With the cold winter rains and winds howling through the streets of Jerusalem and seeping into my bones, the thought of a warm Eilat vacation seemed like a dream. And then it came true.
While Eilat feels far away to those of us who live in the center of the country, the vapid Negev desert is crossed quickly when you book a flight from Sde Dov or Ben-Gurion Airport to Eilat’s J. Hozman Airport. The 35-minute flight is basically an experience of takeoff and landing – albeit with a short break for a glass of water. And then before you know it, if you’re lucky enough to score a window seat, the beautiful red Eilat Mountains come into view and the deep blue Red Sea shows itself.
Eilat’s one-room cramped airport is overflowing with tourists, soldiers, businesspeople and vacationers. I had only a couple of minutes there before I was whisked away in an awaiting taxi to the Orchid Reef Hotel. The small, boutique hotel is located right on the water, and about a five-minute walk from the coral reef nature reserve.
The hotel’s cozy lobby offers a coffee and cookie stand, with ice-cold lemonade and wine.
The 79-room kosher hotel allows for a one-on-one experience with the staff who are extremely helpful and informative about nearby attractions. The rooms include basic suites, including pampering deluxe rooms, deluxe water rooms, deluxe rooms with a pool exit, or suites with a private pool that are ideal for a romantic getaway or for a couple with one or two children. The rooms are equipped with king-sized beds, fully equipped baths, LCD screens and balconies with a sea view.
Guests enjoy a wide range of free hotel services, including WiFi from all rooms, computer and Internet stations, international calls from hotel rooms and a bicycle loan service from the hotel lobby.
The hotel has a massive swimming pool, sun beds, swings, seating areas and a fully equipped gym, if you’re the type to exercise on vacation. (I’m not.)
If you prefer to spend your vacation in a delightful calm and soak up the warm Eilat sun, you can do it on the beach right behind the hotel.
I got the room with the small, private, heated pool on my balcony, overlooking the sea, and upon arrival I wasted no time before jumping in. I poured myself a tall glass of wine and let my body rid itself of any remaining Jerusalem chills still harboring in my bones. From my pool, I was able to see the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian mountains just across the sea in the distance.
When I soon got peckish, I headed downstairs to the beach. There, just behind the hotel, is the Greek-style kosher restaurant called Mykonos. With affordable prices and massive portions, this restaurant was the best food I was going to eat throughout the whole trip. Overlooking the blue water, eating fried fish was truly a dream.
From there, I was taken for a tour of the other Orchid hotel, called Orchid-Eilat, which is nestled in the mountains across from the water, a little further down the road. Located on a hillside, overlooking the gulf of the Red Sea and the Edom Mountains, the hotel offers 194 rooms, including more basic rooms as well as well-equipped villas divided into sections that are designed in a Thai theme.
The Siam Wing features a unique and magical view of the Red Sea in air-conditioned rooms featuring a balcony, king-sized bed, LCD TVs and other luxuries. The suite has rooms with a gallery suitable for a couple and two children. The highlight of Siam Wing is the luxurious Chao Phaya villa, with a private pool and breathtaking views.
The Shangri-La wing and Grand Shangri-La villa are located on the top of the mountain with decorated rooms inspired by the magic of the Far East – and Thailand in particular. The hotel village is even navigated by golf carts, giving an experienced traveler the feeling of the hilly Thai villages, which must be navigated by rickshaws. Most rooms have a balcony with panoramic views of the gulf of Eilat, a spacious bathroom, plasma TVs and luxury furnishings.
The hotel’s most luxurious wing, the Royal Villa, has four luxurious villas on the top of the mountain with breathtaking views surrounded by private swimming pools and spacious sun loungers, luxurious bedrooms and a bathroom I was ready to live in long-term. Guests of the villa enjoy personal butler services.
The hotel has a well-equipped gym, a spacious swimming pool and a spa complex that includes massive massage rooms operated by a professional and high-quality team, a dry and wet sauna in Thai design.
It was here that was my next stop. In the calming spa, I received a full-body intense 50-minute massage before dinner.
On the patio outside by the pool, we sat for a wide variety of meats and vegetables. It will come as no surprise that dinner, too, consisted largely of Asian-style food. While the food was good, the massive amount of fish I had wolfed down hungrily just hours earlier at Mykonos didn’t allow me to try all of the options, but whatever I had was tasty.
After dinner and more wine, I returned to the hotel to relax and hopped back into my happy place – the hot tub on my balcony.
While I am far from a morning person, I woke up the next morning early enough to make it in time for breakfast. There was a wide spread of cheeses and fresh veggies, waitresses ready to prepare you any type of coffee you would like, as well as an omelette stand. Ouzo with fresh mint was offered as well, just to get your day started on the right foot. I squeezed myself some fresh orange juice on the press to chase down my morning alcohol.
After breakfast, we headed just down the road to the Eilat aquarium and underwater observatory marine park. For anyone who has never been to Eilat before, this is an absolute must. In the shark exhibit, you can walk through glass tunnels and can get up close and personal with hammerhead sharks and stingrays and countless others types of beautiful sea creatures, swimming inches away from you.
The observatory circles down deep into the coral reef, getting a natural view of the colorful fish in their natural habitat.
After that activity, I returned to the hotel and had a couple more hours left before my flight back. I decided I needed to snorkel before I left. The hotel provided me with a free snorkel set and off I went, walking just five minutes down the beach to the reservation. While the water was a bit cold, the reefs were beautiful and the fish were friendly.
And then, drying off in the warm Eilat sun on the beautiful coral reef beach behind the hotel, overlooking the blue Red Sea and the red Jordanian mountains, I realized that my vacation was reaching its end. But rejuvenated and relaxed, I looked forward to hopping onto that small, friendly plane to once again return to the hustle and bustle of my Jerusalem life.
The author was a guest of the Orchid Reef Hotel.
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