Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, and Jerusalem took nine of them. (Talmud, Kiddushin 49b).
There is so much beauty and wonder in our eternal capital that strolling through the city is always a joy and invites new and fascinating adventures. This is true for residents of Jerusalem – who sometimes are the last to see all the sights – as well as for tourists and visitors from Israel’s other cities.
My wife and I spent a glorious 24 hours there recently, and it was a marvelous getaway, with an itinerary filled to the brim with wonderful activities.
We began our day at the Prima Hotel in Talbieh in the late morning and were cheerfully greeted by Eitan Yariv, the general manager, and Yael Oren, the Prima group’s customer relations director. There was a welcome drink waiting for us in the spacious lobby, and the staff was very friendly.
After checking in along with a group of fellow journalists, we were all escorted by Eitan and Yael as we walked to the nearby Jerusalem Wineries Visiting Center in Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
In the shadow of the famous Montefiore Windmill, we sipped delicious premium and vintage wines as we looked out over this breathtaking part of Jerusalem and its Old City walls. We heard a brief history of the area and of the winery, founded 150 years ago in the Old City. In 2006, it was acquired by the Guetta family and today it is the only winery operating in the city.
Wine tastings and workshops are popular attractions and we saw several newlywed brides and grooms who were enjoying a few romantic moments in this pastoral spot.
From there, we bused the short distance to Machane Yehudah shuk. This is one landmark, along with the Kotel, where all Jerusalemites come together. I remember the story of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Israel in the early ‘70s and first saw our open-air markets.
Coming from a place where the shelves were almost always bare, they were convinced this had to be a Mossad-created ruse to lure them here, for could any place be so blessed with this unbelievable bounty of foods of every type?
But it was no façade; the shuk is the real thing – a jostling, noisy, vibrant smorgasbord of hurried shoppers, curious visitors, fruit and vegetable stands, and eateries to please every taste. If any place in the country can be called, “the real Israel,” this is it. At some point, you just stand to the side and take it all in.
Eitan handed each of us a booklet with coupons that invited us to sample some of the shuk’s famous mainstays: the hummus and falafel, the knafeh, the shwarma, and the malawach. (All guests booked for at least two nights at the Prima hotel get a coupon book). We made a mental note to return one evening soon, to sample the trendy restaurants that are in vogue at the shuk.
Sampling incredible Jerusalem beers
Back at the hotel, we went to the gym for a bit of exercise and we then rested for a bit before being ushered to the newly-opened rooftop patio – complete with elegant fire pits, good music, and crisp fresh air – where we were treated to a presentation by Shapiro Beer, a Jerusalem success story.
The Shapiro Brewery was born after a decade of home brewing by brothers Itzik and Dani Shapiro in a basement in the German Colony neighborhood. The brothers presented the wider family with an opportunity to do something together, and they went on to build a microbrewery and introduce an exceptional beer. In 2011, the Shapiro brothers teamed up with brewmaster Yochai Kudler and built the Shapiro Brewery; later they would also partner with Tempo.
Shapiro beer is known for its freshness and aroma and is largely free of preservatives. Tamar Shapiro gave us a brief crash-course in beer making, from milling to mashing to fermentation and conditioning, and sampled several types, including lager, wheat, and pale ale. (I must admit that I have a special affinity to this beer, as founder Itzik served in the same elite IDF unit as our son Ari.)
When we had polished off enough beer, we had a sumptuous dinner on the rooftop, with generous helpings of selected salads, bourekas, rice-filled vine leaves, freshly-cooked salmon, and fruit and desserts. We then retired to our room for the night. We appreciated that there was a bathtub to help us relax, along with the amenities of a good hotel, including a teapot and teas/coffee, cable TV, and a lovely view. All of this was followed by a very restful night’s sleep.
A few more words about the hotel itself. The Prima story began a generation ago when the Kohen family set out to build a network of comfortable, friendly, and reasonably-priced hotels throughout Israel. Today, there are 14 Primas, including hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Petach Tikva, Ra’anana, Eilat, Netanya, and soon Ashdod. Each hotel has a motif that complements the city.
Our Prima, located in the middle of the lovely Talbieh neighborhood, has 133 well-equipped rooms, and features murals and biographies of various artists of Jerusalem origin on each floor. There are also numerous pieces of locally-created art, displayed throughout the hotel.
We were happily surprised to learn that, unlike so many other Israeli hotels, Prima is very moderately priced, especially considering its excellent location. The hotel is also within walking distance of numerous synagogues, a real plus for observant guests. The aforementioned rooftop patio is open Sunday-Thursday from 7 pm to midnight, a great spot for a breezy nightcap.
Before leaving, we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast with a range of delicious hot and cold selections. And there was an added attraction that made for a fantastic atmosphere. A gifted piano player regaled us with some of our favorite pop hits and show tunes as we munched on pastries and sipped our coffees to the sound of “Take Me to the Moon.”
You may not make it into outer space, but if you’re looking for a great stay in one of the world’s unique cities, take your significant other to the Prima Royale.
The writer was a guest of Prima Royale Jerusalem.