Admit it, ladies. When you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, “Eat Pray Love,” there were moments when you wanted to trade places with Gilbert as she gorged herself on Italian yummies, mined her soul in an Indian ashram and fell in love with a strapping Brazilian in Bali. But if you have a Zionist bent like me, you probably would rather spend your money in the Holy Land.
Fortunately, the Jewish state can provide an “Eat Pray Love” experience without the Jewish guilt. Israelis are consumed by wanderlust, importing the best of what they find in the tastiest, most spiritual and most romantic places in the world.
For authentic Roman coffee, there’s Caffe Tazza D’Oro in Neve Tsedek, Tel Aviv’s oldest and most European-esque neighborhood, with its pastel-colored apartment buildings, quaint alleyways and boutiques. Named after the Roman cafe and coffee roaster, Caffe Tazza D’Oro is the only Tel Aviv coffee house that serves the Roman brand. The menu isn’t purely Italian, but the basil-topped linguini is a near-perfect match to the kind Julia Roberts slurped in the film.
From Caffe Tazza D’Oro, take a walk toward the Mediterranean to Mitcham HaTachana, a new and popular outdoor shopping and entertainment center built on an abandoned Mandate-period train station. As part of their homework, the owners of its Italian restaurant, Italkia B’Tachana, created their own “Eat” experience by blogging about their trek through Southern Italy eating with the locals and trading recipes. Their pizza is inspired by the pizzerias of Naples, the city to which Gilbert credits much of her weight gain.
For the perfect dessert, try the Neve Tsedek branch of the award-winning Anita Cafe, “La Mamma del Gelato.” Anita, the mother of the proprietors, prepares the raw ingredients for the mouth-watering flavors while her son, an ice-cream maker since age 9, churns the milky delights daily. Before deciding, sample the flavors — including halva, napoleon, kinder bueno, pistachio and pavlova.
Caffe Tazza D’Oro, Ahad Ha’am 6, Tel Aviv, (03) 516-6329; Anita Cafe “La Mamma del Gelato,” Shabazi 25, Tel Aviv (03) 517-0505; Italkia B’Tachana, Koifman 2, Tel Aviv, (03) 522-2664, italiantlv.co.il.
While its daily meditation may not be as gruelingly long as those the “Eat Pray Love” author describes, Desert Ashram in the Negev is an Indian-style destination for a journey of spiritual cleansing.
Tamir Kimhi, a former Tel Aviv media personality, studied with the late mystic and guru Osho in Pune, India. After becoming his disciple, Kimhi took on the Hindi name Rafeek and decided to bring Osho’s philosophy and practice back to Israel, building a spiritual retreat center on the grounds of a former Nahal military settlement one hour north of Eilat.
The journey to Desert Ashram begins with the descent into the heart of the Negev, past Bedouin camps and the Ramon Crater. Walk in and you’ll be greeted by relaxed men and women who will inspire you to trade in your city clothes for loose pants and dresses – or, if you’re there for their annual nudist festival, nothing at all. The ashram hosts healing workshops most weekends and a variety of festivals, including a Yoga Festival, Laughter Festival and its famous Zorba Festival, which features a potpourri of classes — on meditation, health, yoga, sex and love — and lots of parties. The grounds include outdoor zoolas, a meditation hall, a therapy room and mess hall, where people chow down on vegetarian meals sitting Indian style on the floor.
Guesthouses and camping grounds are available for short-term and long-term stays, but for the ultimate “Pray” experience, try WOMP (Working Meditation Program). It’s like a kibbutz for grown-ups: For $10 a day, you get to work, eat and meditate.
And if you’re concerned about feeling some Jewish guilt about heading to an ashram, don’t worry — alternative Shabbat services are conducted every Friday.
Desert Ashram, Shittim, (08) 632-6508, desertashram.co.il.
Too bad Indonesia isn’t friendly to Jews, otherwise there might be more of a taste of the true Bali, where Gilbert found love, in Israel.
The Golan Heights, located far away from traffic and the stresses of city life, is the closest Israel gets to the feel of island life. Overlooking Lake Kinneret, it’s a prime destination for a romantic getaway and home to some of the Israel’s best tzimmers, country-style bed and breakfasts.
Many tzimmers (based on the German word for “room”) are designed with an exotic or ethnic theme, like the Out of Africa boutique inn at Had Nes.
The two-story wooden lodge consists of three one-bedroom suites and four one-room suites designed with African overtones, including canopy beds and African masks, alongside modern luxuries like flat-screen TVs, kitchenettes and, of course, hot tubs.
The upper decks overlook Lake Kinneret. A delicious continental breakfast is served under wicker umbrellas and palm trees alongside a lagoon-shaped pool. A homey wooden spa on the premises is equipped with a Jacuzzi, treatment room and sauna for those who want to continue the meditations of the ashram with a little more style.