Today’s tourist is trending toward neighborhood boutique hotels with a theme or a history, rather than cookie-cutter international chains lacking personal character. The trend began in Europe and has spread throughout Israel.
“The product has really boomed here in the last three to five years,” says Ronit Copeland, an international judge for the Boutique and Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) and CEO of a hospitality industry consultancy based on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.
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A boutique hotel, she says, is defined by its soul rather than its size or price tag – properties range from three-star to five-star, and may include just a few rooms or up to 100. Either way, uniquely designed guest rooms and a high level of personalized attention are hallmarks of a boutique hotel.
Leslie Adler, co-managing director of the Israeli boutique hotel chain Atlas, adds: “People today are fed up with chain prototype hotels where each room has the same bed and same décor. People are looking for something more individual, where you are not just a number.”
The overall design concept and feel should be of a piece with the surroundings – unlike, say, a high-rise beach hotel. Many Israeli boutique hotels are situated in renovated historic buildings or in historic neighborhoods.
“The boutique hotel blends into the neighborhood by using elements of design or activities,” Copeland tells ISRAEL21c. “For example, the hotel may have partnerships with restaurants in the neighborhood, or its own restaurant may buy raw ingredients from neighborhood businesses. It’s a cool, ‘locals know best’ kind of approach, very casual.”
In Tel Aviv, boutique hotels pepper the trendy streets around Neve Tzedek, Rothschild, Shenkin, Montefiore, the beachfront and the diamond district. “Each has a story to tell,” says Copeland. “The message is, ‘Let’s live Tel Aviv, not just stay there.’”
ISRAEL21c lists 10 of Tel Aviv’s top boutique hotels below. Please feel free to add your own choices to the comments section.
1. Shenkin Hotel, 21 Brenner Street
Opened in April 2013 on the renovated site of a former health clinic in walking distance of hot spots Shenkin Street, Rothschild Boulevard, the Carmel Market and Neve Tzedek, the 30-room Shenkin has a spa, executive lounge, outdoor dining patio, and rooftop sundeck with a 360-degree view of Tel Aviv.
“We offer the full experience of Tel Aviv, not just a place to sleep and have breakfast,” says co-owner Guy Bartal, 27. Guests are asked for their preferences in dining and leisure so that the staff can suggest a tailor-made itinerary.
“The owners come from Tel Aviv and have connections to off-the-beaten-path gems and happenings that only the locals know about,” says Bartal. “Most places our guests want to go, they can walk to. And we will be providing bikes at no charge.”
2. Alma Hotel & Lounge, 23 Yavne Street
Opened in 2012 by siblings Adi and Irit Strauss, the luxury Alma occupies a former six-family apartment house built in 1925.
It has 15 rooms (one wheelchair accessible) decorated with one-off antiques and contemporary furniture, 3D TV and bathrooms boasting Bulgari toiletries and walk-in jet showers or deep soaking tubs. In addition to its Lounge eatery, the hotel owners run three critically acclaimed chef restaurants near the premises.
“The Alma Hotel approaches, in a very eclectic design way, a niche market looking not necessarily for the beach but for a trendy area near Rothschild with the anchor of its restaurant as a commercial retail front,” says Copeland.
3. Hotel Indigo, 5 Aholiav Street
Opened this summer in the posh diamond district of Ramat Gan, the five-star Indigo is a little different than standard boutique hotels. With 91 rooms (decorated in Ralph Lauren colors, unique murals and handwoven Afghan rugs), Indigo-Diamond Exchange is the InterContinental Hotels Group’s first “lifestyle” property in the Middle East.
The chic resort for leisure and business travelers features a rooftop pool and lounge, spa and gym floor, library and French-Med bistro restaurant at street level. In contrast to many other boutique hotels in Israel, the Indigo is kosher.
4. The Rothschild Hotel, 96 Rothschild Boulevard
Opened in 2013 on one of Tel Aviv’s hippest thoroughfares, The Rothschild is situated in the historic building that was originally the home of Abraham Friedman, chief agronomist to the Rothschilds – the European family that bankrolled many early Jewish immigrant communities in what would later become Israel.
A photo album of the 19th and early 20th century Rothschild “startup” enterprise can be found in each of six single rooms, 16 double rooms and seven suites. The hotel was built with ecological responsibility in mind, incorporating natural materials such as leather, clay, stone, wood, brass and iron. Toiletries come from Es-Sense, a small factory on a farm in the Jerusalem hills that employs several workers with autism. An on-site chef restaurant specializes in seafood.
5. Hotel Montefiore, 36 Montefiore Street
One of Israel’s first boutique hotels, the 12-room Montefiore is housed in a restored 1920s heritage mansion just off Rothschild Boulevard. Each room is unique in shape and size, and displays the work of a different contemporary Israeli artist. Original period furnishings, wooden floors, tall windows, black marble-appointed bathrooms, deluxe linens, a multi-language lobby library, a chauffeur-driven limo and spa services are among the luxury touches it’s known for. An on-site brasserie serves Vietnamese cuisine.
6. Brown Urban Hotel, 25 Kalisher Street
Located on a quiet street at the crossroads of Neve Tzedek, Rothschild Boulevard, the Carmel market and the artsy Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall, Brown opened in 2010. Its décor is described as “urban warmth, with a nod back to the faded glam of the ’70s.”
The 30-room hotel, owned by the Leopard chain, is dedicated to the local arts scene, displaying works ranging from street art to cutting-edge industrial design. A new Souvenir pop-up design store in the lobby – whoops, make that “living room” — offers original Israeli-made items. There’s a sundeck, two outdoor bars and complementary bicycles. Also of note: While many boutique hotels are for adults only, the Brown allows children and pets.
7. Townhouse, 32 Yavne Street
Opened recently in a newly restored 1932 Bauhaus building at the corner of Rothschild Boulevard, the Townhouse is a four-star property with 19 rooms, each custom furnished by Kastiel, Israel’s premiere design house. The hotel has a communal kitchen, loaner bikes and what Conde Nast Traveler refers to as “a quirky living room” where breakfast is served.
8. Shalom & Relax, 216 Hayarkon Street
One of six Atlas boutique properties in Tel Aviv, Shalom & Relax opened in 2010 and was built in the style of a Connecticut beach house, as it sits just across the way from Tel Aviv’s beachfront. It was named one of Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice top 25 hotels in Israel this year (Atlas’ Melody and ArtPlus also made the list for Tel Aviv). Shalom features a sunroof terrace overlooking the beach and is near the pubs and clubs of the Tel Aviv Port.
9. Diaghilev Live Art Hotel, 56 Mazeh Street
Voted one of the top 25 hotels in Israel by Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards 2013, the Diaghilev has 54 art-filled rooms spread over six stories. It is named in tribute to Russian art critic Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes. Just off Rothschild Boulevard in a Bauhaus structure, the Diaghilev features a unique nocturnal concept of darkened bedrooms and all-black sheets and pillowcases said to “promote restorative sleep that ensures all-day alertness and energy.”
10. The Varsano, 16 Hevrat Shass Street
The New York Times called the Varsano “an amazing and stylish place to stay.” Situated in quaint, trendy Neve Tzedek not far from the beach and Old Jaffa, the hotel offers eight large, contemporary-designed suites in historic houses with inner yards and patios. Each suite has a living room, fully equipped kitchen and dining area. The two-story Family Suite has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The Varsano does not have a restaurant, but it is within a 10-minute walk of many cafés, restaurants and bars. (Editor’s note: as of April 2015, the Varsano was purchased as a private residence and is no longer functioning as a hotel.)