The dolphin in the swimming pool caught my attention. As I stepped out onto the balcony minutes after entering my suite at Nahariya’s newly refurbished Sea Life Hotel, my eyes wandered from the incredible view of the Mediterranean to the lawn, sun deck and pool below my room. The dolphin was just one of the decorative elements on a marine theme scattered throughout the boutique hotel, but it seemed to represent the attention to aesthetics and calming atmosphere.
It is a credit to the hotel, and to the small Western Galilee town, that I managed to truly relax during a two-day visit despite the fact that Operation Protective Edge was still raging farther south.
My first dilemma was whether to go straight down to the pool where the dolphin seemed to be beckoning, to head for the beachfront promenade along one of the country’s most gorgeous stretches of coast or to just chill out in the room, tastefully decorated in soothing earthy colors.
The pool won.
“Don’t write too positive a review,” joked a couple from Tel Aviv, stretched out on the double sun beds, when they discovered the purpose of my visit. “We want to come back and don’t want it to be too crowded.”
An English-speaking couple from Jerusalem staying at the hotel with their young daughter didn’t mind my sharing the secret, however. The current crisis was clearly taking a toll on the hotel and on the tourism industry in general, and they wanted to do anything they could to help encourage more visitors.
Last year, Nahariya’s Sea Life Hotel underwent a NIS 20 million renovation and upgrade, expanding from 20 suites to 62, several of them totally adapted for wheelchair access.
A lot of thought and care were obviously invested along with the money. The design combines a modern look with the use of many natural materials, offering luxury and an old-world atmosphere at the same time.
“The hotel’s concept is to offer a relaxing and pleasant vacation. Please be considerate of the quiet atmosphere,” read the hotel information sheet. The warning was unnecessary. Something in the air itself – carried by the sea breeze perhaps – seemed to demand peace and quiet.
Watching the sun set over the Mediterranean from the comfort of my balcony, the tension of the previous few days disappeared, erased by the sound of the waves hitting the shore.
While the hotel caters to families with children, it also provides a perfect setting for a romantic retreat.
The spa operating alongside the hotel is equipped with a salt room, as well as steam and dry saunas and a Jacuzzi and a full range of treatments (for an extra fee). There is also an indoor pool for those taking a break in cooler seasons.
Among the special features are free bicycles for guests (the recommended route is an easy ride north to the nearby Betzet, Achziv and Rosh Hanikra beaches). The same path in the evening looks like a movie set for couples who want to stroll off into the sunset together. In the morning, it is used by those wanting to walk off the very large breakfast, served in the (kosher) restaurant that overlooks the pool and sea.
I have been in larger hotels, fancier hotels and hotels that are much better known, but I have never stayed at a friendlier place.
And I say this as the type of person who, embarrassingly, rarely manages to work the electronic key, air-conditioning or TV without help, and I have tried the patience of the employees in many facilities in different countries.
The staff – from the reception and restaurant to maintenance and to poolside – were keen not only to help but also to use their (generally good) English.
“It’s a feature of the Western Galilee,” said a friend who lives in a nearby town. “Being friendly is a way of life here.”
The nightlife is basically what you want to make of it (and some might be tempted not to leave the comfort of the hotel). The Ozrot Hagalil website (ozrothagalil.org.il) and smartphone app is an excellent resource for those seeking ideas about activities and dining possibilities in the area.
At the recommendation of staff and friends, my son and I headed to Nahariya’s main street, Haga’aton, with the tiny river running through it. Although busier and more modern than I remembered it from many years ago when my family lived in the Galilee, it has kept a lot of its European charm. The yekkes (German-speaking immigrants) who founded Israel’s northernmost coastal town as a tourist resort have largely passed on but their influence remains, evident in the coffee shops, restaurants and the trademark horsedrawn carriages.
Nahariya is a small and gentle seaside resort, and the boutique Sea Life Hotel provided the perfect place for some rest, recreation and respite from the world at large.
The writer was a guest of the Sea Life Hotel.