It looks like we probably won’t be traveling abroad this summer, nor, most likely during the high holidays in September. Instead – how about visiting Nazareth? Visiting the ancient Galilee town is almost like visiting another country, without having to go through customs and passport checks.
A world-class tourist attraction, Nazareth has been visited by pilgrims for thousands of years, each leaving behind their traditions and beliefs and contributing their bit to the special charm of the city and its famous hospitality.
Much like any Jewish tourist coming to Israel will visit Jerusalem and the holy places – Nazareth was, and still is, a highlight for Christian pilgrims that came to the Holy Land for more than 2000 years.
Hometown of the most famous Jew in history, archaeological findings show that Nazareth was populated since the stone ages. One can see the influences in the eclectic architecture of many buildings in the old part of the city, which are a mix between European-style architecture and oriental arches and decorations. But it was the ottomans’ influence that left the most noticeable mark – especially when it comes to culinary traditions. The fusion between the rich Turkish cuisine and the local Galilee cuisine, was what made this city a culinary haven.
Boasting with history and authentic oriental charm, amazing traditional bakeries and tea houses, as well as modern day chef restaurants, and lively street life, Nazareth holds a promise for better and more peaceful life in our region.
In a city that embraces inhabitants from all religions, here one can actually experience the possibility of living together in harmony. Certainly when it comes to the fusion of cuisines.
So, as soon as some hotels reopened, adjusting to the new corona-era “normal”, we figured a weekend in Nazareth was as close to spending time abroad as we could get this summer, and made our way north to the Ramada Olivie hotel in Nazareth.
Nazareth is known throughout the region for the special cuisine which developed in the city throughout its very long history. In honor of their city’s culinary reputation, the Ramada Olivie Hotel, Nazareth, decided to offer upon reopening a new concept: an authentic culinary experience of the highest level. The special action-packed culinary packages are designed to attract local foodies, offering authentic culinary experiences which include rich and delicious meals in the hotel’s restaurants, tours of the old city cafes and markets, cooking master classes, tastings and much more.
The staff welcomed us at the entrance well prepared and ready – with masks, gloves and Alco-Gel wherever you look.
The Ramada Olivie Hotel Nazareth opened in the beginning of 2017. The hotel boasts 195 spacious rooms and suites, designed in modern comfort style that combines the oriental charm with modern day comforts. There are also an indoor pool, spa and gym, as well as sauna and whirlpool.
Located on top of the Nazareth mountain range, next to the modern part of the city, the rooms overlook the old city, offering an amazing view from each room, from the beautiful sun rise to the sweet sundown.
There are two restaurants in the hotel: the Locanda, a chef restaurant, and the hotel’s Saffron restaurant, which serves more traditional Nazareth cuisine, famous throughout the region, and for good reason. The rooftop bar, called Hedon, is where the hotel holds Chafla – traditional Arab parties, offering drinks, live music, and sometimes even a belly dancer.
Our room was spacious, comfortable and very clean, with a big and comfortable bed, a sitting corner, well equipped bathroom, bathrobes, an espresso machine, a porch and most important – a beautiful view of the old city.
We immediately poured ourselves a couple of espressos, and took them out to the porch with little baklava treats that were waiting for us in the room, courtesy of the hotel’s management. A perfect opening to a very pleasant weekend.
The hotel is always very clean, but these days it seems they never stop polishing and cleaning it constantly. “We do everything we can to protect our guests and our staff,” said the hotel manager, who seems to be on the premises all the time.
Lunch was served at the hotel’s Locanda chef’s restaurant, where the dishes were a fusion of local and Italian cuisines. We especially loved the dishes that leaned more to the traditional Arab cuisine, seasoned with the traditional Arab spice mixes, but everything was good, and we noticed that many locals come here as well.
The hotel seems to have a real following and during the weekend we met a few guests who told us that they have been coming here for some years now and “love it”. “We love the hospitality, the food, the cleanliness and we booked a room as soon as we heard the hotel reopened,” they told us. By the end of the weekend we became enthusiasts too.
For dinner we were invited to the hotel’s Saffron restaurant, where we also had our breakfast the next morning.
The rich buffets are now there but you cannot touch them. Waiting behind clear screens, you need to point to what you want and the waiter (or cook, hard to tell with masks and gloves), will serve you.
For dinner they served local delights such as a perfect roasted lamb, excellent kebabs and wonderful stuffed zucchini and vine leaves. There were also many local sweets that we could not stop munching.
Breakfast was no less rich and varied – with many egg dishes, pastries, both savory and sweet, fruit and anything you can think of.
For me the highlight of the weekend was the tour through the old city with an excellent guide provided by the Ramada hotel. The eloquent guide took us through the charming alleyways, introduced us to amazing local women who took upon themselves the task of bringing back life into the old streets, opening cafes which sell not only excellent freshly-brewed coffee and cakes, but also handicraft and memorabilia, a tour guide-turned-chef who restores ancient recipes that are unique to Nazareth, which she revives and teaches about and many more.
Another highlight was an Arak masterclass in which we learned about the drink and the different classes of Arak – who knew? As well as the Chafla – a traditional party that was held in the rooftop bar, complete with live music, belly dancer and lots of delicious Kanafeh, the kind that can easily compete in the race for the best one in Israel.
The Ramada offers a much-needed, unique and delightful break, especially if you consider yourself a foodie. Don’t miss it.
The Ramada Olivie Nazareth Hotel, 29 Derech Hazionut, Nazareth. For more information about the special weekends and special reopening rates go to www.ramadanazareth.com or call *9410. The hotel is not kosher.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.