Outside, horns blared incessantly. I wove through lanes of traffic toward the hotel marquee, overheated, stressed, and late as usual.
A smiling doorman, resplendent in a top hat, greeted me calmly, waving me through the large double doors.
A hush. Tantalizing aromas in the cool, perfumed air. Chihuly glass glinting.
My shoulders relaxed. My jaw unclenched. I forgot the words “judicial reform” existed.
I had entered the world of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.
“WHAT DO you think this is, the Waldorf?”
Those were the half-joking words I heard quite a few times in my childhood when I made household requests overstepping my station in life. (Was leg of lamb on a silver platter too much to ask?)
The point was not lost on me, however – the Waldorf was and remains a name synonymous with luxury, service, pampering, and ease. I had the opportunity to see that for myself when I stayed in the storied original Waldorf Astoria New York for one fleeting night in my early adulthood.
When I first ventured into the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, in the early 2010s, I was, shall we say, less than impressed.
Sure, the lobby was artistic, spacious, and light-filled. Sure, the buffet breakfast was somewhat bountiful, what you’d expect from a nice Israeli hotel. Sure, the high tea was done properly, poured out via china teapot with tasty nibbles on a three-tiered tray.
But on the level I had come to expect of the Waldorf? Nope.
Over the years, the hotel acquired a reputation as a haven for haredim. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but one would be much more likely to go there for a shidduch date than a chi-chi round of drinks or splurge-worthy feast.
And there was no pool. Why would I, let alone a family with young children, stay in a hotel with no splish-splash potential?
So when I was invited for a breakfast-spa day a few weeks ago, I said yes (obviously in under five seconds) but I was not, shall we say, overly enthused.
But mea culpa. Meaaaa culpa.
The Waldorf Astoria: Massively improved over the years
OVER THE course of the splendid day I spent at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, my lowish expectations were proven wrong time and again by every facet of my upgraded experience.
And so it began: I pulled my dining companion, my dear mother Esther, up from a deep banquette to make the trek to breakfast.
We were greeted by the refreshingly professional staff, all clad in uniform replete with vest and tie. The hostess immediately led us to a well-laid table and our delightful waitress, Russian olah Chana, took our beverage orders, expertly pouring the still and sparkling waters I requested (I like options). The jolt of iced coffee with oat milk gave me the koyach I needed to make an impossible decision: Which entree to order from the menu?
Yes, while there is of course a buffet, one is encouraged to pick a separate entree. I couldn’t agree more! As I deliberated, Chana asked if we knew that the Eggs Benedict on the menu were actually invented at the Waldorf Astoria.
Apparently, a Wall Street broker first ordered them at the New York hotel in 1894 to ease his hangover. (And speaking of hangovers, those seeking bubbly in the morning can make a mimosa with the Cava on offer.) While I went a different route, I was very pleased with my choice of French toast adorned with powdered sugar, maple syrup, and fresh fruit.
Then on to the extensive buffet. Famously being a food lover, I have been known to frequent an Israeli hotel breakfast or two in my time. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that the sheer choice and breadth of tables laden with foodstuffs and beverages blew me away.
Everything – from fresh-squeezed orange, grapefruit, pomegranate, and apple juice; pastries like buttery apple Danish and charmingly decorated strawberry croissants; unexpected doughy delights like homemade sfinj (traditional Moroccan doughnuts), hot pretzels and bagels; endless selections of salads, cheese, and smoked fish; savory dishes like lasagna and polenta – was elegantly presented and on point. Dedicated staff kept a close eye on the goings-on at all times, ensuring platters were replenished and that my mom got exactly the type of multi-grain bread she was seeking.
I wandered around, staring at everything like a refugee, trying to get a grip on my impulse to inhale everything in sight, all the while admiring the large Yoram Raanan paintings adorning the dining room walls.
And then, who did I spy wandering the buffet corridors, also gazing adoringly at the plenty before us? None other than man-about-Israel and Secret Jerusalem “food influencer,” Shimshon Leshinsky! We exchanged knowing looks: It made sense he would be attending what I was quickly realizing was the hottest breakfast ticket in town.
Just when I thought I could eat no more, my eyes widened and a massive smile stole over my face. “What?!” my mother gasped. “Did you see some sort of celebrity?”
“Yes!” I exulted. A waiter had just passed by with full glasses of whipped cream for the neighboring table of children. Despite the kitchen closing, he obligingly got me a glass of my own for a bespoke mochaccino.
THE WALDORF staff continued on its impressive roll when my mom approached the concierge for (what else?) that day’s Jerusalem Post. All copies were gone! While not shocking given the paper’s wild popularity, we had a millisecond of disappointment – that is, until the concierge ran after us with a copy he had magically found.
We then descended to the spa for the rest of the day’s exhausting activities. Unsurprisingly, the Waldorf Jerusalem’s Guerlain spa, named for the high-end French perfume, cosmetics, and skincare house whose products it uses and stocks, is a peaceful oasis aiming to balance both body and mind.
Well, let me tell you that my treatment, chosen from a menu of full-body and face options for both women and men, was as restorative as could be. Normally, I consider facials a necessary, sometimes painful evil for a healthy complexion. This hour-long session was an endlessly relaxing massage of the face, neck, chest, and hands, rendered by expert Australian technician Alyza.
As clichéd as it sounds, from the moment I reclined on the massage bed and she shone a bright light on my face to illuminate every inch requiring care, her light-as-a-feather touches, moisturizers, and ministrations left me and my décolletage literally glowing. I liked that she cautioned against the overuse of skincare products; her tailored, yet simple advice for at-home maintenance has since left me in fine fettle.
I stumbled into the “recovery room” of impossibly cushy loungers. While normally a fitness junkie, I opted to pass on the well-equipped gym and stay in my blissful state by getting my “exercise” at the pool. Yes, the hotel had installed one a few years ago!
And what a pool it was – sumptuously decorated with columns, jets bubbling up at one end with deeper water at the other. I sweated it out in the hammam (Turkish bath), bathed in the comfortable waters, then swathed myself in robe, slippers, and plush towels, feeling balanced indeed.
LUXE, LUXE, luxe.
Well fed, soft of skin, clear of mind, I was energized and ready to face the roiling world outside again.
We bade the staff goodbye, feeling like old friends.
In short, the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem left me cholishing to go back. ■
For more information: www.hilton.com/en/hotels/jrswawa-waldorf-astoria-jerusalem/Cost of room for two with breakfast, month of August: Starts at NIS 2,670 (including VAT).Spa treatments: Face sculpt, one hour, NIS 520; massage, one hour, NIS 490.
The writer was a guest of the hotel and spa.