Promoted as more affordable, more intimate, closer to the center and with less traffic jams than the North, the western Negev boasts its own version of Israeli hospitality, complete with some of Israel's most beautiful scenery and quiet, out-of-the-way places. Depending on your budget and aesthetic inclination, there are a variety of tzimmerim (guest houses) to choose from; some accommodate couples only, and some provide room, board and activities for the whole family.
Our first visit was to Kesem Hamaga (The Magic of Touch), a spa and resort in Moshav Talmei Yosef that offers relaxing spa treatments - including facials and a variety of massages (prices range between NIS 220 and NIS 300 per hour, NIS 400 for tandem) - alongside two beautifully decorated cottages. For NIS 400 per couple per night during the week and NIS 500 per couple per night during the weekends (not including breakfast, priced at NIS 100 per person), guests are greeted with wine, coffee and cake in a minimalist and meticulous Japanese-style house. The bathroom includes a Jacuzzi, and there is a dining area and separate bedroom. Breakfast is served on the porch and comes in a basket filled with various cheeses, olives, croissants, fresh bread, fruit, juice and coffee. In the spa, soothing Japanese music plays softly, and the dÃ©cor is, again, minimal and clean with no overwhelming colors or odors and an emphasis on the use of smooth stones and water.
If you prefer the charms of the Middle East over the Far East, Armon Bahol (Castle in the Sand) is a Moroccan heaven. With six suites including one with handicapped facilities, and each with access to a private garden, a large air-conditioned Moroccan tent where guests eat breakfast and a vast courtyard, these grounds would put the hottest villa in Casablanca to shame. Almost all the furniture and dÃ©cor is imported and the designers and owners, Shlomo and Hiniya Madar, stayed faithful to true Moroccan interior design - right down to the colorful mosaic bathroom and kitchen sinks. Armon Bahol would make a great place for a small henna party. And for NIS 700 per couple per night on weekends and NIS 650 during the week, you can even sleep on Egyptian cotton sheets with a high four-digit thread count.
For a more child-friendly stay, Hama'arav Ha'ragua (The Calm West), also in Moshav Talmei Yosef, offers a horse ranch where the horses are not against being petted, a covered outdoor pool and a variety of board games and toys are on hand. There is even a large hammock in the courtyard I imagine many children fight over. The owners, Anat and Ilan Turjeman, former Tel Avivians, built the whole place, including the three cottages, their own house and the horse ranch themselves, which took them six years. The cottages all have a wooden structure and can accommodate up to six people. Dogs are also welcome and facilities to house horses are available, should one choose to arrive by pure horsepower. The Turjemans charge NIS 350 per couple per night during the week and NIS 500 during the weekend and NIS 80 per child. Breakfast is an additional NIS 100 per couple and NIS 30 per child; it is prepared by Anat, who serves homemade cheeses, jams, olives and bread. The grounds also have a Beduin tent, which serves as a sort of lobby where the Turjemans' guests can hang out and chat.
For a much more intimate experience, Hanissim Shel Hachef (The Chef's Miracles), owned by Nissim and Shosh Magiya, offers just one guest house. It is beautifully laid out, complete with Jacuzzi and decorated with scented candles and soap and where guests are greeted with light refreshments. This place is not for children as the suite's kitchenette, bed and Jacuzzi are all in a shared area. If the name didn't tip you off, Nissim is also a chef and in addition to offering a guest house for NIS 500 per night on weekends and NIS 450 per night on weekdays including breakfast, for another NIS 130 guests are treated to a three-course dinner in Nissim and Shosh's "restaurant" - which is basically an extra bedroom inside their house in which they placed three tables and 12 chairs. It is charming, but you would have to be in the mood for company other than your partner; this couple loves to entertain... and talk.