Take a mini vacation to Jaffa, Israel

It’s one of the most popular historical locations in Israel, with many attractions for both local and international tourists. 

 JAFFA PORT (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
JAFFA PORT
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)

Jaffa has a special charm to it. Almost everyone who visits this port city falls in love with the quaint restaurants and shops, and finds its ancient history intriguing. It’s one of the most popular historical locations in Israel, with many attractions for both local and international tourists. 

The Jaffa Hotel

Just next to Jaffa Port, on the corner where Louis Pasteur and Yefet streets converge, you will find The Jaffa, one of the most remarkable boutique hotels in the country. The hotel, which finally reopened after being shuttered for a long period during the pandemic, is the only establishment in Israel that made it onto the Luxury Collection, a list published by Marriot International, as well as the Virtuoso American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts list. The hotel, which has 120 guest rooms and suites that fall into 17 different categories, is situated in a building that functioned as a French hospital in the 19th century. 

The neo-classic building underwent a serious preservation and renovation process. A new wing was recently constructed right next to the original building that houses 32 private luxury residences, each with its own entry. This structure was built on top of a wall that dates back to the 13th century, during the Crusader period. The wall was discovered by chance when the construction team was bulldozing the ground in preparation for building the new wing. All of the remains that were found in the excavation can now be viewed in the hotel lobby. 

The Jaffa Hotel is not visible to pedestrians who walk by, and when you stay there you get the feeling that you’ve left Israel and been transported overseas and to another time. To get there, walk down a narrow corridor leading off of Louis Pasteur Street, until you see the smile of the doorman, who will gladly open the door for you. 

 THE JAFFA HOTEL (credit: AMIT GERON) THE JAFFA HOTEL (credit: AMIT GERON)

British architect John Pawson, together with local conservationist Ramy Gill, restored and renovated the building, creating a clean and serene harmony between the old and new. At the reception area, you will most likely be greeted by an English-speaking employee, which will definitely make you feel like you’re no longer in Israel. 

After the warm welcome you will receive in the lobby, you will be escorted by a bellboy to your room. In my case, we’d been given a deluxe junior suite. The first things I noticed when we entered were the high ceilings and the gigantic windows through which light poured into the lovely room. The lights and shutters in all the smart guest rooms can be controlled with a digital panel. This juxtaposition of modern and ancient styles were evident throughout the Jaffa Hotel.

The outdoor pool, which is the proper size for a boutique hotel, is surrounded by comfortable chaise lounges and a convenient snack bar. There’s also a well-outfitted gym, and a luxury spa owned by Ronit Raphael, where you can choose from a wide variety of wellness treatments, including a massage, sauna and a hamam. 

Hotel guests can enjoy a bountiful buffet breakfast in the inner courtyard at Golda Restaurant, in addition to hot dishes chosen from a menu. Golda operates as a regular restaurant for lunch and dinner. 

Price: Starting at NIS 2,800 per night, including breakfast, in a deluxe room.Location: 2 Louis Pasteur Street, Tel Aviv. Details: (03) 516-2000.

Tour with Dana Setoy

Once you’re settled in the hotel and ready to go out and explore Jaffa, you can join tour guide Dana Setoy on a walk around Neve Tsedek and Old Jaffa. Dana is a seasoned educator who has worked in both formal and informal education, and who loves combining her two loves: walking and teaching. She knows how to engage both the young and the young-at-heart, and is happy to wait a moment while you capture the perfect picture for Instagram. 

Our tour started with a scrumptious meal at Jaffa Port. Most tour guides feel compelled to scuttle from one stop to another, but with Dana that was not the case. She was happy to adapt her pace to ours, and even told us a little bit about herself along the way, such as the fact that she was a cancer survivor. It was wonderful seeing her stop and greet fellow Jaffa residents as we were led around the neighborhood. She used to work as a youth director in the neighborhood, and so she is well acquainted with many of the people who live and work in the area. 

One of the most fascinating places we went on the tour was the Mosaic House, a museum created by Yossi Lugasi in his home on Yehuda Hayamit Street. The walls are covered with over 1,000 mosaic portraits of people from modern Jewish and Israeli history, as well as other international characters. Yossi, who passed away a few years ago, was an extremely talented autodidact. His wife Yafa now gives the tour of their home, the walls of which are covered with Yossi’s mosaics. 

 TOUR GUIDE Dana Setoy in front of the Mosaic House. (credit: MEITAL SHARABI) TOUR GUIDE Dana Setoy in front of the Mosaic House. (credit: MEITAL SHARABI)

Next, we visited Shelly Dahari’s jewelry shop, which she opened in 2007 when she realized this was the best way to channel her love for creating beautiful things. Shelly generates new collections four times a year, at the beginning of every season. 

Our second to last stop was Leon Bakery, one of the most iconic institutions in Jaffa’s notorious flea market. The freshly baked burekas they make are sold with ayran, a chilled savory yogurt drink. Lastly, we explored even deeper inside the outdoor market until we reached Shiran Matetyahu’s Tadam Bakery, where we tasted the best malabi ever and ate brioche croissants that had just come out of the oven. 

The five-hour tour, including the meal and tastings, costs NIS 285-300 per person. Kosher and vegetarian options available. 

Dana Setoy’s tour is in Hebrew, but she also speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English. 

Details: 050-541-8675.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.