Middle Eastern monastery hospitality

Set high above the Old City of Nazareth, the St. Gabriel hotel enjoys a great position with stunning views of the town.

View from St. Gabriel hotel 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
View from St. Gabriel hotel 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The idea of spending the weekend in a converted monastery may not sound like everyone's idea of a good time, but at the St. Gabriel hotel in Nazareth, which was once a fully functioning monastery, it means family hospitality and great service in a spectacular location.
Set high above the Old City of Nazareth, St. Gabriel enjoys a great position with stunning views of the town famed as the place where Jesus lived as well as the rolling green countryside beyond.
Upon arriving for a recent visit I was welcomed by Nizar Tzipori, both hotel manager and a member of the family that helped turn the deserted monastery into a charming hotel.
St. Gabriel is not a luxury hotel and doesn't claim to be. Instead, the Tzipori family offer typical Middle Eastern hospitality in a warm and welcoming environment.
After checking in, I walked down one of the two wings of the impressive building and up a short flight of stairs to my room for the night. At first the room seemed small and bare, but on closer inspection it was more than satisfactory with everything necessary for a pleasant stay. The bed was large and comfortable, there was ample storage and closet space, and most importantly there was an impressive view of Nazareth from the large window. Despite the simple, slightly dated design, the room had a number of 21st century features such as free Wi-Fi and satellite television.
Despite running a busy hotel, Nizar took some time out to host me in the lobby in true Middle Eastern fashion with tea, baklava and stories about the history of the building and how his family came to run the hotel. While converting a monastery into a hotel is no easy task, Nizar explained, his family took on the challenge and worked hard to retain the building's original character while converting it into a comfortable environment where visitors to relax.
It was soon time for dinner. Nizar met me in the recently-built restaurant which served what he called "Middle East fusion," a mix of traditional local dishes that incorporated culinary twists from Europe and beyond. If the view from the bedroom was impressive, the view from the restaurant was nothing short of spectacular.
The friendly waiters took care of every small detail, from loading the table with various salads to making sure my glass was always full. One of my favorite examples of the Middle East fusion was the chef's signature dish of steak stuffed with local cheese and goose breast.
After sampling some traditional knaffe for dessert, I, along with all the other guests at the restaurant, were treated to some unexpected post-dinner entertainment. It turned out that former president Yitzhak Navon and a group of his friends, including authors and performers, were also staying at the hotel and the lively group proceeded to recite poems and sing songs for all to hear.
Stepping out from the restaurant to the main building of the hotel was a little uncomfortable as it was a particularly cold and windy that night, but it was an absolute delight to step into the warm and cozy room, which had been equipped with a power heating system.
St. Gabriel is not a luxury hotel, so those expecting a grand breakfast such as the ones found at many hotels in Israel may be disappointed. Just like the rooms, the breakfast is of a high standard without being over-the-top or excessive. It's a shame that I visited in the winter because when the weather is warmer, breakfast is served on the extensive balcony that overlooks the whole of Nazareth.
Every Saturday the hotel organizes a guided tour of the city if there are enough people interested. Even though there were slightly fewer guests than usual, Nizar arranged it so that the tour would still go ahead as planned, demonstrating once again the family's commitment to upholding their standard of warm hospitality.
The walking tour, which lasted just under four hours, included many of the main sites in Nazareth, ending at the city's star attraction - the Church of the Annunciation. The local tour guide was extremely passionate and knowledgeable, detailing the history of Nazareth, relaying personal stories and even taking our small group inside private houses of people that he knew.
Before I knew it, it was time to return to my city life in Tel Aviv. Even though it was a short overnight stay, it was long enough to gain an appreciation for traditional Middle Eastern hospitality and a sense of the fascinating city that may seem world's away but is made familiar by the exceptional hospitality and ambiance at the St. Gabriel Hotel.
For more information and reservations see stgabrielhotel.com