The historic story of Beit Shalom, a boutique hotel in Metula

The hotel, designated for couples, is a blend of East and West in both décor and cuisine. Miriam Hod: “This place breathes history, and our mission is to preserve it.”

 A willow tree shades the charming garden at Beit Shalom (photo credit: IRIT HOD)
A willow tree shades the charming garden at Beit Shalom
(photo credit: IRIT HOD)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Charm and history converge at Beit Shalom, a boutique hotel in Metula, Israel’s northernmost town, perched on a hill with spectacular views of Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights.

Chaim Hod, the owner, is third generation in Metula, which for Israel is akin to tracing your ancestors back to the Mayflower. His grandparents’ wedding in 1896 was the first in the newly settled town. The swampy Hula Valley then being impassable in winter, the 16-year-old bride had to wait until spring to ride a donkey to Metula, wearing her wedding dress. The groom worked for Baron Edmond de Rothschild, dividing into 40 lots the land acquired from the Lebanese Christian owner in Beirut.

Eleven children were born in the original two-room stone house, this after a doctor in Beirut told the bride she couldn’t have any. Pioneers, they spread out and settled moshavim and kibbutzim throughout the Galilee. Each of the hotel’s rooms is dedicated to one of them.

A family legacy in Metula

The only offspring to remain in Metula was the tenth child, Chaim’s father, Shalom, for whom the hotel is named. Beit Shalom, the “house of Shalom,” also means “house of peace.” Shalom wrote in his will that even should hard times fall, the land must never be sold. More than 750 people showed up to a recent family reunion, but Chaim is the one who steadfastly stays in Metula to safeguard the family legacy.

“I love this place with every fiber of my being.”

Chaim Hod

“I love this place with every fiber of my being,” he says with emotion, sitting one summer evening on a bench in the hotel’s grassy garden, accented by pots overflowing with geraniums. The pendulous branches of willow trees sway in the breeze, and nearby five towering ivy-covered palm trees stand at the entrance. Although it’s an August evening and the rest of Israel swelters, in Metula there is a delightful breeze.

 Chaim and Miriam Hod (credit: IRIT HOD) Chaim and Miriam Hod (credit: IRIT HOD)

Metula is in a wind corridor that begins in the Ajun Valley in Lebanon and sweeps into the Hula Valley. The breeze begins daily at around two in the afternoon, providing relief from summer heat. It’s probably the only place in Israel where one needs a light sweater on an August evening. The hotel provides soft wool blankets for those who prefer to dine outside in the geranium-filled terrace, enhanced by the trickling sound of a water fountain.

“I love every tree, the landscape that changes every day, the sense of being deeply rooted in a place, belonging to it,” says Chaim.

“I love every tree, the landscape that changes every day, the sense of being deeply rooted in a place, belonging to it.”

Chaim Hod

The hotel began modestly with three rooms and expanded to ten, with Chaim taking time off from farming (mainly apple, plum orchards and fig trees his grandfather brought from Damascus) to do much of the construction work himself.

When the neighboring house and lot went up for sale, Chaim and his wife, Miriam, bought it, added three luxury suites, a spa room and a chef restaurant that serves local cuisine using local ingredients that meld East and West. The menu includes stuffed vine leaves made daily by a woman in a nearby Arab village, as well as an apple pie from a 100-year-old recipe handed down to Miriam from her Polish mother. Miriam bakes it herself using apples picked in their orchard. The vintage dishes, the rich breakfast that changes each season, the antique tables, the artwork lining the walls and an impressive wine list make for a memorable stay.

“This is not just a hotel, it’s a cultural experience.”

Miriam Hod

“This is not just a hotel, it’s a cultural experience,” says Miriam, who manages the hotel but also finds time to create intricate textile artworks where each stitch embroiders Metula’s landscape.

The original family home has been transformed into a cozy gallery/ lobby showcasing Miriam’s art. Guests can also see on one wall a photo gallery documenting the history of both sides of the family – the Metula side and Miriam’s, whose parents were Polish Holocaust survivors.

“This place breathes history, and our mission is to preserve it,” she says, “We live it.”

 The hotel, designated for couples, is a blend of East and West in both décor and cuisine. The walls in the rooms are made from local stone exposed when the hotel was renovated four years ago, furnished with antique Oriental furniture and art.

“The lace doilies placed on the local Damascus antiques were brought by my great-grandmother’s pioneer family who came from Lithuania,” says Irit Hod, the eldest daughter, an award-winning filmmaker who returned to Metula from Toronto a few years ago to continue the family legacy.

The family’s history is intertwined with Israel’s.

There are two IDF generals on both sides of the original settlers: Morderchai (Motti) Hod, commander of the Israeli Air Force during the Six Day War; and Uri Sagi, former commander of the Golani Brigade. In 1920, one of Shalom’s brothers brought weapons to Tel Hai, which was surrounded by Arabs, and later helped transport by stretcher the wounded Josef Trumpeldor, an Israeli national hero, to a doctor in Kfar Giladi. Israeli schoolchildren learn that Trumpeldor’s last words were “It is good to die for one’s country.” However, Chaim’s uncle witnessed what is now generally known, that Trumpeldor’s last words were, in fact, a curse in Russian.

In casual conversation, Miriam marks time by referring to the First Lebanon War and the Second, which someone living in Tel Aviv is not likely to do.

Before the sudden withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 by then-prime minister Ehud Barak, the border crossing in Metula was known as “The Good Fence,” which symbolized the peaceful relationship between the southern Lebanese villages and Israel. A Lebanese woman worked in the hotel. In the chaos of the withdrawal, Chaim took his truck to a pre-arranged point along the border and transported the woman’s entire extended family of 20, including two children and one baby, to Metula.

“The woman whose name I cannot reveal because she has returned to Lebanon became part of our family in every way,” says Miriam. “After the withdrawal, her entire family was welcomed warmly in our home and lived with us for three years.”

Metula is one of Israel’s most charming towns, with a quaint European Alpine village vibe, red roofed houses which, seen from the road leading up to the town, line the hill like musical notes on a staff. Orchards of plum, apple and kiwi surround the town. The Ayun Waterfall is located at the entrance eight kilometers north after you pass Kiryat Shmona on Highway 90. The entrance to the nature reserve is a few minutes from the hotel, where one can walk in a gorge along a stream and pass several waterfalls.

And then there is the view. To the east towers Mount Hermon, snow-capped in winter. Below, the verdant fields of the Hula Valley stretch as far as the eye can see. And to the west and north, Lebanon’s villages and mountain ranges seem like you can reach out and touch them. It is the only place in Israel surrounded on three sides by an international border.

In fact, when Britain and France demarcated the Mandatory boundaries between Palestine and Lebanon in 1923, Metula’s houses remained inside Palestine, while most of the agricultural lands were transferred to Lebanon. Metula’s farmers, the Hod family included, were permitted to freely cross the border to cultivate their lands, about seven kilometers inside Lebanon, until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

Metula follows the rhythms of nature. The flowering of the orchards in spring, the snow that covers the peaks of Mount Hermon in winter and the millions of migratory birds that fly so low overhead twice a year on their way from Europe to Africa and back, that one can hear their calls to each other.

 “I’ve traveled to many places in the world with beautiful mountains and waterfalls, but for me the most beautiful place in the world is Metula,” says Chaim. “My father was the tenth son, and I am my father’s youngest. Today, I am 75 years old. I look around at everything I have built with satisfaction and feel that I have fulfilled my father’s wishes, something that his father, the one who pioneered Metula, could have only dreamed of.” ■

For more information, call Beit Shalom at 972-53-7707845.