The idea of spending the weekend in a converted monastery may not sound
like everyone's idea of a good time, but at the St. Gabriel hotel in
Nazareth, which was once a fully functioning monastery, it means family
hospitality and great service in a spectacular location.
above the Old City of Nazareth, St. Gabriel enjoys a great position
with stunning views of the town famed as the place where Jesus lived as
well as the rolling green countryside beyond.
Upon arriving for a
recent visit I was welcomed by Nizar Tzipori, both hotel manager and a
member of the family that helped turn the deserted monastery into a
St. Gabriel is not a luxury hotel and doesn't
claim to be. Instead, the Tzipori family offer typical Middle Eastern
hospitality in a warm and welcoming environment.
in, I walked down one of the two wings of the impressive building and up
a short flight of stairs to my room for the night. At first the room
seemed small and bare, but on closer inspection it was more than
satisfactory with everything necessary for a pleasant stay. The bed was
large and comfortable, there was ample storage and closet space, and
most importantly there was an impressive view of Nazareth from the large
window. Despite the simple, slightly dated design, the room had a
number of 21st century features such as free Wi-Fi and satellite
Despite running a busy hotel, Nizar took some time
out to host me in the lobby in true Middle Eastern fashion with tea,
baklava and stories about the history of the building and how his family
came to run the hotel. While converting a monastery into a hotel is no
easy task, Nizar explained, his family took on the challenge and worked
hard to retain the building's original character while converting it
into a comfortable environment where visitors to relax.
soon time for dinner. Nizar met me in the recently-built restaurant
which served what he called "Middle East fusion," a mix of traditional
local dishes that incorporated culinary twists from Europe and beyond.
If the view from the bedroom was impressive, the view from the
restaurant was nothing short of spectacular.
The friendly waiters
took care of every small detail, from loading the table with various
salads to making sure my glass was always full. One of my favorite
examples of the Middle East fusion was the chef's signature dish of
steak stuffed with local cheese and goose breast.
some traditional knaffe for dessert, I, along with all the other guests
at the restaurant, were treated to some unexpected post-dinner
entertainment. It turned out that former president Yitzhak Navon and a
group of his friends, including authors and performers, were also
staying at the hotel and the lively group proceeded to recite poems and
sing songs for all to hear.
Stepping out from the restaurant to
the main building of the hotel was a little uncomfortable as it was a
particularly cold and windy that night, but it was an absolute delight
to step into the warm and cozy room, which had been equipped with a
power heating system.
St. Gabriel is not a luxury hotel, so those
expecting a grand breakfast such as the ones found at many hotels in
Israel may be disappointed. Just like the rooms, the breakfast is of a
high standard without being over-the-top or excessive. It's a shame that
I visited in the winter because when the weather is warmer, breakfast
is served on the extensive balcony that overlooks the whole of Nazareth.
Saturday the hotel organizes a guided tour of the city if there are
enough people interested. Even though there were slightly fewer guests
than usual, Nizar arranged it so that the tour would still go ahead as
planned, demonstrating once again the family's commitment to upholding
their standard of warm hospitality.
The walking tour, which
lasted just under four hours, included many of the main sites in
Nazareth, ending at the city's star attraction - the Church of the
Annunciation. The local tour guide was extremely passionate and
knowledgeable, detailing the history of Nazareth, relaying personal
stories and even taking our small group inside private houses of people
that he knew.
Before I knew it, it was time to return to my city
life in Tel Aviv. Even though it was a short overnight stay, it was long
enough to gain an appreciation for traditional Middle Eastern
hospitality and a sense of the fascinating city that may seem world's
away but is made familiar by the exceptional hospitality and ambiance at
the St. Gabriel Hotel.
For more information and reservations see stgabrielhotel.com