The hotel scene in Tel Aviv until recently has been a bleak one, as overpriced as it was under-renovated, thanks mostly to the row of circa 1960s high rises lining the Mediterranean along an otherwise captivating stretch of sand. If one was traveling for pleasure, they tended to present as the only option, and although they fail utterly in ruining the atmosphere, thanks to a cosmopolitan energy that pervades Tel Aviv even on the beach, it can still cause a flash of despair to wander by one, take in its foliage-deprived grounds and concrete tower, its intimation of abandonment. I’ve never gone into any of these places, but I’m told by those who have that rooms in them are mostly worse for the wear.
Across the street from them on my first night in Tel Aviv, my boyfriend and I sat looking out over the sea and the Hilton from the roof of the Shalom Hotel & Relax. As is our wont, we’d stocked our room with vodka and soda, with which we’d made cocktails and headed up. I was coming from winter in New York and it was 80 degrees out—even if there had been something to complain about, I’d have had nothing to complain about. Another couple occupied a canopied outdoor bed. We took to the Adirondack-like rocking chairs.
Opened in 2010 with 51 rooms, the Shalom came at the front end of a mini-wave of boutique hotels to sprinkle their charms over Tel Aviv during the past five years. Many of them are located away from the sea, in the Jaffa or Rothschild neighborhoods, making the Shalom an especially intriguing option, well situated for not only the beach but the upscale Basel Square, as well.
Intriguing also because it’s so much fun hanging around the hotel itself. Most hotels, try as many of them might, fail to foster a convivial atmosphere. Their lobbies might be beautiful, but they’re unused and vaguely lonely. Their bars may try to exude high style, but instead they succumb to a kind of paint-by-numbers version of contemporary design, and guests come to drink at them only as a last resort. At the Shalom, happily, the lobby gets used, as does the aforementioned fabulous rooftop—both hit the notes exactly right, carefully conceived communal spaces that are neither too formal nor too undefined. The lobby especially inspired a certain sociability in me—I felt I had a legitimate chance of falling into conversation with someone I might actually want to talk to.
The rooms are pricey—it’s still Tel Aviv, and our small one came in at just under $300 a night—but the onslaught of perks included in that fee soften the blow. Israelis are known for their elaborate breakfasts, and we received a quintessential version each morning in the lobby, with yogurts, muesli, made to order shakshuka (a baked egg and tomato dish that I die for), Italy-worthy cappuccinos and an array of fresh juices (and those are just the highlights). Later in the days, we again took to the lobby for bubbly and snacks. Bikes are there for the riding, and every guest is provided a 15-minute massage by a professional masseuse daily. Altogether, the free stuff at the Shalom might run $75 per person at a different hotel.
I mention the rooms themselves last not because they’re lacking, but because they were hardly the highlight, even though they were plenty nice, with décor that is disorienting, although not unpleasantly so, in its approximation of a Maine beach house. I especially appreciated the window that slid open to let the white curtains billow and the raised seating area, where I enjoyed the perusal of some magazines provided by the hotel (including, beautifully, The New Yorker). There are some cons: The queen bed that was in truth two twin beds pushed together, the small bathroom that lacked a full shower door, the mini-fridge that didn’t really work, and the view across a busy street to the sad Hilton that only slightly interrupted our enjoyment of the Mediterranean beyond. Compared to the alternatives in Tel Aviv, though, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than the Shalom Hotel & Relax.
-by Sarah Stodola