It’s a long haul to Safed from the center of the country, but it was well worth the trip.
Safed’s origins are somewhat indistinct.
The city was mentioned at the time of the Jewish Revolt against Rome (66 CE) but first came to prominence when the Crusaders built a huge fortress on the site. Jews first arrived in considerable numbers after their expulsion from Spain in 1492, and Safed became an important spiritual center. The Kabbala flourished under such rabbis as Yitzhak Lurie and Yosef Caro, and the first printing press in the country was established in 1563.
The town has proven to be popular with artists, and its narrow, twisting alleys are dotted with studios and galleries. It also maintains a strong religious presence as one of the four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias.
Located near the city’s artists’ quarter, the Ruth Rimonim Hotel is a beautifully refurbished old building that retains the authenticity of its origins, while at the same time providing every modern facility.
It is situated on the site of a 17th-century Turkish khan and is built with the same old stone, maintaining the style of the old days.
The hotel contains a spa with an extensive treatment list, a dining room that serves dinner and breakfast, as well as a charming wine cellar and bar.
As we entered the hotel, we were struck by the beauty of even the entryway. Terraced stairs interlaced with ramps provide a beautiful welcome for all guests, whether on foot, in wheelchairs or with strollers. The reception area is warm and friendly. Rich wood and soft, inviting fabrics make up the lounge and comfy couches.
The hotel offers 77 rooms, each unique and individually decorated: Standard, Deluxe, Garden rooms or Suites are available, with varying views. The rooms are reached through cobblestone alleys, staircases and arches. Each room is a little self-contained unit, with private entrances from outside.
Outside our entrance door were delightful hammocks to lounge in while soaking up the magnificent views. The atmosphere of the hotel is really one of relaxation. Watching the sun set over Mount Meron was truly remarkable – and the combination of the view and the mountain air made us feel more relaxed than we’d been in months.
Over the past month, the Ruth Rimonim has implemented a new theme called “Hotel with a Story” in an effort to add more meaning to people’s visits.
Trained guides lead guests to discover hidden places within the hotel itself. The entire hotel complex was recently redesigned, and new landscaping was done in the common areas to accommodate six different tales about the historic hotel.
For example, the space used as stables in the past, to house postal horses, has become the hotel dining room. There are still signs of the ancient building, such as metal rings attached to the walls, where the horses were tied. Also, the khan, which formerly served as the local animal market, subsequently became Safed’s central post office, from which mail was forwarded to Beirut and Damascus. We also learned that many famous people such as Chaim Weizmann, Arik Einstein and Yehoram Gaon have passed through the hotel’s doors over the years.
Another perk offered as part of “Hotel with a Story” is a program called “A weekend full of wine, a good book and a fascinating lecture by the author.” Not only do guests receive a complimentary copy of the visiting author’s latest novel, but they also get to hear the authors talk about the research process and about themselves as well. For example, while we were there, the hotel hosted author Dorit Rabinyan, who spoke about her new book, Borderlife.
Before Shabbat dinner, we went on a two-hour walking tour of the streets of the Old City of Safed with David Amiel, a professional guide from the hotel. The tour was excellent. Amiel talked about the residents and the local history throughout the years since 1948. Our last stop was the Abuhav Synagogue, which is named after 15th-century Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav, who had been a rabbi in Toledo, Spain. It houses the oldest Torah scroll in Safed, which is used only on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. It is said that anyone who took it out and used it at any other time of the year didn’t survive the year.
The Holy Ark that houses the Torah scrolls was all that was left of this synagogue after the earthquake of 1837.
After the tour, we headed back to the hotel and proceeded to the dining room, which was set with carafes of ice water on each table and food spread out on a central buffet and along the back wall.
The next day, I headed down to the buffet breakfast and had a cup of coffee and a small bite, figuring I’d come back for more after my visit to the spa. The spread included salads, smoked fish, breads, eggs, blintzes and juices. The dining room has a terrace overlooking the hotel gardens and the surrounding mountains. We chose to have our breakfast outside and appreciated the view and the clean mountain air.
If you are planning a trip up north and want to stay in a memorable place, the Ruth Rimonim is an excellent choice. The attentive staff wants you to have a good time and will make your stay an enjoyable one. They can tell you about places to visit in the area, special events and help you find a minyan at a synagogue that is within walking distance.
Prices for a night at Ruth Rimonim range from NIS 450 per couple in standard rooms in the middle of the week to NIS 950 on the weekends, including breakfast. By adding NIS 260, you can stay in a Safed Garden or Deluxe Room; or for an extra NIS 100, you can enjoy a Mount Meron Room. The writer was a guest of the Ruth Rimonim Hotel.