Tel Aviv, party town
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.