is­raeli break­fasts (orig­i­nally con­ceived to keep kib­butz labour­ers go­ing all day).

For a dif­fer­ent, beach­front ex­pe­ri­ence, The Carl­ton’s sea-fac­ing rooms feel like be­ing on an ocean liner, while its panoramic roof with pool, bar and snazzy restaurant of­fer some of the best views in the city. Or for ex­quis­ite in­te­ri­ors, there’s the John Paw­son-de­signed Jaffa Ho­tel in the an­cient Arab quar­ter, a con­verted 19th-cen­tury hos­pi­tal and monastery in a gor­geous hill­top spot.

For me, Tel Aviv’s star at­trac­tion is its White City – the largest con­tin­u­ous area of Bauhaus-style build­ings in the world. In 2003, Unesco de­clared it a World Heritage Site and since then it has been grad­u­ally re­stored to its former gleam­ing blend of util­i­tar­ian glam­our. We hired ex­cel­lent au­dio guides and strolled around, stop­ping for hum­mus or cof­fee at one of the many cafés.

At night there’s a be­fud­dling choice of world-class restau­rants. For ve­g­ans, Opa in the scruffy, hip­ster Levin­sky mar­ket area is sensationa­l, and North Abraxas, Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi’s favourite Tel Aviv restaurant, is an­other gourmet must-try.

We loved the an­cient Jewish neigh­bour­hood of Neve Tzedek, a labyrinth of bal­conied build­ings and in­die design shops. Our favourite café here was Dal­lal’s. Ex­cel­lent for fresh fish dishes or just cof­fee, it’s the Wolse­ley of TA. Af­ter a morn­ing’s shop­ping for treats to take home at Neve Tzedek’s fre­netic spice mar­ket, a mas­sage at min­i­mal­ist Ja­panese spa, Yoko Ki­ta­hara, proved the per­fect an­ti­dote.

2 3 Be­low The plush in­te­rior of The Drisco Ho­tel. Bot­tom The Carl­ton over­looks the ma­rina and the Mediter­ranean

1 Left The Jaffa Ho­tel is a con­verted hos­pi­tal and monastery.

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