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April 10, 2013

Beresheet Hotel: A Desert Dream

http://www.jewishjournal.com/travel/article/beresheet_hotel_a_desert_dream

The five-star Beresheet has a breathtaking view of the Ramon Crater, a geological landform that extends for miles. Photo by Elyse Glickman

The five-star Beresheet has a breathtaking view of the Ramon Crater, a geological landform that extends for miles. Photo by Elyse Glickman

The two-year-old, five-star luxury resort not only raises the stakes for Negev Desert tourism but also puts visitors in touch with the Israeli south’s past and future.

When the Beresheet hotel opened for business two years ago in the Negev Desert, Israeli President Shimon Peres was reported to say at the grand opening gala, “For me, this is a dream come true. As I travel a lot in the world, I can tell you this is the Taj Mahal of Israel.”

Except the five-star Beresheet has one thing that the Taj Mahal doesn’t: a breathtaking view of the Ramon Crater, a geological landform that extends for miles.

The view is only one of the “wow” moments at this resort that not only puts the emerging community of Mitzpe Ramon on the map, but straddles the ancient and modern worlds at once. Architecturally, this is literally true; at certain times of the day, the structures of suites and rooms almost resemble a gold chain winding around the hills. 

The resort takes its name from the first word of the Torah, which means “the beginning. “ It’s own genesis goes back to Isrotel founder David Lewis, who is widely credited for helping to transform Eilat into a destination resort. Interested in building something that would help make the remote Mitzpe Ramon into a tourist hot spot, he invited Peres, a friend who at the time was prime minister, for two visits, according to Sylvie Cohen-Gabay, general manager of Beresheet.

Lewis proposed he could open up a property that would provide jobs and other economic opportunities to the community. A few weeks after that, the concept, originally a four-star hotel, was hatched, and the budget was initially 100 million shekels.  When funds to support the ambitious undertaking rose to 220 million shekels, the property plan was reconfigured for a five-star hotel.

In order to make Beresheet stand alone as an entity that could literally spell the beginning for Mitzpe Ramon’s emerging community, Lewis traveled to resorts around the world, from Morocco to Thailand. He visited  other five-star resorts in areas that were not highly developed that found unique architectural and aesthetic ways to tap into the natural, unspoiled appeal of its surrounding geography.

While the locale might be described as “God’s country,” inside the building, no detail of a perfect civilized vacation is overlooked. Unlike many of the resorts in the Dead Sea region, the food is on a par with top Jerusalem and Tel Aviv destination restaurants. Most of the ingredients are painstakingly culled from local farms, collectives and purveyors like Kornmehl Goat Cheese Farm. The guest rooms and suites are luxuriously appointed, and most boast heavenly views.

The five-star Beresheet has a breathtaking view of the Ramon Crater, a geological landform that extends for miles. Photo by Elyse Glickman

The hotel offers early-morning photography lesson hikes, empowering guests to capture the drama of the location for posterity. The outdoor yoga classes are as breathtaking as they are restorative.

There is also a wellness aspect to the experience, and Cohen-Gabay explained that the room amenities and products used for the spa are, for the most part, fashioned by local companies. In other words, there is a “here” there. 

Staying at this resort, whether you are an adventure traveler or a luxury enthusiast, puts visitors in touch with the soul of Mitzpe Ramon, which is just starting to come of age as a community and population center in the Negev. Cohen-Gabay says the environment can’t be duplicated within Israel or elsewhere. 

“The whole Beresheet philosophy encourages people to go out, see the crater and experience elements of the environment that will make their stay different from anything they experience in Israel,” she said. “To make the destination as attractive to locals as to visitors, we are working with local businesses to pick up in developing the area where the government left off.  More needs to be done to develop this as a tourism area, so our mission as a hotel is to bring our region up to a higher standard. When we source local products for the Beresheet experience, everything is crafted by hand, from meals to amenities, which appeals to both the locals and luxury travelers.”

Ramon Crater and the Negev are fertile territory for extreme sports, including hiking, biking and power walks. Those less athletically inclined will find plenty to see and do among the area’s historic sites and fossils, wildlife, wineries, cheese farms and alpaca farms. Furthermore, the concierge service can arrange a variety of activities such as a jeep safari, cooking classes, wildlife tours, group bike rides, helicopter tours and even day trips to Eilat. 

While there are no theaters or boutique shopping a la Tel Aviv, Cohen-Gabay points out that when you come to this resort, the point of it is to get you back in the thick of nature. She says that Beresheet is ideal for conventions, as attendees tend to stay close to the resort and are more inclined to take advantage of group activities and guided excursions.

Management has instituted all kinds of eco-conscious practices to ensure that the last great frontier of Israel is lovingly cared for. While the cheeses on their expansive breakfast buffet are sourced from local cheese farms, barramundi fish are farmed in the area along with cherry tomatoes and other vegetables from organic facilities. The hotel has a complex trash separating system to whittle out oil, paper, plastic, glass and food waste. Oil goes to industry or a safe place for removal. 

Although most of the visitors come from within Israel and from Europe, and many of those visitors are non-Jewish, Cohen-Gabay predicts the number of U.S. visitors will increase in the coming years. In their first year of operation, they were fully booked well in advance for Passover and the High Holy Days.  Additionally, they have played host to a handful of bar mitzvahs and weddings. One bar mitzvah family staged the actual ceremony in the crater.

“I believe Americans will discover things about the Negev and be moved by them in unexpected ways,” she said, “perhaps forever changing any preconceived notions they may have about the Negev beyond Ben-Gurion University, whose technologies and programs have helped local businesses serving the hotel grow and create interest in their products among people living outside Israel.” 

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