Eilat Israel’s winter wonderland

If you’d like to get out for a walk in nature during your hotel stay, then you’re in luck, because the Eilat Mountains have many wonderful trails (just don’t hike when there is flooding).

Eilat Israel’s winter wonderland  (photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
Eilat Israel’s winter wonderland
(photo credit: ASSAF PINCHUK)
Although Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport closed over six months ago, it’s still unclear how this will affect life and tourism in Israel’s southernmost city. There’s no doubt that Eilat, the city of endless light, has taken a hit in tourism now that it’s harder to catch a flight there.
Apparently the industry still felt it could stand the addition of at least one new hotel, and last week, the Nakash Group held the grand opening of the seventh hotel in its Herbert Samuel chain: the Royal Shangri-La Eilat.
This luxury hotel, which sits high up on the mountain above the Orchid Hotel, has 53 guest rooms, some of which are suites with private pools or jacuzzis that overlook the Red Sea. If this sounds familiar, it’s because in its previous incarnation the hotel was the Eilat Orchid. Yet someone in the Nakash Group felt that Eilat needed a fresh new hotel, and that’s how the idea for the exclusive Shangri-La Hotel was concocted.
Happy hour in the lobby continues until 5 p.m., and reception is open 24/7. Guests are welcome to swim in the heated pool, take advantage of the butler service, get a massage in their room, and enjoy the espresso machine and full mini-bar. The price for a couple in the middle of the week starts at NIS 1,200, and NIS 1,500 on weekends. Villas start at NIS 2,500.
The aim of the hotel is to create an overall experience of all-encompassing hospitality so that guests feel no need to leave the premises. So if you want to have pool parties with the music blaring, this may not be the place for you. But if you dream of staying at a Thai-style resort with wooden cabins, lush vegetation at every turn and breathtaking sea and mountain views, then the Royal Shangri-La Eilat is a great choice.
They even pick you up at the entrance in a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled motorized rickshow, and you can hop in one anytime you want to go from one venue to another within the resort. Except for the price, which is not nearly as low as it would have been in Thailand, you really do feel like you’re in the Far East.
Guests, of course, are welcome to walk everywhere by foot, but don’t forget that every descent means you have to climb back up after. In addition to the tuk-tuks, shuttles are always available to transport guests down to Eilat’s beaches. One of my favorites is the beach in front of the Reef Hotel, where the coral lying beneath the crystal-clear water is among the most spectacular in the world – making it popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. After, you can have lunch in the quaint Greek restaurant on site.
While guests can enjoy breakfast and copious snacks in the lobby, going out to restaurants for other meals is a fine excuse to leave the hotel and explore the food and nightlife. If you’re seeking something really fun and trendy, I recommend the new bar/restaurant TOY. Just like the popular winning Eurovision song, TOY is full of energy, and it has tasty Italian dishes like arancini, bruschettes, pasta and pizza. Kosher.
Location: 1 Kampen Street, Eilat
Phone: (08) 634-9999
If you’d like to get out for a walk in nature during your hotel stay, then you’re in luck, because the Eilat Mountains have many wonderful trails (just don’t hike when there is flooding). There are short, easy paths as well as longer, more challenging trails. If you’re looking for something simple for the whole family, I recommend the Upper Nahal Geshron, a 3-km. circular trail that takes about two hours to complete. A lookout in the middle of the trail offers an incredible view over the Sinai Peninsula.
The trail begins at the foot of Mount Yoash. From the parking area, follow the black trail markers down to the west and toward the stream. After a few minutes, you’ll come upon the first point of interest along the path: an ancient trap for animals that was said to be used for catching leopards that used to roam the region. Soon, you’ll make a sharp turn and continue along the path until you reach a huge stone called the Eating Table, named for the repasts a local hyena was said to have enjoyed on it.
The next point of interest along the trail and on the edge of the riverbank is a cave that can be spotted from afar, due to the ancient burial mound above it. You can walk inside the cave and exit at the other end. While inside, notice the patterns on the walls formed by the light streaming in through holes in the stone.
After visiting the cave and relaxing a bit, it’s time to continue on the trail that descends alongside the stream. After a while, you’ll see that the path veers away from the stream and climbs up the side of the mountain until it reaches Gershon Viewpoint, where you’ll have a breathtaking view of the region. When you’ve finished taking in the surroundings, go back to the trail and follow the blue trail markers back to your car.
Directions: From Eilat, take Route 12 north toward Mitzpe Ramon. After eight km., make a right turn toward Har Yeroham. After 200 meters, turn left and drive down toward the Har Yoash parking area. 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.