Holy Upgrade

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What would you expect a luxury holiday package to Israel to look like? What if you had half-a-million dollars to spend on it?

One family of eight recently had to face that fortunate conundrum in planning their 12-day, no-expense-spared visit to the Holy Land.  With that kind of budget, they were able to avoid the arduous 4-hour drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat for a 24-hour visit to the popular Red Sea destination, via their very own fleet of personal helicopters. Time, after all, is the most precious tova-wald-imgl2438commodity when money is no object. It also helps when your appointed pilot is a retired Israeli Air Force General — with 13,000 flying hours under his belt — and your personal tour guide is a geopolitical expert and the highest-ranking female colonel to ever serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

When you think of luxury travel, Israel isn’t necessarily the first country to come to mind.  Until about five years ago, the wealthy jet-set crowd opted for other Middle Eastern locations where the service standards were of higher par and accessibility to five-star accommodations were plenty. Now, more elite travelers are choosing Israel, due to an emergence of boutique travel firms, scores of celebrity chef-owned restaurants, and an influx of Israel’s newest line of lavish hotels.

Yet, traveling in luxury is not just about food and accommodations, but rather the ability to gain access to the inaccessible. Bespoke itineraries, if orchestrated properly, leave an indelible imprint on mind and heart alike. Elite travel is, in fact, all about experiencing that which you will carry with you for a lifetime.

Its all about knowing the right people,” says Hannah Blustin, founder of Pomegranate Travel. “We meet our suppliers face-to-face and put lots of effort and investment to quality control everything ourselves. Also, in order to provide a premium service, you, yourself, have to experience it first.”

Blustin knows firsthand what the ultimate romantic getaway looks like, and following a recent test run on her husband for his birthday, replicated it for one of her high-end clients.

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Off-road adventures.

One newlywed couple recently chose to travel to Israel to commemorate their burgeoning love affair. It started with an evening under the stars at a pop-up desert camp overlooking the Mitzpeh Ramon Crater in the Negev. Their campsite came complete with a professional telescope, a feather-down mattress, and working showers and toilets. Their dinner plans included a chauffeured, off-road jeep tour to the nearby Jordanian border, where they crossed into Little Petra — a UNESCO Heritage Site, usually shut down at night.  They had the natural treasure all to themselves with a five-course candlelit meal prepared by top chefs.

Tova Wald, known as the first mother of luxury travel in Israel, also helps travelers gain elite access.  One of her most well-known abilities is to close down holy sites and religious locations at odd hours for her clients.

Wald says, “Today’s travelers realize that it’s not how much you see when you’re traveling, it’s the depth of the experience that truly elevates one’s travel adventure to that of an exquisite memory.”

Aside from the itinerary, where you hang your hat is equally as important.  In Israel, up until recently, the only options were household names like the Hilton or Sheraton.  But now, independent high-end boutique hotels are setting up shop. Some of Israel’s latest and greatest places to stay include the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, the Cramim Resort and Spa in the Judean Hills, Norman Tel Aviv, Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya, the Efendi in Acre, the Scots in Tiberias, and the Beresheet — a desert hotel and spa in Mitzpeh Ramon, considered one of the finest hotels in Israel by international standards.

Israel has also emerged as a luxury destination mainly because of its booming foodie scene. Though there are no Michelin-star restaurants in the country, an influx of celebrity chefs has transformed Tel Aviv into a culinary capital.  And you better believe that V.I.P.s spending time in the country will be joined by these chefs while visiting the chefs’ restaurants for some inside tips on how to perfect their recipes.

Most of the top restaurants are in Tel Aviv and include North Abraxas, Tapas1Haam, Toto, Santa Katerina, Topolopompo Delida, Yaffo Tel Aviv, Messa, Herbert Samuel, Raphael, Zepra, Popina, Manta Ray, Hamizlala, Catit, Oasis, Taizu, and HaBasta.

So, whether you’re touring Israel from the air on your private chopper or rappelling down the side of a 200-million-year-old crater in the desert, there is something for every curious wanderluster, though lounging beachside and gazing at the Mediterranean is still always an option.  Yet, no matter how you enjoy the country’s scenic backdrop of mountains, deserts, and the sea, what will make your trip most memorable is the myriad of different people you’ll meet along your journey. Though diverse in culture, race, and religions, Israelis are singularly known to be some of the warmest and most welcoming in the world.

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Beresheet Hotel – Mitzpe Ramon

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Hot air balloon rides over the desert.
Hot air balloon rides over the desert.

JERUSALEM

Where to Stay: Cramim Resort & Spa, www.isrotel.com/cramim; The King David, www.danhotels.com; Mamilla Hotel, www.mamillahotel.com; Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, www.waldorfastoria.com; The American Colony, www.americancolony.com.

Where to Eat:  Machne Yehuda, The Culinary Workshop, Herbert Samuel Jerusalem,  Mona, Mamilla Rooftop, Notre Dam, Chakra, Adom, Talbiye, 1868, Eucalyptus.

What to see: The Old City: Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Western Wall, Tower of David, the Al Aqsa Mosque, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Machne Yehuda Market, the Israel Museum, and Mount of Olives.

TEL AVIV

Where to Stay: Norman Tel Aviv, www.thenorman.com; Hotel Montefiore, www.hotelmontefiore.co.il; The Rothschild Hotel, www.the-rothschild-hotel.com;  Dan Tel Aviv, www.danhotels.com; Ritz Carlton Herzliya, www.ritzcarlton.com.

Where to Eat: North Abraxas, Tapas1Haam, Toto, Santa Katerina, Delida, Yaffo Tel Aviv, Messa, Mashya, Herbert Samuel, Raphael, Zepra, Popina, Manta Ray, Mizlala, Catit, Oasis, Taizu, and HaBasta.

What to See: Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv Promenade, Shenken Street, Neve Tzedek, Carmel Market, and Bauhaus Center.

Down South

Where to Stay: Beresheet Hotel – Mitzpe Ramon, www.isrotel.com/beresheet.

Where to Eat: Pack a lunch or have one catered!

What to See: Ramon Crater, Ein Advdat National Park, and Nabatean Avdat Acropolis.

Up North

Where to Stay: Elma Arts Complex Luxury Hotel – Zichron Ya’akov, www.elma-hotel.com;  Efendi Boutique Hotel – Acre, www.efendi-hotel.com; The Scots Hotel – Tiberius, www.scotshotels.co.il.

Where to Eat: Uri Buri – Acre, Tishbi Winery – Neve Tzedek.

What to See: Sea of Galilee, Bahai Gardens, Mount Hermon, The Hula Valley, the Old Acre Market, and Rosh HaNikra grottoes.

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