By E. JOSEPH BLOBSTEIN
Looking to get out of the cold and immerse yourself in a relaxing environment without having to travel as far afield as Eilat? A solid choice is the Daniel Hotel at the Dead Sea and its Shizen spa, which offer the opportunity to unwind in a perpetually warm and always welcoming atmosphere.
Tired from the winding road from Jerusalem, my wife and I arrived at the Daniel towards evening and immediately noted the unusual decor - the entire middle section of the hotel is a deep shaft, 10 stories high, to be exact. Although it could have lent the entry area a sense of expansiveness, this design choice actually makes the limited space seem cramped to a certain extent, dwarfing the reception desk in the process. The lobby, with its array of seating options, is a little off to the side and not immediately visible.
The glass elevator that whisked us up to our room on the ninth floor was swift and to the point, but the view, for those not enamored of dizzying heights, can precipitate an onrush of giddiness. Once securely in our quarters, however, we appreciated the tasteful design that served up a mixture of old and new. There was a retro-looking couch in one corner of the room, offset by a flat-screen TV on the wall and augmented by a wealth of fluffy pillows on the bed and towels in the bathroom. The tub, we both agreed, was a little on the small side, as was the bed, which, made to fit snugly into the narrow space while allowing comfortable passage, was undersized (anything over a six-foot frame will leave your toes dangling).
We decided to check out the VIP Club Lounge on the ninth floor and found it to be comfortable and (we assumed) conducive to doing business. We settled down into the comfortable chairs while sipping beer and sampling the spread, which was tasty and diverse, although some of the cheeses were a bit on the stale side - we were the only ones there so we assumed they may have been sitting out for a while. The choice of reading material was impressive, although a copy of The Jerusalem Post was conspicuously absent.
After a short rest we decided to venture down to the dining room for dinner and noted the nice choice of foods offered at the buffet. When we sat down and began eating we agreed that the fare was good, if nothing special. The option of getting beer on tap was welcome, as was the possibility of sitting outside by the pool - the romantic atmosphere is conducive to conversation and makes the meal experience all the more pleasant.
Back in our room, I was very disappointed - my wife to a lesser extent - to learn that, contrary to what the brochure stated, the channel offerings did not include the Sports 5+ channel, which broadcasts the games of Maccabi Tel Aviv in Europe, a regular staple of many Israelis' Thursday evenings, even for those of the journalistic persuasion. However, to my delight, a quick phone call later, I was informed that the game would in fact be screened at the hotel's pub on the ground floor. Problem solved. While waiting for the game to come on, my wife and I checked out the full-sized bowling alley that the hotel offers, along with ping-pong, pool, video games and air hockey.
Watching the game with fellow die-hard fans in a genuine Irish pub atmosphere without having to leave the hotel was a pleasurable experience, even if the outcome wasn't what we were hoping for.
The following day, we descended for breakfast and, rather than eat with the masses, dipped into the restaurant to take our meal in more intimate environs. The option of forgoing the messroom experience for the smaller restaurant, where entrance is allowed only from age 16 and up, was much appreciated, as was breakfast itself. On offer was a wide range of tasty morsels, including eggs, salads, jams and a delightful pudding. We enjoyed it thoroughly.
Sadly for us, we had to leave early and could not spend much time at the Shizam spa. We did poke our heads in to survey the facilities, though, and found them more than adequate for the purpose of a lengthy unwinding. The hotel also lists an impressive array of treatments that, loyal to the area's special attraction, incorporate Dead Sea minerals and muds. The spa includes a large Jacuzzi and a Turkish bath, as well as a dry sauna and a steam room. We really wished we could stick around and while away a lazy afternoon in the heat of the hammam and the cool of the pool.
Also noteworthy are the wealth of activities in the area, including a wide range of hiking trails, in addition to the more obvious options of Masada and Ein Gedi. Now is the time of year to explore the striking jagged landscapes of the Judean Desert sans the blistering heat of the summer months. And maybe, if you're lucky, you can even catch the breathtaking spectacle of a flash flood bringing some much-needed rain from the Judean Hills to the receding shoreline of the Dead Sea. Come on down.n
The writer was a guest of the Daniel hotel and spa.
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