Very much in need to get away from the daily grind, we decided to escape to a boutique hotel and spa set in the Birya Forest above Hatzor, Bayit Bagalil.The place became kosher a few years ago, and there is a special arrangement whereby visitors are welcome to stay until after Shabbat at no extra charge. For us, as for many guests, this is an important factor, as some hotels have been known to turf out their observant guests in the middle of Shabbat or to charge extra.The writer was a guest of the hotel.Bayit Bagalil PO Box 33, 10300, Rosh Pina Tel: (04) 680-8200 Prices from NIS 1,600 for half-board, depending on the season.After a leisurely drive to the North, we arrived and were immediately shown to our suite – a very large, attractive, newly decorated room with a sitting area, a dais with an extremely comfortable queen-size bed and two windows, giving an uninterrupted view of the surrounding forest. The adjoining bathroom had its own Jacuzzi and every possible cosmetic cream and gel one could hope for.Once unpacked, we strolled around, taking in the studied rusticity of the place, which was built 15 years ago as one of the first boutique hotels in the country.Tali Nevo, the manager whom we met later, told us that the hotel was first envisaged by a Herzliya architect who designed the long, low building to blend in with the surrounding forest. Built of Jerusalem stone with arched openings, the design produces a very relaxing atmosphere, which is the raison d’etre of the place.Fresh flower arrangements are everywhere in the hotel. The delicate smell of herbal teas pervades the guest areas, and the whole place exudes an air of unhurried elegance.Out in the extensive grounds, fountains gurgle, and one can see the hotel in all its beauty, with a line of arches reaching to the impressive front entrance, conceived as a rustic chateau offering a carefree getaway from the stresses of daily life.Inside, the décor is equally soothing and appropriate. The rough stone floors are covered with ethnic carpets, cream-and-black easy chairs with matching curtains, a huge old marble fireplace and an antique wrought-iron fire screen strike the right note. I loved the odd pieces of furniture cropping up in unexpected places. The decorators must have scoured the auction houses of England and sent back huge containers. I had never seen so many Edwardian hall-stands in one place. To add to the genteel atmosphere, there are many artworks – paintings and sculptures – on display, which can be purchased.The hotel has a wellequipped spa with the usual gym, sauna and Turkish baths and a full-size outdoor pool. Many treatments are available, including the Bayit Bagalil special, which can be enjoyed in a curtained gazebo high in the forest but still within the estate.Although I did not experience this treatment, it sounds amazing. For NIS 595, you get an hour and a half of being smeared with oils and creams, massaged and pampered. Hot stones on the back help the creams to penetrate. The more conventional treatments cost NIS 240 and up. We both enjoyed a soothing massage in the very relaxed atmosphere of the spa.As well as being a relaxing spa retreat, Bayit Bagalil is a good starting-off point for touring the area. Besides the well-known attractions of Safed and Rosh Pina, which are only a few kilometers away, not very far is where Honi Hame’agel is said to have produced the miracle of the rain and is today a place of pilgrimage.“There is a special spiritual atmosphere in this part of Israel,” says Nevo. “Since it is the burial place of many sages, the area has acquired a holiness that appeals especially to the observant, and that is one of the reasons Bayit Bagalil became kosher,” she explains.One of the most popular sites is in Amuka, a few kilometers from the hotel. It is an ancient site and the burial place of the sage Yonatan Ben-Uziel, a student of Rabbi Akiva’s. As he never married, he has become the address for people seeking their soul mate, and his tomb has become a place of pilgrimage, popularly known as the Valley of Love.For the less spiritually inclined, there are many outdoor activities close to Bayit Bagalil. Kayaking, jeep touring, rafting and ATV driving are all within easy reach.Nevo says the hotel is available for events, and often families reserve all 26 rooms for a wedding or bar mitzva. It is also possible to go there for a one-day experience, which includes breakfast and lunch, the spa with a treatment and the pool. The cost for this varies according to the season, but on average it’s good value at NIS 1,600 per person.But if it’s a relaxed and peaceful holiday you are after, just stay put at Bayit Bagalil and enjoy every soothing moment. The welcome is warm, the rooms are luxurious, and the food is excellent.