Nir Etzion has long been a popular setting for celebratory gatherings – post-wedding parties, anniversaries, synagogue study weekends. The strict kosher observance with a relaxed, non-coercive atmosphere continues to make it a good choice for the increasing number of families with some members wearing black kippot, others knitted kippot, and still others with no kippot.
But would Nir Etzion suit a couple taking a rare midweek night off in the winter? My husband and I would vote yes.
The community (at first a kibbutz, but for the last 60 years a moshav shitufi) was established by survivors of the Etzion Bloc from the War of Independence and boosted by Holocaust survivors when it relocated in the Carmel Mountains in 1950.
The community was named in memory of the Etzion Bloc. The founders and today’s members are Orthodox Jews.
The hospitality business, along with fields and a dairy, were among the community’s oldest industries. The farmers first opened the Nir Etzion Rest House, which became the Nir Etzion Guest House in 2002, and then the Nir Etzion Hotel. Today, it is being marketed as Nir Etzion Resort, a promising description for a couple’s night away.
Located 234 meters up in the verdant Carmel mountains, at the entrance to Ein Hod, getting there is an easy car ride from Israel’s main cities: 15 minutes from Haifa, 55 from Tel Aviv, and an hour and a half from Jerusalem, from where we were coming on a Thursday.
Without having to drive for hours, we felt the immediate rush of pleasure of getting out in the muted countryside after a hectic work week.
Old-timers may be familiar with the family-friendly garden rooms of Nir Etzion, comfortable bungalows spread out on the lawns. But there is also a hotel, with a large glass-enclosed lobby.
The reception clerk’s convivial welcome typified the cordiality of the staff.
I always have a moment of anticipation/anxiety when I open the door to an unfamiliar hotel room. Happily, I liked what I saw. I need a touch of luxury that makes me feel it was worthwhile leaving my own home. The room was large and pretty. Beige and aquamarine tiled floors, towels decoratively displayed on the bed, and even a recessed stone ritual hand washing station all gave a good feeling. There was a comfortable couch, which could be opened for additional sleepers. The bathroom was modern and attractive.
The piece de resistance was the large balcony – with table and chairs and an electrical outlet if you wanted to plug in a computer – overlooking the forest. The other side looked out toward the Mediterranean.
By the time we arrived on that winter afternoon, it was already dark, but we enjoyed the twinkling lights along the hillside. We’d stopped at one of the Carmel region’s ubiquitous wineries and enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner.
The Carmel area offers many non-typical touring options, such as prehistoric caves, a wet walk through a Roman water tunnel, goat adventures. You can hike and explore in one of many nature reserves, go horseback riding over the hills or rappell down them. All of these are within a short drive of Nir Etzion. The art colony of Ein Hod is minutes away. You can pick up discount tickets for the area attractions in the hotel lobby.
The Nir Etzion swimming pool, which is bright and balmy even in the winter, offers a sauna and well-appointed changing rooms. There are separate hours for men’s and women’s swimming, as well as mixed swimming.
One of the advantages of staying in a hotel as opposed to, say, a rustic bed-and-breakfast guest house, is not having to seek a restaurant for dinner. At Nir Etzion, buffet dinner is served from 6:30 p.m. The gray brick dining room – with old photos of kibbutz mothers preparing a giant pot of porridge – is divided in two, with the choice of meat or dairy dinner. Lively but not raucous family gatherings dominated the meat side of the room. Tourists from Europe were eating on the dairy side. We went for meat. The maitre d’ seated us at a table near the windows. The buffet included kid-friendly dishes such as fried schnitzel and a basin of ketchup, and more sophisticated dishes like eggplant-beef moussaka. The salads and side dishes were well-seasoned Middle Eastern style. Comfort food more than gourmet.
But breakfast was in a class of its own. In addition to a lavish display of cheeses, breads and salads, a grandma made pancakes at one station, while across the room mushroom, cheese and chive omelets were being turned out. If the cappuccino machine doesn’t suit you, personalized coffee with, say, soy milk is available.
Homemade butter (really!), homemade jam and homemade cheeses evoke some of the old kibbutz flavor, alongside the old-fashioned rolled spanakopita (burekas) that former kibbutzniks still make. Hot dishes included zucchini in cream sauce and broccoli quiches. Heimish deluxe.
I’d ordered a massage. The massage room was spacious, unlike the assembly-line cubicles at some facilities. Massage therapist Hagar Greenberg arrived on a motorcycle and was something of a mind-body healer, as well as a professionally trained masseuse to get the kinks out of your torso. Superb.
The grounds, with their copious bird of paradise flowers, were beautiful. Ideal for a walk without even having to get into a car to get there. You can also visit the petting zoo and watch the cows being milked.
Midweek rack-rate prices are NIS 745 for bed and breakfast; NIS 947 for a half-board in forest-view rooms like the one we enjoyed, slightly more for a sea view, and slightly less for a garden apartment.The writer was a guest of the hotel.