Strike up a conversation about mending body and soul in Israel and the conventional wisdom is to talk up the wonders of the Dead Sea and the hotel spas situated along the banks of its mineral-rich waters. Although there are several high-quality spas in the Dead Sea region, a growing number of upscale inner-city, beachfront and country hotels across Israel are also offering a wide array of soothing spa experiences, which rival almost anything the Dead Sea has to offer.
Ran Bibi, manager of Inbal Jerusalem Hotel’s Health Club & Spa (inbalhotel.com), says that over the past decade there have been three shifts — cultural, geographical and spiritual — that helped widen the focus of the spa tourism business in Israel.
Culturally, he said, “Many local Israelis found a way to open up more free time in their busy daily lives. This was the spark which led to the fitness and health club craze in Israel.”
From a geographic standpoint, he said, “The Dead Sea is not the only natural mineral-rich phenomenon in Israel. From Hamat Gader in the North, to Kibbutz Ga’ash near Tel Aviv and Hamei Yoav close to Ashdod in the South-Central region, local residents discovered naturally occurring hot mineral springs and built successful spas around them.”
And “the spiritual aspect was spurred by Jewish and Christian tourists who maintained that they were aware of a special energy in the Holy Land that couldn’t be found anywhere else,” Bibi said.
Foreign tourists clamored for physically invigorating experiences in Jerusalem, Tiberias and other religious areas, he said. “Originally, they asked hotels for yoga and meditation classes. Then came the health clubs, which spurred the development of trendy spas among high-end hotels across the country. From a business point of view, hotels have also discovered that adding health clubs and spas to their menu of services generates significant income.”
|A variety of spa packages are available for visiting tourists; prices may vary over the course of the year. It is best to compare prices via the hotel Web sites. Then, call your local travel agent to ask about special deals for couples, families or business executives. Some hotels are inclined to offer higher discounts when booking a direct online reservation. Individual spa treatments (which usually include a massage or facial) vary from 30 to 60 minutes, and range in price from $50 to $175, based on time involved and type of treatment.|
Bibi, who also teaches a spa management course at the Wingate Sports Institute in Netanya, has propelled the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel’s spa to a level where it has achieved membership in the prestigious International Spa Association.
“A sizable number of our guests from the United States like to order a massage or facial right before a major holiday, so they can enter the festival feeling a sense of rejuvenation in the Holy City,” he said.
Located just outside the entrance to the Old City, the new spa at the nearby posh David Citadel Hotel (thedavidcitadel.com) complements the facility’s popular health club and swimming pool, which has hosted political luminaries such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who were able to work off some of their diplomatic stress.
Diversity of Experiences
The Tamares Hotel chain (tamareshotels.co.il) is able to offer its guests either a Dead Sea spa package at the newly refurbished Daniel Dead Sea Hotel or an Asiatic-themed 24 hour “chill out” experience in the Shizen Spa, a unique facility located adjacent to its upscale Daniel Hotel complex along the Mediterranean shore in Herzliya.
“The Shizen Spa was created about five years ago in response to a lifestyle and culture change that now prevails in Israel and in the United States. It’s no secret that people are seeking a quick time-out from the stress they endure in their daily lives,” said Oshrat Yoav, Shizen Spa’s general manager. “Many tourists who come to the Daniel Hotel for a week or two of sightseeing in Israel book an add-on, one-night stay at the Shizen Spa that radiates a completely different atmosphere than the Daniel, which is family- and business-oriented.”
Maria Sharapova, one of the top tennis players in the world, was a recent guest at both the Daniel Hotel and Shizen Spa.
Yoav says that the spa prides itself on being a leader in new massage trends, including “hot shells,” in which a therapist uses shells from the Philippines to gently massage the body.
“Our other advantage is that we are located next to one of the country’s trendiest malls, so people can relax in the daytime and then go out shopping in the evening,” he said.
The Daniel Dead Sea highlights two levels of spa experiences, with mineral baths, Jacuzzis and a health club on one floor and private treatment rooms featuring a variety of massages, reflexology and mineral-rich Dead Sea facials on another.
“This is the place where many business people also come to relieve their stress, without completely disconnecting from their world,” a hotel spokesperson said.
The Tamares chain also sponsors holiday-themed festivals for local and foreign tourists that feature international celebrities. British pop icon Paul Young performed at the recent Tamar Sukkot Festival on the Dead Sea’s Ein Bokek Beach, attracting nearly 10,000 fans.
Isrotel (isrotel.co.il), which boasts 13 very different hotels across the country, offers a variety of spa packages for tourists, including the critically acclaimed Carmel Forest Spa near Haifa in Northern Israel, the therapeutic Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel, and the state-of-the-art Bereshit Hotel in Southern Israel’s Mitzpe Ramon.
Nestled in a lush green forest, the Carmel Forest Spa features dozens of beauty spa treatments, activities and workshops designed to offer key lifestyle-changing tips for body and soul, as well as gourmet kosher cuisine with an accent on healthy menus.
The resort’s pampering and stimulating packages have earned it a variety of international kudos. SpaFinder magazine named the Carmel Forest Spa the Middle East’s No. 1 spa resort for three consecutive years (2006-08).
The Isrotel Dead Sea Hotel is also a vital link for tourists who wish to pamper themselves with a variety of spa treatments, invigorating sunshine, and peace and quiet.
Bereshit, the Isrotel hotel chain’s newest branch, is due to open at the end of 2010 amid the beauty of the Ramon Crater (Mitzpe Ramon) in the Negev region, which bears a resemblance to the Arizona desert. The new 112-room chalet-style hotel, which has been built into the natural terrain, will allow guests to enjoy jeep treks in and around the crater (a geological anomaly created by an inland ocean millions of years ago), rappelling and a variety of outdoor activities. The Bereshit’s spa will offer an array of personalized body treatments, featuring minerals and plants found in the surrounding desert region.