Travel: Taking in Tel Aviv: Reggae, Scotch whiskey and French spas in Israel

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The vintage Scots Hotel St. Andrew’s Galilee in Tiberias is located about two hours outside Tel Aviv. The 50-room hotel on four acres was founded more than 100 years ago as a missionary hospital and school by the late Scottish surgeon, Dr. David Torrance.

We were having lunch at the new Alma Hotel and Lounge off Rothschild Blvd. in Tel Aviv when Rohan Marley walked in, presumably in town for the Bob Marley Festival taking place in February at the Barby Club. This year would have been the 68th birthday of his father, the great, late reggae legend, in whose honor festivals are still held worldwide. Israel has been on the short list of celebratory countries for eight years now, and the new tradition is going strong. Another stirring trend? The number of boutique and luxury hotels opening here.

New is the Hotel Rothschild on busy Rothschild Blvd., replete with an espresso machine in each of its 29 guestrooms. To make your stay here even more personalized, breakfast is served daily until noon. Freshly baked banana muffins set the tone. The hotel was designed to “reduce the impact on the environment,” a decision that is reflected every step of the way, from custom-crafted bath amenities sourced from a village near Jerusalem to picture frames made from repurposed doors.

Bearing in mind that the Rothschild was designed by owners with a flair for the unexpected, don’t waste time looking for any hotel signage. Instead, keep an eye out for a trio of faceless figures standing on the balcony to the right side of the hotel. Passersby look up and seem to form their own opinions, but one issue guests seem to agree upon is their comfortable beds with luxurious linens that urge you to sleep in. (Website: www.the-rothschild.co.il)

Another boutique hotel jewel is the stunning 15-guestroom Alma Hotel. Built in the 1920s as an apartment building with six flats, it was repurposed by designers into an ultra-chic hideaway where accessories, from lamps to headboards, were selected with sensational results.

Privacy is cherished here, with their Alma Lounge, an intimate restaurant currently known as a hot ticket thanks to a menu created by Israel’s reigning celebrity chef, Jonathan Roshfeld. His spin on vegetarian cuisine makes a monumental statement when it comes to produce, from carrots to kale. He pulls out flavors that resonate like a reggae ballad. (Website: www.almahotel.co.il)

Another standing ovation is due to the Scots Hotel St. Andrew’s Galilee in Tiberias, located about two hours outside Tel Aviv. Not just a place to sleep, this hideaway draws plaudits for its new Frenchinspired l’Occitane spa. Look out onto the shore of the Sea of Galilee after a late afternoon massage and meditate on the biblical heritage of this vintage 50-room hotel on four acres that once served as a missionary hospital and school founded by the late Scottish surgeon, Dr. David Torrance, more than 100 years ago.

Today, the Scots has the distinction of being the only non-kosher hotel in Israel while holding steadfast to the founder’s religious and secular roots, the Church of Scotland. This means a terrific selection of Scotch whiskey in the second-level bar and at the dinner buffet table. You might say the Scots Hotel is the perfect blend of “Scotch and holy water,” with its heritage steeped in the Scottish Church and a splash of Scotch in the mix. A marvelous pork roast that sings out with spices carefully selected by the hotel’s Jewish Italian chef attests to that distinction. (Website: www.scotshotel.co.il)

With the past and present state of hotels it is only fitting to mention the summer opening of the first Ritz-Carlton Hotel north of Tel Aviv on the pristine shores of the Mediterranean. Dominating the Herzliya Marina, this stunning work of architecture stands 12 stories tall, boasting 114 guestrooms on the first six floors and 86 residences on the next six floors. The initial reaction I had was that this Ritz-Carlton is one elaborate homage to the color blue, with its unobstructed views of the Mediterranean Sea and Herzliya Marina enhanced by wraparound plexiglass balconies. I felt like I was perched on the wings of a sea gull, looking out from the rooftop swimming pool and terrace. Breathtaking is an understatement. (Website: www.rcr-herzliya.co.il) Pam Price is the co-author of “100 Best Spas of the World.”