In with the new - and the old
From the moment of entry into Jerusalem's new boutique hotel, Mamilla, one is struck by an air of exclusivity and European chic. Valet parking, well-mannered doormen and service with a smile - even if there is some sort of complication with the reservation - are all a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of our busy capital city.
While those working in the hotel have obviously been trained to treat international patrons on a level they are accustomed to abroad, the most staggering aspect of the hotel is in its interior design. Courtesy of world-renowned architects Moshe Safdie and Piero Lissoni, the Mamilla Hotel, which officially opened on September 1 and is run by the Alrov group, also responsible for the shopping mall below, is simply a work of art and, perhaps, even a revolution in hotel design in Israel.
The spacious and airy lobby with its Italian minimalistic aesthetic is at once both modern and reflective of the history around it. Limestone walls reflect Jerusalem's classic architecture, and the open-plan communal areas allow a full flow of positive energy to fill every corner.
The two architects, who also collaborated with local designers, seem to have considered every detail both big and small. Although the furniture is neatly spread out, visitors can get comfortable on the lobby's couches or opt to sit in the espresso corner with a book or a complimentary newspaper.
A welcoming central staircase at the back of the lobby leads visitors either down to the dining hall or upwards to the wine counter, where drinks can be purchased by the glass or per bottle, and also to the intriguing and well-stocked Mirror Bar.
The openness of these communal areas is also featured in the hotel's bedrooms, even though the darkened hallways allow for a comfortable level of privacy with their dark wood dÃ©cor.
Doors are not numbered in the standard way but rather with the lettering painted on the floor outside - and that is not the only unconventional design choice of this hotel. Although not large, the use of glass and mirrors in the rooms helps lend them a sense of openness and spaciousness.
The most stunning feature, however, is undoubtedly the bathroom, which is housed in a glass case, allowing one to look out onto the room while using the facilities. A toggle, similar to a light switch, can automatically fog the glass for more privacy, although our guide advised us to switch on the "Do Not Disturb" sign whenever taking a shower.
Time spent in the overly modernistic bathroom reveals more hidden secrets. The bath and sink are square in shape, with the tub looking more like a coffin than a luxurious oval place to relax for a soak. And the shower is part of the glass room, with an oversized head pouring water down from the ceiling. Obviously, the French range of beauty products L'Occitane only adds to the quality of the place.
Talking about quality, now is the time to describe perhaps the most important feature of any hotel room - the bed. King in size, the Mamilla Hotel boasts 100% cotton sheets, enormous pillows for a really good rest and a mattress perfect for a great night's sleep.
Another feature of this hotel is the dimmer switch for the light, which allows guests to create the perfect romantic ambiance. The bathroom also offers mood lighting, a clear departure from the usual brightly illuminated hotel bathroom.
The mini-bar is also revolutionary to Israel. It isn't stocked in the usual way, and guests who fancy a nightcap in their room are automatically charged via a computer-generated message sent to the front desk. Certainly a step up from the old-fashioned honors system!
Mamilla doesn't end with the special features in the bedroom, however, and its eating experience is also worthy of mention.
The Rooftop Restaurant, with what is perhaps one of the most stunning views in the capital, is an exceptional dining experience. Located, umâ€¦ on the roof of the hotel, overlooking the Old City's Jaffa Gate and the Tower of David Museum, this kosher eatery offers one of the best steaks in the capital and a wide variety of wines and spirits. The staff is attentive, and it is definitely worthwhile to book in advance. Due to its location, the restaurant is not open during the winter months, closing down after Succot and re-opening after Pessah.
On the topic of food, one must also mention, of course, the breakfast buffet. Offering health-conscious and less healthy options, the breakfast fare follows in the footsteps of the hotel's chic. While many such buffets in Israel cater to gluttons, this breakfast bar is simple and classy, while not limited in variety.
The dining hall is spacious, like the rest of the hotel, and its huge glass windows open out onto a small sun-trapped courtyard, a sort of secret garden hidden in the madness of Jerusalem. A simple but perfect touch.
While the hotel is now officially open, there are some elements still in need of completion. The swimming pool, according to staff, will not be ready until the end of the year, as well as what the hotel claims will be Jerusalem's most comprehensive spa and wellness center to date.
A studio room at the hotel costs NIS 1,350 per couple a night, including breakfast. The exclusive suite, ideal for honeymooners, is NIS 13,000 a night, including breakfast.
The writer was a guest of Alrov Mamilla Hotel.