By LINDA LIPSCHITZ
Not that we have had a bad winter - in fact we had a very mild winter - but still, basking in the warm sun seemed a long way off.
So it was with great expectation and enthusiasm that I set off for a weekend at the Dead Sea. Invited by the Prima Spa Hotel at Ein Bokek for a"'women only" theme weekend, I was high on adrenalin and anticipation.
Leaving buildings, noise, pollution and traffic behind, the desert welcomed me only 15 minutes by car from Jerusalem.
The barren and rugged landscape was calming, bright and soul cleansing. Bediun shepherds going about their business, seemingly without a care in the world, sheep and goats on the hills. A totally different world opened up and I started to relax.
I opened the car windows, allowing in the warm desert air and enjoyed the scenery until after a leisurely hour-and-a-half drive the Ein Bokek oasis came into view. This tourist and therapeutic complex is well laid out with every hotel signposted, making it easy to reach your destination.
The Prima Spa is a separate part of the Oasis Resort with its own entrance, parking area and reception. Parking is a problem but plenty of staff are on hand to help you squeeze into that "no parking" space.
Upon checking in, patrons are informed that this is a non-smoking, no-cell phone hotel and no children under the age of 18 are allowed.
A vision of a peaceful time sprang to my mind. Then, that dreaded sound: a cell phone rang. Turning round, expecting to see the offender pounced upon and escorted out by security staff, I saw it was none other than a staff member talking to her child.
Waiting for my room key, I surveyed the surroundings. The reception looked out onto a large patio where guests were sitting and yes, smoking and talking on their cell phones. Oh well, this is Israel, after all.
A reception was being held in the large, comfortable light and airy lobby for the many women on this "get away from it all" weekend.
Fresh fruit juices, varied fruits, breads and jams, were available buffet style and presented a good opportunity to mingle and get to know one another before the evening schedule.
Refreshed, it was time to unpack and explore my room. Spacious, clean, light, airy and comfortably furnished the only drawback being the small window which you literally had to stand in front of to enjoy the spectacular sea view.
None of the rooms boasts a balcony, which is a great shame as all the rooms are sea-facing. The en-suite bathroom has a personal jacuzzi and dermatologica products to pamper yourself with - and I did! Boy, did I come back clean and scrubbed.
Buffet breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to noon, which is a great innovation. The dining room is never full or noisy, there are no queues at the various stations and platters are refilled on a regular basis meaning food is fresh and hot no matter when you choose to eat.
The same goes for dinner from 6 p.m. till 9 p.m. The cell phone ban seemed to be enforced in the dining room and it was a pleasure to see people actually talking to one another for a change. Tea and coffee making facilities are in all rooms for that first cup of morning coffee.
The Moroccan style decorated Spa boasts a heated dead sea water pool, jacuzzi, both wet and dry saunas, Haman and personal sulphur baths.
The promotion photos are a little misleading making the place look much larger than it actually is. Whatever, even though the hotel was full, the place was never crowded. Dedicated hours exclusively for spa club guests is probably the reason.
Adjacent is an advanced fully equipped fitness center. A range of massage and body therapies are available, including special treatments for couples.
Discussing the cost of treatments, which I found rather high, many of the other women participants remarked that they were lower than other hotels in the area.
There was such a busy, sophisticated program planned that there was hardly time for the treatments anyway. An evening movie, cocktails at the spa, gypsy music in the lobby, seminars on self-awareness, fashion, makeup, yoga and pilates courses and a wonderful women-bonding evening in a Beduin tent on the shores of the dead sea complete with fruit, wine and desserts.
Kudos to the organizers. The beauty of a weekend like this is that you can do whatever you feel like doing, either join the seminars or not, use the spa, work out, sunbathe with a good book, swim by the outdoor (clear water) pool or cross the road and float in the Dead Sea itself. Be as busy or as lazy as you like.
The solarium on the seventh floor of the hotel is reserved for people with psoraisis and other skin problem and medical tourism mainly from Europe.
Guests come for at least a month to reap the Dead Sea's benefits whereas, for Israelis, it is only a few hours drive from anywhere in Israel and we can do so all year round..
Complimentary tea infusions are available round the clock in the lounge, daily papers are also delivered to rooms.
Upon requesting an English-language week-end paper, reception said they would do their best. Friday morning arrived and a Hebrew paper was delivered. Before I could even enquire, every staff member I encountered on the way to reception informed me that no English papers had arrived but they were "doing their best."
An hour later, a beaming receptionist told me that The Jerusalem Post had been delivered to my room. And there it was, in a Steimatzky bag.
Other Prima hotels in the chain can be found in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat and Tel Aviv. Different theme weekends are planned at various hotels during the year at no additional cost to the usual hotel rates.
The writer was a guest of the Prima Spa Hotel at Ein Bokek.
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