I think I'm falling in love - with Haifa. After a few recent trips to the city, I can't understand why more people don't want to live and vacation there.
My most recent visit was motivated by an invitation to stay at the new Villa Carmel Boutique Hotel. I seized the opportunity, especially since it meant I could check out my little brother's new place at the Technion.
I headed up to Haifa and made it to the vicinity of the hotel with no trouble at all - which is surprising, given my tendency to get lost. Nonetheless, I still managed to get a bit twisted finding the specific address I needed.
The 16-room hotel is located on a side street off Sderot Moriah, which I eventually found after two or three circles past it. Of course, once I found it and parked, I wondered how I'd missed it. The side of the hotel features an open patio filled with tables, a fountain and foliage - not exactly a typical backyard.
Once in the door, I was faced with a small library, a reception desk and a couch. Although the building used to be the Vered Hacarmel Hotel dating as far back as 1946, after a few incarnations - including a stint as an old-age home - it only recently morphed into a fully modern institution. The hotel has free wireless Internet, an elevator, a business center, flat-screen TVs in each room (the suites also have DVD players), satellite television, a minibar per room, a rooftop sauna and Jacuzzi and private air-conditioning units.
The whole place is new and clean. The deluxe room I stayed in had a gray, black and white color scheme. It was attractive, with some funky fixtures and a matching bathroom. Some of the other rooms are done in a lighter color scheme, and a portion are carpeted (mine was not).
While a good deal of attention was obviously given to the hotel's appearance, attention to practicality was somewhat lacking. I found the lighting in the bedroom and bathroom too dim (a light bulb was burned out, to make matters worse), the makeup mirror was too high for a shorty like me, the hand towel rack was too low even for someone of my stature and it was strangely placed away from the sink.
Still, the chocolates waiting for me in the room were delicious, the bed had super-soft sheets, the balcony off my room was large and had all the necessary patio furniture, and the hotel very willingly arranged for me to eat across the street at the kosher Shany Cafe instead of at its non-kosher in-house restaurant (as it will do for any kosher-observant guests).
In general, Villa Carmel seems to go out of its way to make sure its patrons have everything they need; it caters especially to the business-travel crowd, although the hotel is also perfectly suited to romantic getaways. It's not a great place for kids, however.
Even though I skipped dinner, I did try the hotel's dairy breakfast in the morning - the restaurant attracts both guests and local residents who want a change of scenery for their morning meal. Newspapers were available in both Hebrew and English. Some tables on the patio were decorated with pots of lavender, while others had goldfish in small bowls. As I stated previously, attention to aesthetic detail is a high priority at this establishment. But I think I might have been better off across the street at Shany again, as the breakfast was nothing exceptional. The dinner menu did look very appetizing, though.
Despite being fresh on the block, the Villa Carmel staff has got the service down to an art; the decorators have created a very attractive and modern-looking environment; the cleaning staff is top notch. The kinks that do exist will work themselves out quickly, I'm certain. And even those wrinkles shouldn't prevent a return visit. Plus, location is always important. And if I have anything to with it, Haifa is going to be the next hot spot to visit in Israel.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.
Rehov Heinrich Heine 1 (off Sderot Moriah 30), Haifa.
Call (04) 837-5777/8 or visit www.villacarmel.co.il for prices and more information.