Exploring Haifa’s many attractions

Coastal and port cities have always attracted tourism, and this is certainly the case in Israel, too.

The garden of the Pnina Bacarmel hotel and spa in Haifa (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The garden of the Pnina Bacarmel hotel and spa in Haifa
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Jaffa is booming in the evenings and Tel Aviv is well known as the city that never sleeps. For some reason, though, Haifa – Israel’s northernmost port – has never achieved the same type of popularity. Granted, the view from the impressive Carmel Mountains is gorgeous, but this has not helped increase the tourist traffic in the town below.
And that’s a shame because it’s clear that something amazing is happening in Haifa these days. A number of new boutique hotels, restaurants, galleries, cultural centers and spas have recently opened, just in time for summer vacation. And if nightlife is your favorite part of a vacation, you’ll be happy to know that Haifa summer nights are an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
My favorite hotel in Haifa is Villa Carmel. This boutique hotel is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the city: Merkaz Hacarmel.
The small structure was built in the 1940s and functioned as a guest house then, too. It was a very popular pilgrimage site at the time, and David and Paula Ben-Gurion even spent the night there once. Over the years, the hotel slowly lost its sheen, and 70 years after it was built, the Shetrit family gave it a complete makeover and turned it into a modern, chic hotel that now attracts business people and couples who come to Haifa for a little pampering.
The Villa Carmel has 15 spacious rooms with balconies that overlook the green Carmel Mountains. In addition to the spectacular views from each room, the hotel has a spa on the roof, which sports a Jacuzzi overlooking the mountains. But even if you’re not staying at the hotel, I still recommend having dinner at Menton, the hotel restaurant, which is famous for its indulgent breakfasts that are served in a lusciously green courtyard. Menton offers full lunch and dinner menus, too, which specialize in Mediterranean dishes.
Address: 1 Heinrich Heine Street, Haifa.
ANOTHER HOTEL I love that comes just as highly recommended is a spa hotel called Pnina Bacarmel, located in the Merkaz Hacarmel area. Spa hotels seem to be the latest trend in global tourism. And despite the fact that it just opened a few months ago, Pnina Bacarmel has already managed to make itself a name in this niche market.
Located in an old Templer building built in the late 19th century that sits on a quiet street lined with large pine trees, the small hotel boasts three treatment rooms, two guest suites, a charming courtyard with a fountain, shady relaxation areas, a Jacuzzi and a small bar.
The hotel was established by Ayelet Cohen, who became acquainted with this building 15 years ago when she visited the art gallery and café that were housed there at the time. She immediately fell in love with the building and never forgot about it even though so many years had passed by. Cohen, who grew up in Haifa, decided to name her hotel after her mother, Pnina, and carried out intensive renovations before it was opened. The spa is open to guests of the hotel, as well as to the general public who aren’t staying at the hotel.
Address: 3 Hazvi Boulevard, Haifa.
OF COURSE, if you’re going to be spending the day in Haifa, there are a number of places you absolutely must visit. There’s the Talpiot Market which comes alive every Thursday night in the summer months.
Not many people know this, but going at night to hang out at the market is a completely different experience than going there during the day. When the stands are empty of produce and have been closed up for the night, and dozens of people start flowing in to hang out at the makeshift bars and to enjoy the breeze, the atmosphere becomes greatly altered.
My favorite restaurant in the market is Talpiot, an eatery that is reminiscent of an authentic Mediterranean hang-out where everyone is welcome to come in, relax, have a drink and stay for a while. The menu is seafood based, with a little taste of Georgian cooking. Just across from Talpiot is a lovely pastry shop where you can buy lots of tasty vegan dishes to be eaten either on location or taken home, as well as a small boutique brewery.
If you really love hanging out in markets in the evenings, you can also pop over to the Haifa flea market, which is bustling on summer nights. Every Wednesday there’s music, vintage items for sale and lots and lots of beer. This is the most fun way to rummage through old, vintage objects, with good music, good beer and good company.
But the summertime renaissance taking place in TOUR ISRAEL THE GARDEN of the Pnina Bacarmel hotel and spa in Haifa.
Exploring Haifa’s many attractions Haifa is not limited to boutique hotels and nightlife in vegetable markets.
A number of new restaurants have also recently opened their doors that are marketing themselves to younger crowds. One such place that opened up in downtown Haifa just three months ago is Morel (33 Hanamal Street, Haifa) which serves tapas with an international flavor. Morel’s menu is divided into three sections: vegetarian, seafood, and meat, which are available in small or medium-sized portions. It has an incredible selection of international wines, such as a dry white wine that goes for NIS 70. And every Wednesday Morel screens a movie in its courtyard.
Across the street, there’s another great restaurant called Hanamal 24 (which happens to be located at 24 Hanamal Street). This is one of Haifa’s most veteran restaurants and some people even say that it has been responsible for the culinary reawakening taking place in the city. Hanamal 24 has managed to maintain its extremely high quality cuisine throughout the years and it still manages to attract food aficionados from around the country. Chef Ron Rosh put together a fantastic menu that is influenced by French cuisine, with a touch of Italian seasoning.
Last, but not least, Haifa is famous for its art museums, and I recommend visiting the Haifa Museum of Art before you end your visit.
Not surprisingly, the museum is also located in an historic building that used to house an English school for girls. When the museum was inaugurated in the 1930s, it was a two-story building that at the time was thought to be the height of modernity. Following the War of Independence, the building was used as an absorption center for new immigrants, and then later went back to functioning as a school. Then in 1978, it was decided that it would be turned into a museum. The museum hosts changing exhibitions (check its website for details) that are appropriate for the whole family.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.