TALY’S TRAVEL: Alegra – a romantic stay in Ein Kerem

While Ein Kerem is part of Jerusalem now, it has kept its rural character and is popular among artists.

Alegra – a romantic stay in Ein Kerem (photo credit: AFIK GABAI)
Alegra – a romantic stay in Ein Kerem
(photo credit: AFIK GABAI)
Alegra is a romantic boutique hotel in Ein Kerem that fuses the old with the new. Its 13 romantic suites are built in an old brick house renovated with modern amenities and surrounded by a lovely garden. The heart of the hotel is a restaurant with an open kitchen offering a culinary and social adventure. And there is also a story behind it.
Alegra hotel was named after Alegra Belo, a beautiful Jewish girl who fell in love with a Christian-Arab man. She followed him to Bethlehem, converted to Christianity, married him and together they moved to this house in Ein Kerem.
The house was built in 1930 and was converted in 2010 into the hotel as it is now. It was fully refurbished and renewed, preserving the original architectural characteristics while adding modern facilities. The architecture is a mix of stone, metal and glass that brings natural light inside. The decor is mostly old-style furniture and contemporary art artifacts with intense colors that create a fascinating contrast. It took me quite a while to explore the building even though the house is rather small.
The hotel’s charm is not only the house, it is also in the garden and terrace. The garden is beautiful and has some serene sitting areas surrounded by trees and bushes and a small pool for the hot summer days. I can imagine myself sitting here and relaxing with a glass of wine and a good book (something I could not do because I was unlucky to stay there on the only rainy day of the spring). Speaking about wine, the hotel’s complimentary drinks corner includes free red wine in addition to espresso and tea, which I was still able to enjoy.
Alegra’s rooftop terrace features what is said to be the best view of Ein Kerem. From here you can see the ancient Church of the Visitation and the lovely Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity with the golden domes. In nice weather this is the place to hang out.
Our spacious room (or should I call it a studio or mini-suite) included a king-size bed and an elevated sitting area elegantly decorated with a leather sofa and a glass desk. The room contained all the modern amenities such as flat-screen TV, espresso machine and a safe deposit box. But most importantly, it had an oval-shaped old-style window with wooden shutters and the charming appeal of the old Jerusalem- style buildings. The bathroom had glass walls and felt like one big space. But don’t worry, it has an opaque door and curtain for some privacy.
The center of the hotel is a shared space with an open kitchen and seating areas where people get together. This is where the meals are served.
“SEASON” IS the hotel’s restaurant, featuring Chef Yaron Vinkler. If you ever dreamed about a private chef, you will find this experience here. We had dinner and breakfast there and both were extraordinary.
Dinner is a fabulous dining experience. First, because Yaron and his staff are cooking in an open kitchen and it is fascinating to watch them at work. Second, because of the interaction with Yaron and the other guests. Last, because the food is fantastic.
Already before dinner we met the other guests who offered to join them and shared their wine with us, a Syrah from Flam winery. The get-together of guests is part of what the hotel encourages, and it felt warm and intimate. Yaron made sure he knows our food preferences and served us a personalized six-course meal. We started with fresh focaccia from the pizza oven that was served with dips. We continued with ceviche, fabulous mushroom soup, fish filet (or cauliflower risotto substitute), entrecote steak and dessert. All were beautifully served and rich with fresh herbs and flavors.
After dinner, we sat with Yaron for a chat and a whiskey. He told us that he also caters and leads culinary tours in Jerusalem. The restaurant is also open for dining for those not staying at the hotel and for events, but reservations are needed. Dinner costs NIS 270, which is worth the price for this unique experience.
Breakfast is served at the table (not buffet style) and consists of an endless number of plates: delicious chef-quality breads and pastry, tapas, salad, cheeses, eggs, fresh orange and pomegranate juices and cappuccino. It includes a croissant and a wonderful homemade apple strudel. You won’t get anything like this anywhere else.
The restaurant is open to the public by reservation for breakfast and dinner and brunch during the weekends. Breakfast is NIS 110. The restaurant is not kosher.
The rooms at the Alegra Hotel start from NIS 1,050 per night.
EIN KEREM is a neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem. It was established on the remains of a Palestinian village that was deserted during the 1948 War of Independence. It is also the birthplace of John the Baptist and home to a number of churches and convents. We enjoyed visiting the churches of John the Baptist and the beautiful Church of the Visitation, although the latter (which I think is the nicest) requires climbing dozens of stairs up the hill. A few steps from the hotel we visited the convent of Le Soeurs de Notre Dame de Sion. It has nice gardens and viewpoints, and a small, simple chapel. Most sites, including Mary’s Spring, are within a walking distance from the hotel.
While Ein Kerem is part of Jerusalem now, it has kept its rural character and is popular among artists. As you walk along the street, open your eyes for the small art galleries, restaurants and cafes.
Ein Kerem is located at the edge of the Judean Hills, an area rich with vineyards. If you are interested in some wine-tasting, Tzuba Winery is less than 15 minutes’ drive. Tzuba is an estate winery, which means it is located near the vineyards. The Gat Gefen visitors center offers a guided tour of the vineyards and the winery along with a wine-tasting. There are a number of ancient wine presses here that can be seen during the tour. We visited the winery and met Paul Dove, Tzuba’s winemaker, who told us about the winery and the wine-making process. The harvest is done manually which preserves the wine’s quality. We tasted a number of their excellent wines and picked a blend named Metzuda from the wine shop. The wines are kosher. There is a tour every Friday or by reservation. The visitors center is open Sunday- Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information about the Gat Gefen visitors center at Tzuba Winery go to tzubawinery.co.il or call 972-2-534-7000. To find out more about the Alegra Hotel, visit www.hotelalegra.com or call 972-2- 650-0506.
The writer was a guest of Alegra Hotel and Tzuba Winery.