The little hotel that could

At a prime location in Tel Aviv, the Leonardo Beach Hotel may not be the biggest, but it may be one of the best.

By YAKIR FELDMAN
August 6, 2016 23:09
LESS THAN half the height of the landmark hotels nearby, the Leonardo Beach welcomes visitors to one

LESS THAN half the height of the landmark hotels nearby, the Leonardo Beach welcomes visitors to one of Tel Aviv’s prime seaside locations. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Entering our 40th year of marriage, my wife and I, not frequent travelers, decided to book a room in a hotel for our anniversary weekend.

Focusing our internet search on three things – a pool, a beach and a low price – we booked a room for three days and two nights (Friday to Sunday) at the Leonardo Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv.

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The one thing we did not expect as economy-class guests was special treatment, so we were quite surprised at what happened when we checked in.

Our Tel Aviv-based daughter planned to visit us at the hotel, so we asked the receptionist how to arrange permission and make payment for a guest of ours to use the pool with us. The clerk called over the manager, Doubi Spiegler, who said there would be no charge and thanked us for asking, because hotel guests sometimes bring outsiders in to swim without seeking permission.

After welcoming us, Doubi (as Spiegler prefers to be called) asked us about the purpose of our visit to the hotel – business or vacation – and we mentioned we were there to celebrate our anniversary. When he discovered that we were on the bed-and-breakfast plan and that we were planning to eat a quiet erev Shabbat meal of canned tuna in our room, he immediately insisted that we come to the hotel’s Shabbat dinner as his personal guests with no extra charge.

We barely had time to recover from the shock of his attention and kindness when, shortly after we entered our room, a hotel staff member brought us a beautiful tray of fruits, wine and chocolates and wished us a happy anniversary.

Restaurants and hotels seeking to promote their establishments sometimes invite journalists as sponsored guests and indulge them with special treatment in return for published reviews. What impressed me was that Doubi overwhelmed us – two anonymous economy travelers – with exceptional warmth, attention and genuine kindness without any expectations of publicity.

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For the benefit of travelers looking for a satisfying yet surprisingly economical vacation experience, I would like to offer a few unsolicited words about this little-known cost-effective holiday resource.

The Leonardo Beach Hotel is in a prime location.

Its guests can stroll one of Tel Aviv’s prime beaches, and when the tide is low, walk in shallow water out to the rock reefs, about 100 meters from the shore.

We enjoyed spending time in our eerily private space there, talking, wading – just sitting in the warm, calm Mediterranean waters observing occasional schools of fish darting along the reef.

The hotel is also ideally situated near some of Tel Aviv’s most illustrious streets, shops and tourist attractions, although we resisted the temptation to venture to any of them, preferring the beach and the hotel’s beautiful crystal-clear pool.

A relatively low-slung building with only six stories and 135 rooms, the Leonardo Beach Hotel is dwarfed by the famous towering hotels surrounding it. The room we stayed in, like the building, was also modestly sized, yet still offered an impressive view of the pool and the beach. The room was spotlessly clean and included everything one could want: a gleaming bathroom, a large-screen TV, private safe, refrigerator, coffee and tea supplies and more – and perhaps most importantly, a complimentary copy of the Friday Jerusalem Post, complete with Shabbat supplements.

The meals at the hotel’s kosher restaurant were extraordinary – both in variety and quality. Instead of obligating diners to choose from a menu, chef Simion Vikniansky prefers to present the broadest conceivable selection of savory foods buffet-style.

To even merely list the foods we had to choose from Friday night would fill several paragraphs. In white chef uniform and hat, Vikniansky himself was present, slicing meat and answering questions. His talent and experience were evident in every detail of the presentation. As my wife and I are not meat eaters, we skipped experiencing the varieties of lamb, beef, chicken and more, but from the pleasure displayed by the diners at other tables, it was evident that the meat was excellent. We sampled many things, from a variety of salad ingredients to salmon and other fish and vegetarian options to decadently delicious desserts. We truly cannot remember a enjoying a Shabbat meal more.

We also had the pleasure of eating breakfast at the hotel two consecutive mornings. This was no ordinary continental breakfast; each morning the vast quantity and variety of the food so overwhelmed us that it is challenging to even recall the options: whitefish and herring, pasta with olive oil, cheese, spinach or zucchini, mini vegetable pies, shakshuka, eggs, creamy blintzes, a custom-omelet station where you select the ingredients and watch it prepared fresh before your eyes, homemade cheesecake, a salad bar with more than 20 ingredients (we counted them) to choose from, freshly squeezed natural juices, fresh fruits, a selection of cheeses and breads, yogurts, a range of dessert pastries and a “natural corner” with a real honeycomb, granolas, rice cakes, health crackers, halva, dried nuts, fruits and, believe it or not, much more.

Everything we chose was delicious – even inspired.

The only item I could think of that they did not serve at breakfast was dry cereal, but this makes sense.

Who could possibly desire ordinary corn flakes when there were so many once-in-a-lifetime gustatory pleasures at every turn? Having made up my mind to write about the hotel, I spoke at breakfast with the young and energetic food and beverage manager, Michal Chayon – a former restaurant owner herself – who draws from many years of culinary experience. She said that for many guests, breakfast is the most important meal, and the staff, starting work every day at 4 a.m., makes everything homemade from the best and freshest ingredients. The food is so good that it is apparently legendary in the neighborhood, and many local residents come frequently and bring guests. Prices are reasonable – from only NIS 100 for breakfast to NIS 185 for Shabbat dinner. We were curious about what the hotel does with what must be a significant amount of leftovers, and were pleased to hear that they have contacted an organization that collects the food and distributes it to the needy.

Although literally and figuratively in the shadow of the larger, grander hotels surrounding it, the Leonardo Beach Hotel has something special that makes it stand out – a rare personal touch. It wasn’t just us that Doubi forged a bond with. I watched him circulate at every meal, visiting each table and talking to every guest. He knew many of their names, as he knew ours, and made us all feel like royalty.

Chayon said Doubi’s enthusiasm, enjoyment and love of his job and his guests are contagious, and the staff as a whole puts their heart into everything they do.

”We have good rooms, but we know they are not as spacious or as splendid as those in the luxury hotels around us,” she said. “We can’t change that; we have to work with the facility we have. Where we can stand out and be different is by giving superlative service, and this is what we do to the best of our ability.”

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