While some people use Airbnb to find a bargain, others may discover hidden gems or luxury accommodations otherwise unavailable to tourists.
In fact, on the Airbnb Internet site there is a “wish list” devoted exclusively to castles throughout the world. I was surprised to find a castle in Hof Hacarmel near Haifa, and just had to go see it for myself.
As we drove up the coast past Zichron Ya’acov and Dor, we almost missed the turnoff to a winding road leading up to Kerem Maharal.
Kerem Maharal is a small agricultural moshav that was founded by Holocaust survivors from Czechoslovakia and was named after the ingenious talmudic scholar, rabbi and kabbalist, the Maharal of Prague.
The place was not easy to find, despite directions given to us over the phone by Udi Stoler, the owner and our mysterious host. The road there isn’t paved and is hardly marked. But eventually we got to what might be one of Israel’s best-kept secrets: A medieval castle built by Crusaders in the 11th century, artfully restored and offering guest accommodations.
Our jaws simply dropped with amazement as we entered, and even more so as we discovered the beautiful interiors, as Stoler led us upstairs to the top floor suites.
After making sure we were settled in, he politely excused himself with an offer for coffee the next morning.
The top floor is divided into two suites sharing a sitting room with a huge glass wall that leads to a large patio overlooking the beautiful surrounding area.
The interior design is both authentic, leaving many clues to the original purpose the building served in medieval times, yet artistically designed to offer modern-day comforts.
The next morning, I learned that Stoler purchased the property 35 years ago when it was slated for demolition and had made its restoration his life’s work.
Everything we saw, from the carved stone archways to the custom-made furniture and the art on the walls, is his work.
But keeping it as authentic as he could, Stoler made sure we slept in better conditions than the Crusaders did. I had debated the merits of bringing my kids with me, thinking that this might be a visit better saved for a romantic getaway.
However, Stoler had told me that children were welcome, so we made it a family affair and I never regretted it. My kids simply loved it. They explored every nook and cranny from the full set of armor in the entrance to the reading nook in the loft on the top floor.
Outside, a general sense of ease made my kids feel safe enough to relax in the hammock and take a walk in the adjacent orchard.
The beds are large and soft, there is a wood burning stove for the chilly nights and a small kitchenette. It seems that nothing escapes Stoler’s attention and no detail is too small. I was impressed with such small added touches, such as the wild flowers that were placed in the room, chosen, I was told, for their scent and beauty.
I must admit to being a great fan of the TV series Game of Thrones. As such, I was won over by the chance to stay overnight in what felt like a real castle. When later I found out that our hosts named their cat after one of the main characters, Khaleesi, it just seemed too perfect. We even watched the season opener on the big-screen TV in the room.
Stoler lives in the downstairs apartment, but he doesn’t hover over his guests. I must admit that getting to know him a little, I wished he had hovered a little more. He seems as interesting a man as his castle.
With no formal training, he is a master craftsman who can do any kind of construction work from laying stone floors to plumbing, and he has a soft touch with colors and brush strokes – not to mention making all the furniture himself. While we were there he spent most of his time in his workshop at a potter’s wheel.
During our stay we explored the moshav, went horseback riding, spent a morning at the beach and had dinner in Zichron Ya’acov just a 10-minute drive away.
We left promising to come back soon, which I fully intend to do.
For those interested in visiting, the listing on Airbnb is called Enchanting Hill-top Medieval Castle and can be found at https:// www.airbnb.com/rooms/1509394.
The price is listed at $550 per night, but that price is for the rental of the whole castle. Stoler rents out individual suites for a significantly lower rate.
In the area
There is plenty to do in the vicinity from horseback riding to wine tastings.
The nearby Mechora Ranch offers excursions to vineyards and orchards in the Carmel Forest. Ages 11 and up. For information and reservations: Telephone: (04) 984-2735, 054-818-8094; www.mechora.co.il/English.htm.
The writer was a guest of Airbnb.