VIVE TEL AVIV. What’s not to like about Tel Aviv
VIVE TEL AVIV. What’s not to like about Tel Aviv
What’s not to like about Tel Aviv? The New York Times dubbed it “The Capital of Cool.” Foodies, sun worshippers, shopaholics, hedonists, gays and more rave about it. Now I understand why.
First a brief history lesson: Jaffa is one of the world’s most ancient port cities, dating back to the Bronze Age. At the beginning of the 20th century a large number of Jewish immigrants landed there. Many came from Europe and were looking to build lives similar to what they had left behind.
In the spring of 1909 a group of these immigrants, fed up with Jaffa’s noisy and unsanitary neighbourhoods, bought some uninhabited sand dunes north of Jaffa, divided the property into parcels of land using a numbered seashell lottery and voilà, Tel Aviv, nicknamed “The Big Orange” (a variation on New York’s Big Apple and the Jaffa orange), was born.
The “You Only Live Once” Splurge List
Centrally located minutes from the beach, bohemian Neve Tzadek quarter and trendy Rothschild Boulevard, the Brown TLV Urban Hotel epitomizes the Tel Aviv spirit. It’s brash, innovative and fun. The receptionist popped opened a bottle of bubbly and offered us a flute as we checked in at the retro-style lobby. “I hope you enjoy your stay, but mainly I hope you have fun,” she said.
Up on the rooftop sundeck I found a Jacuzzi and countered jetlag with an open-air massage. Guests are given a choice of five nearby restaurants that partner with Brown to provide breakfast. Other perks included free use of a nearby gym, complimentary bicycles and yoga classes. Salva Vida, a pop-up restaurant starring young super chef Yuval Fachler was open next to the lobby for three months and offered tasting menus with wine pairings.
Jaffa Shopping Spree
Jaffa combines Old-World charm and avant-garde chic. The Old City perched high on a hill overlooking the sea is a marvellous hodgepodge of twisting lanes full of art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Don’t miss the Ilana Goor Museum, an 18th century house where the Israeli sculpture artist resides and works. You might find anything from antiques to hookah pipes at the Jaffa Flea market that sprawls around the landmark clock tower.
The vibe here changes during the evening when many of these stalls become informal bars. You’ll find more upscale retail therapy at the Old Tel Aviv Railway Station where Tel Aviv and Jaffa connect. Unique fashion and decorative accessories, jewellery and more, all by Israeli designers fill the shelves at Made in TlV. Stock up on skin care products made from minerals in the Dead Sea at Ahava or fabulous footwear at Shufra.
Foodies should pay a visit to the Sarona Market, a mall where the Fauchon Paris store at the entrance is your first clue that this is Tel Aviv’s upscale eating emporium. Craft beer from the Golan Heights, popsicles made with ouzo and grapefruit, halvah spiked with chillies, cheese soused with truffle oil, celebrity chef restaurants and so much more vie for your shekels at Sarona, also the only place in Tel Aviv where I spotted bagels.
The “Cheap Thrills” Save List
In a country that is mainly desert, the Israelis have created a remarkable irrigation system so that the once barren patches of sand are now producing mangos, pomegranates, prickly pears and more. Did you know that cherry tomatoes were invented in Israel?
Thanks to an investment by Baron Edmund de Rothschild who kick-started Israel’s modern wine industry, there are more than 200 wineries in this land of more than milk and honey. Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market’s stalls overflow with gorgeous locally grown produce—glistening fat dates, pyramids of multi-colour olives, aromatic spice blends. Could I resist a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice?
On Jaffa’s Beit Eshel street, stop in at Dr. Shakshuka for a kosher Israeli staple. A shakshuka is a sizzling mix of eggs poached in a tomato sauce with North African spices served in a wrought iron pan.
Walk on the White Side
Tel Aviv is also known at The “White City” because many of the Jewish immigrants during the 1930s brought with them the architectural aesthetic of the German Bauhaus movement. You’ll spot many examples of such Bauhaus edifices typified by their rounded balconies, lack of ornamentation, white walls and clean lines. UNESCO named the collection of about 4000 buildings a World Cultural Heritage Site. Bauhaus buffs can take an English-speaking tour every Friday starting at 10 a.m. at the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv.
A Meal in a Pita
Join locals at communal sidewalk tables at Sabich Frishman for a pita sandwich that’s filled with hummus, tomatoes, peppers, hard-boiled eggs and spices. Avoid clothing stains by leaning well over your sabich and arm yourself with plenty of napkins.
Pick Your Beach
For all of its urban glitz, there’s another side of Tel Aviv—an idyllic stretch of golden beaches and promenade. Mezizim Beach attracts the party crowd. Beside Hilton Beach where you can surf, there is Nordau, a religious beach where men and women swim on alternate days. Alma Beach in Jaffa is home to Manta Ray restaurant, famous for its Middle Eastern mezze.
Eat With Israel
The restaurant scene in Tel Aviv and Jaffa is fantastic, but for something more intimate, consider booking a table through a program called EatWith Israel. We booked a dinner under the title “Secrets of My Magical Arabic Cuisine.”
Muslim Israelis Mahmoud and his wife Alia greeted us in their lush garden and escorted us to the dining room where the table was set with a groaning board of Middle Eastern dishes: moussaka, pastries stuffed with cheese and spinach, meatballs in tahini, baba ganoush, salads galore, homemade pickles, a casserole of roasted eggplant and basmati rice…to name a few. We washed this down with rose water and sage tea.
Alia and Mahmoud produce such feasts several times a week in a kitchen the size of my desk.
Despite what we hear in the news, EatWith is a terrific example of how many Arabs and Jews live peacefully side-by-side. And to that I can only add salaam/shalom (peace).