Praise for Villa Tehilla

Housed on an 1882 estate built as a farm and travelers' inn, this Galilean guest house strives for perfection, and comes very close.

By EETTA PRINCE-GIBSON
November 2, 2006 11:14
pool villa 88 298

pool villa 88 248. (photo credit: )

Drive along the cobble-stoned, steep road to the old, now-restored section of Rosh Pina. Continue up the hilltop that overlooks the Hula Valley and offers an uninterrupted view all the way to the Hermon Mountain, presiding imperially over all. Then you'll reach Villa Tehilla. For those who didn't experience the war first-hand, it might be hard to see that these beautiful, inviting wadis and ochre-colored fields were hit by hundreds of Katyushas. But now it's quiet again and Villa Tehilla's garden is just turning toward autumn, the hammocks swinging in the cool breeze. It's a great time to enjoy one of Israel's top-rated vacation spots. Villa Tehilla is certainly not a "zimmer," although its owners, Tehilla and Amihai Yisraeli, were among the first to rent out rooms in Rosh Pina and in the entire Galilee. It's not really a regular hotel, boutique hotel or resort, either. The most recent edition of Lonely Planet calls it "Israel's most unique accommodation option." The Yisraelis call it "A Galilean Guest Hotel." The phrase "guest hotel" comes from Jeremiah (9:1) and the description fits well. Villa Tehilla is housed on an estate built as a farm and khan (travelers' inn) in 1882 for Yomtov and Rachel Rosenfeld by Baron de Rothschild in order to aid the hapless farmers of Rosh Pina to succeed in their fledgling attempts to farm the Galilee. Through the years, the estate had fallen into almost complete disrepair. Visiting the Galilee on their honeymoon in the late 1960s, the Yisraelis fell in love with the site, which they have been lovingly restoring since 1970. Once inside the compound, it's easy to delude yourself that you are in Provence or Tuscany. Throughout, the stone, wood, copper and wrought iron interior, and the beautifully tended gardens with comfortable swings and benches, are quietly inviting. There is a spreading olive tree in the center, and rows of mint and herbs that guests are invited to pick for their tea. The rooms surrounding the central courtyard, have been carefully and accurately restored, combining the romantically old with the comfortably modern. Each is differently decorated. Some are suitable for couples, others have lofts for families with children. They are cozy, with stone floors, wooden windows and simple, authentic-looking furniture. And they are also well-appointed, with cable TV, telephones, and well-equipped efficiency kitchen with locally-made jam and olive oil. The Yisraelis have paid careful attention to creature comforts. The towels and the bathrobes are rich and fluffy, the mattresses are thick and comfortable, the bathrooms are large and luxurious. Tehilla particularly loves to show room 6, which still has the original hitching post for horses. Back in the courtyard, off to one side, a basement which once served as a storage and cold room has been restored as a billiard room, with a ping-pong table and a well-stocked library, including novels and non-fiction in both English and Hebrew. Behind the main building, the solar-heated pool has been constructed over the ancient irrigation pool. Even on a cool day, the tub and sauna, overlooking the Hula and the Golan, are a delicious treat. Heated all year, the water in the pool is filtered by a system that uses an electrical process to turn cooking salt into neutral chlorine, so the water is clean and clear and doesn't have that distasteful chlorine color and smell. And you can enjoy your breakfast in the main room, overlooking the hills and the wadi, or in your own cozy space. FOR SMALL children, the Yisraelis maintain a small zoo and aviary, with rabbits, horses, birds and ponies, among others. On weekends, down in the old sheep pen, Amihai and Tehilla operate the "only Irish-Beduin pub in the world." The Blues Brothers' Pub is equipped with a rich supply of Guinness and decorated with posters and Irish postcards together with Beduin rugs, saddles and reins, dating back to the early 1970s, when Tehilla and Amihai were devoted riders. Once a journalist and editor, Amihai, who worked for the now-defunct Davar, walks through Villa Tehilla in a wide galabiya, maintaining, building and repairing. Tehilla, a former teacher and editor, makes sure that things run smoothly. It was only after they had purchased the main house that they realized that they had actually purchased the entire estate, run-down service buildings and more than a dunam of neglected land. With no experience or training, but with lots of energy, they set about restoring what was to become Villa Tehilla. Musician Ehud Banai worked on these restorations nearly thirty years ago, looking for his own artistic expression. He remembers that Amihai bought only the best materials and spared no expense. Banai liked to feel the stone, but when his hands were so dry from the cement that he could barely work, Amihai traveled all the way to Tel Aviv to buy him surgeon's gloves. "You are a guitarist," Amihai would admonish him. "Take care of your hands!" Banai writes in the guest book that even now, with children and maturity, he returns to remember those days and rejuvenate his creativity. In deference to current trends, the couple have recently introduced the "New Body Spa," offering diverse massages and health treatments, from the classic Swedish massage to ayurveda - a massage form based on ancient Indian medicine and philosophy. All the treatments are offered in the rooms, and guests must book in advance. For the less sedentary, the upper Galilee, the Kinneret, Safed and the Golan, with all their attractions, are close by. Transplanted from Tel Aviv, Tehilla and Amihai have become true "Galileans." They are happy to talk to you about village life in Rosh Pina, with all its tensions, petty politics, support and generosity. A stay at Villa Tehilla is on the high-end of boutique hotel and zimmer prices. To get a reservation at Villa Tehilla, you have to book well in advance, since they have an 80-percent average yearly occupancy. As the windchimes swing in the breeze that comes up from the wadi in the late afternoon, it's easy to understand why. Villa Tehilla feels homey yet far-away, familiar yet enchanting. For rates and reservations: 04-693-7788/ 04-693-5336 The writer was a guest of Villa Tehilla.


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