By Stuart Forster
From ancient history aplenty in Jerusalem to modern Tel Aviv, Israel offers a complete holiday experience. Open for business, it is more accessible than ever.
I’m overcome by a deep-rooted sense of awe. Distant sounds of urban life swirl on a buffeting wind as I view Jerusalem’s rooftops from an observation platform high on Mount Olivet (or the Mount of Olives).
A steady stream of traffic rumbles along the road below the ancient city’s straw-coloured walls. Gnarly olive trees sprout from arid terraces in the valley, the location of the Garden of Gethsemane.
According to the gospels, it was here that Jesus Christ was apprehended nearly 2,000 years ago.
Earlier, I waited patiently to descend into the grotto within Bethlehem’s busy Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was reputedly born. My next stop will be the Church of the Sepulchre, in the heart of the Old City, built over the sites of Jesus’s crucifixion and the tomb where he was briefly buried.
As a lover of history, Israel is proving a fascinating land to spend time in.
Israel used the lockdown to improve its tourism infrastructure. Empty streets helped accelerate a project making alleyways in Jerusalem’s Old City accessible to wheelchair users. Signage about archaeological finds, history and places of interest have also been improved.
“Israel is a fascinating country to explore and perfect if you have clients looking to holiday somewhere a bit different or have a particular interest in religious history,” says Edwina Coppock, Head of Trade Sales for Titan Travel. “I recommend that clients book early for 2022,” she says.
Prior to the pandemic, Israel’s appeal as a tourism destination was growing and 2019 was a record-breaking year as 4.6 million global tourists visited, including nearly 260,000 UK travellers.
Israel, a global leader in vaccinating citizens against COVID-19, has remained on the UK’s travel green list. However, the country’s planned reopening to international visitors received a setback in July due to rising numbers of Covid infections.
The country welcomed a first group of UK travellers in June, as part of a pilot programme, and the plan was to fully re-open at the beginning of August. This has now been delayed to an unconfirmed date – with speculation that September will be the earliest the borders will reopen – and since August three individual visitors from the UK have not been able to travel to Israel.
For now, only returning nationals, residents, and small groups of special tourists are allowed to enter.
“In Israel, it’s business and leisure as usual…All tourist attractions, sites, restaurants, cafes, cultural and sporting events are open. Israelis have not had to wear masks outdoors since April (although they are again mandatory indoors),” says Sharon Bershadsky, Director of the Israel Tourist Office UK.
“We’re getting more phone calls from the public asking for more information and we’re also receiving enquiries from tour operators who previously haven’t featured us as a destination, but now want to start selling the country.
“It’s the combination of sunshine, history and culture, delicious food and breathtaking scenery that makes Israel such a special destination.”
In 2019 city breaks proved popular. The Israel Government Tourist Office’s (IGTO) Two Cities – One Break campaign promoted twin-centre holidays in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which are separated by just 40 miles. Coastal Tel Aviv has nearly nine miles of beaches and is renowned for restaurants and nightlife.
Destinations nationwide will be promoted as Israel showcases open spaces and landscapes, year-round sunshine and cultural offerings.
Tower of David: A multi-million renovation project of the Tower of David, anancient citadel, started last October.
The historic site and visitor attraction will remain open as ramps and lifts are installed, improving accessibility. State-of-the-art, interactive elements are transforming the permanent exhibition on Jerusalem’s history while new galleries utilise contemporary art and design.
Hotel openings: The recently-opened Six Senses Shaharut features 60 luxury suites and spas. Designed for sustainability in the Negev Desert’s Arava Valley, the property has a spa, camel stables for treks and an activity centre whose Earth Lab introduces sustainable initiatives. Guests can participate in outdoor activities, including a Bedouin dining experience.
The boutique Brown Hotels chain plans three 2021 openings in Israel. Brown Machne Yehuda, a 115-room design hotel with a rooftop terrace and hot tubs, will open by Jerusalem’s Machne Yehuda market, a district brimming with hospitality venues.
Following last year’s Debrah Brown opening at Gordon Beach, two more Tel Aviv properties will open.
The 184-room Brut House Tel Aviv design hotel presents sea views. Near Frishman Beach, the 30-room Villa Brown Tel Aviv features a rooftop sundeck, treatment spa, living room and bar.
Tel Aviv will also see openings of a Soho House, Nobu Hotel and the 154-room Port Tower Hotel.
Low down:Head to the Earth’s surface lowest point, 1,410 feet below sea-level, and float in the Dead Sea. Wellness hotels cater for guests who enjoy luxury and spa treatments.
Night life: Famed DJs, booming clubs and rooftop bars have earned Tel Aviv a reputation as a 24-hour party city. Beach bars with live music also stay open until late.
Wine tour: Israel’s terrain and weather help produce underrated quality wines. The Golan Heights and Galil Mountain wineries count among those offering tastings.
Vegan flavours: Israel’s thriving culinary scene includes a wealth of vegan offerings. Walking tours introduce Tel Aviv’s vegan scene.
Plough through Acre: Touring Acre’s walls introduces the history of a beautiful seafront city with crusading and Ottoman heritage.
Simply spectacular: Erosion sculpted the Negev Desert’s Ramon Crater. Cycling is a way of exploring the remarkable landscape, and the clifftop visitor centre explains the area’s geology and wildlife.
Where to book it...
TITAN TRAVEL 0808 239 1194
The eight-day Israel – Discover the Promised Land escorted tour introduces the highlights of Tel Aviv before heading to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. Priced from £1,849pp, it includes flights, accommodation, 13 meals and excursions, including a Sea of Galilee boat trip.