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We were expected at the Amirey Hagalil spa hotel on an overcast, broody kind of Friday. It had been threatening to rain since the morning and the most sensible thing to do seemed to be to stay home and crawl under the duvet with a steaming cup of tea.
As soon as we arrived, however, we knew that the three-hour trip had been worthwhile. Located on a slip road just 500 meters south of Amirim, the hotel's gravel path leads to an unassuming, tranquil entrance. By the side of the stair pathway runs an elegant stone fountain in which goldfish are swimming happily. The inviting garden hosts a range of flowers and herbs.
Just around the corner lies the glass front of Amirey Hagalil. This is a small place - only 17 rooms - but it boasts a grand entrance. The glass doors give way to a large stone floor reception area with an enormous olive tree at its center.
Scattered around are tastefully chosen wooden and upholstered chairs, a bookcase and games for guests to borrow and, at the far corner, a handful of chaise longues and a tea and coffee corner for post-spa treatment "recuperation." Through the back glass doors, a commanding view of the Galilee and the Kinneret beckons.
We were greeted warmly by the reception staff and led to our suite at the top of the iron stairwell of this Spanish style villa.
It was everything we could have hoped for and more.
The suite is divided into three areas: lounge, bedroom and bathroom. Comfortable, elegant chairs in mustard and burgundy grace the lounge area, and there was a double Jacuzzi in the corner that overlooks the view. Beyond the glass doors of the room is a small balcony, just big enough to sit on with a bottle of wine (thoughtfully provided). Meanwhile, in the bedroom, the warm, real wood of the cupboard and bed are offset by the simple elegance of white cotton sheets and a Persian rug. The clean, simple bathroom offers a plethora of fluffy white towels, slippers and two robes. Just in case this isn't enough, a little kitchenette provided a kettle, tea making equipment, a fridge with (fresh) milk and a sink. Heaven.
We were both booked for spa treatments at 5 p.m. so we padded down, tea in hand, to be greeted by our masseuse.
I had booked the combined massage for pregnant women, my husband for the combined massage (not for pregnant women). The spa area, just left of the chaise longue area and past the sybaritic Jacuzzi that overlooks the hills, is a matter of a few simple, unassuming rooms, but within them Amirey Hagalil offers an impressive 18 types of treatment.
The hour-long treatment was relaxing and effective. Nurit, the masseuse, took care of nearly every stress and strain of my body, massaging almond oil and encouraging me to breath slowly and close my eyes. I floated out feeling five kilos lighter. I give special thanks to Nurit for the attention spent on my stress-bearing shoulders and neck; I came out feeling vaguely stoned.
It turned out that my partner had been equally cared for. His toes were tingling and his speech was a good few rpm slower.
We enjoyed the home-made hot cider in the tea/coffee area, the homegrown herbal teas (lemon grass, verbena) and cookies and dipped into the bubbling waters of the Jacuzzi. Mmmmmmmm.
Later that night, we ate dinner in the dining room. Unlike Amirim, this place is most definitely not vegetarian. We ordered the grilled antipasti to start. As an intermediate dish, I ordered the lamb mincemeat balls with tehina, and my partner the chicken liver with onions. We both chose the duck with apricot sauce for main course. Everything was tasty, served with family-style intimacy, but never quite excellent.
Firstly, the setting. The dining room is more than adequate but lacking the same attention to detail as is lavished on the rest of the hotel.
Think upgraded zimmer, not luxury spa. Secondly, the crockery and cutlery are merely functional, and everything was served on a cold plate. The food itself was tasty, yes, but not exceptional. It just doesn't quite hit the same romantic spot for a Friday night dinner that everything else in the hotel delivers.
Nevertheless, to their credit, once I mentioned something about the coldness of the main course plate, they heated my dessert plate up (chocolate cake and ice cream) without even asking. And also to their credit, they aren't charging the earth. NIS 90 (when the meal is pre-booked) is a very reasonable price for a (kosher) three-course Friday night hotel meal. But if you want something more elegant, try Haseudah Ha'aharonah up the road at Amirim, or the Aluma bistro at the nearby Kfar Vradim.
Dinner was followed by a very relaxing and comfortable night.
Breakfast in the morning suffered a hint of the same problems as the night before, but in the morning it seemed to matter less. I was impressed by the home-made carob cake, cookies and the freshness of the salads. The spread wasn't enormous, but it was tasty. And anytime something threatened to run out, it was immediately replaced. Whoever is responsible clearly takes pride in his work.
Despite the ongoing grumpiness of the weather, we followed breakfast with a leisurely stroll around Amirim. Upon our return my husband took up his book and I padded down, once again, to dunk my feet into the Jacuzzi. Too soon it was time to leave.
Three years ago Amirey Hagalil underwent major changes, explained Dana, one of the employees, before we checked out: They closed the courtyard, considerably upgraded the rooms, built the spa and closed the place to children under 12 (hence the undeniable tranquility). It used to host a number of performances and alternative Shabbat services in a kind of shanti atmosphere.
"It's still very much a family-run place, though, and we try to retain a family-style atmosphere." When she told me all of this, things clicked into place: The zimmer-style dining room, the not-quite-gourmet dinner. And other things, too.
Our room wasn't cleaned once over the 24-hour stay. We were offered new towels, but no one came in to remove the old ones until we asked. The lack of extra pillows and sheets that they had to root around a cupboard to find for us (even though find for us they did).
And, I'm sorry to say this, but the cups and plates occasionally left around for too long in the foyer.
It seems petty to mention all of this because truly this place is magical, and the staff so warm and attentive. I liked the intimate, simple family atmosphere and the lingering traces of the spiritual-shanti venue that this used to be. The rooms were fabulous, the Jacuzzi/sauna area perfect, and the range of treatments impressive. But if they want to get this right all the way, they need to work on some of the small problems.
Even before then, though, I wouldn't hesitate recommending Amirey Hagalil to friends and family; and I would love to come again.
The writer was a guest of Amirey Hagalil Spa Hotel, located on road 866 between Kibbutz Farod and Moshav Amirim. A double room over the weekend costs NIS 680; a suite costs NIS 880. Both prices include a (kosher) breakfast and free use of the sauna, Jacuzzi and other spa facilities. Treatments are priced individually. Call (04) 698-9815/6 for further details.
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