Hot spot where it’s cool to be

To the delight of some and the surprise of others, ‘National Geographic’ recently named Tel Aviv the world’s ninth-best beach city.

Tel Aviv beach 311 (photo credit: Alessandra Da Pra)
Tel Aviv beach 311
(photo credit: Alessandra Da Pra)
Hedonistic and buoyant, even decadent at times, Tel Aviv is a hot spot to be, see and be seen for the majority of us. And we are not alone. To the delight of some and others’ surprise, National Geographic recently named it the ninth-best beach city in the world.
So what if destinations like Sydney, Rio de Janeiro and Miami Beach precede us in the ranking? We for sure have nothing to envy our rivals for, as the figures show.
City spokesperson Almog Cohen said the data demonstrate a gradual year-by-year increase in the number of tourists who choose Tel Aviv as their holiday destination; with the exception of 2009, when the figure dropped because of the global recession.
But there has been a major recovery this year, which is expected to finish with 2.8 million overnight stays in the White City. The same peak was reached when the late pope John Paul II visited the country 10 years ago.
Compared to the corresponding months of last year, the Israel Hotel Association indicates a dramatic increase in overnight visitor sojourns in Tel Aviv from January to June 2010.
Tourism coming from Germany has increased by 55 percent, followed by Russia with 47%, the US with 33%, France with 24% and England with 15%. The flow of vacationers from Spain and Italy has been less conspicuous.
In 2008, the total revenue from tourism into the city stood at NIS 2.2 billion.
Locales such as pickup bar and restaurant Galina, popular mega-club Haoman 17, the seafront rock bar Mike’s Place and attractions such as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, combined with a 13-kilometer-long stretch of city sand, contribute to the special atmosphere of “the city that never sleeps.”
Social worker and surfer Assaf Shibolet said it is easy to understand the magnetism of the city seashore, where families, young couples, gays, straights, religious, atheists, surfers, dog lovers, soldiers, locals and tourists alike can all be found taking a dip in the same sea.
“It is Israel in microcosm,” he said while chilling at Hilton Beach.
And some are in a better position than others to observe this eclectic spectacle.
On a recent sultry morning, Avraham Hinig sat in a lofty lifeguard tower overlooking Metzitzim Beach, named after Uri Zohar’s 1972 Metzitzim cult movie, filmed at the site.
Despite his 46 years spent working at the beach, this lifeguard is never bored with the seashore.
“The beach in Tel Aviv is the best because the municipality works hard to give people good service,” he said, proudly.
The seaside is dotted with upscale hotels, lively cafes and restaurants, open-air showers, more or less clean bathrooms, playgrounds for the youngsters and volleyball nets for those who are older.
Yet, equipped as it is for all needs and only a few steps away from the urban heat, beach life doesn’t go without a glitch.
LITTERING AND vandalism at night are some of the hassles, Hinig said. Empty beer cans, plastic glasses and some broken signs can be found scattered on the beach before dawn. Drunken teenagers are another nuisance.
A less disruptive public misbehavior is “love in the water,” the lifeguard said, chuckling. While some take a dip into the sapphire sea merely to cool down, others do it to turn themselves on.
“Tel Aviv is a city full of sex, and the beach is one of the reasons for it,” said beach-goer David Kashtan, who thinks the city is definitely worth its ranking. (“Sex on the Beach,” a cocktail made with vodka, peach schnapps, orange nectar and cranberry juice, is one of the most popular drinks served at the seafront lounge bar and restaurant 9 Beach Metzitzim.) Manager Zachi Psach said Tel Aviv deserved to be included in the Top 10 list.
Not only has the city a vibrant nightlife with bars open 24/7, its good beaches and warm weather all year round make it a winter destination, too.
Tel Aviv is a prime destination for one young married couple from London.
Sarah and Erez Fogel have come to this city several times for its beautiful sea, easy-going people and lively atmosphere.
Pleased to learn that Tel Aviv has been included in National Geographic‘s 10 best beach city destinations, they are dismayed by the rubbish scattered along its coastline.
“If the problem could be solved, Tel Aviv would be ranked No. 1,” they said. Among those who believe the beach could be better preserved, some blame its shortcomings on the beach-goers, others on the municipality.
“The water is filthy, and the beach is littered with cigarette butts and plastic bottles,” said Elena Papageorghiou, who thinks the coastline of her native town is a beautiful spot but was ranked way too high. “The municipality doesn’t do enough.”
Merav Keren likes to take a break from her job of restaurant manager at Cafe Italia by going to the dog beach and playing with her pooch. She too thinks some things could be improved.
For instance, she would like the dog beach to be cleaner, nicer and bigger.
“It depends on us,” she said, “but the city could do better.”
Keeping the beach neat is a two-way street.
“The municipality cleans the seashore every day, but part of the public doesn’t put the trash in the garbage baskets,” said director of international relations Eliav Blizowsky.
Last July, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with the Tel Aviv Municipality, organized an information and enforcement campaign on the city’s beaches. Volunteers distributed trash bags and beach-goers were reminded of the NIS 750 fee for coastal littering.
MOREOVER, ISRAEL’S Clean Coast Program is bringing some 2,500 volunteers from September 19 to 29 to help clean up the country’s Mediterranean coastline.
“The beach is not an ashtray,” reads a sign on Hilton Beach encouraging folks to make use of the free ashtrays provided at the spot.
Though Tel Aviv’s beaches might not be the tidiest, and the food and booze sold might not be the cheapest, as the opening of the movie Metzitzim goes: “The morning breeze carries a feeling of weightlessness... below there is the sea, and you will always have a place to return to.”
The good vibe, the friendly people and the sense of belonging are what attract a big crowd.
One of the Tel Aviv beach’s best assets is the feeling of security, said Internet marketing consultant Yaron Gazit. He has visited Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro, which National Geographic ranked higher than Tel Aviv.
Both are beautiful destinations, he said, but sometimes too dangerous for tourists.
“Here it is very safe,” said Panorama Restaurant owner Danit Silbirstein. “You can go to the beach at midnight and feel comfortable.”
His hilltop restaurant is an alternative option for those who want to enjoy the beach from a distance. Here, people can have a meal while overlooking Gordon Beach, where tanned guys play matkot and young girls jabber the day away.
Although this beach is a popular spot, the secluded Nordau Beach is the choice of gals trying to avoid the agony of a Brazilian wax or the unwanted attentions and indiscretions of their male counterparts.
Being able to laze topless under the sun is also a plus.
“Tel Aviv may not have the most beautiful beach,” said software engineer Itay Gadot, “but everybody can find what they are looking for.” Some come to get together, others to get away. Some like to surf and others to play drums.
But at the end, everyone “will always have a place to return to.”