Hotel Review: Hotel Vital Tel Aviv

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I arrived in the small loby of the boutique business hotel Vital on a very rainy winter day of January. In Jerusalem the roads were blocked because of the snow – one, two centimeters are enough to raise the emergency level to unbelievable levels, exactly like the 30 plus Celsius temperatures in Germany, while in Tel Aviv, the Deliiah storm was putting trees on the ground. From the Central Bus Station, I just walked for 40 minutes and reached the hotel, part of a bigger mall and in the close vicinity of important medical centers. As it was too early for the check in and I may have been look prety pittiful after the long walking in the rain, I was invited to take a seat and relax at the 12th floor business lounge. Fresh pastry and juices, as well as coffee and free Internet were available and took my time to recharge but also have a look over the beautiful city.

Newspapers are also available and for the first time in a long time I had the chance to touch a print edition of Jerusalem Post. The hotel guests are also offered in the morning complimentary copies of the NY Times with Haaretz inside, in an elegant black and white badge…(Let’s keep the politics outside the gates of this blog,ok?)

As I would be explained later during my complimentary tour of the facilities, there are more opportunities to relax offered during the stay to this boutique business hotel: the 200 sqm fitness center can be used for free. Tours and airport transfers are also offered which make the stay even more enjoyable, especially if you are for the first time in the bubbling Tel Aviv and for a short stay and you want to parcimoniously use your time.

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The room offer is very diverse, and it answers practically every specific needs of the diverse tourists and visitors: single junior, executive room, executive room with kitchinette, club, family room, deluxe, superior suite deluxe, executive suite. The rooms are provided with basic facilities, among which a very fast wifi, electronic mini bar, TV, desk and work place, telephone and voice mail, safe, bath robes and sleepers. Laundry services during the weekdays are availble. In order to give the guests time to relax and enjoy their time, the payment is done upon checkout. Special facilities for people with disabilities are also available.

The diversity of Vital Hotel offer explains the diversity of guests: from diplomats to people coming for medical treatments or families with children.

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The rooms are simply decorated, with modern furniture and warm colours. It gives you the feeling of being at home, with all those small facilities and basic comfort that you need,especially if you expect to stay on the road for a long time. The design as such, too much IKEA-infused, did not impress me too much but the rooms are spacious and not over charged.

I enjoyed this homely feeling especially at the end of my day out, exploring the area around the Weizmann street where the hotel is situated. First, it is the mall nearby, with its many offers and coffee shops and small restaurants, all tempting you to stay more with their sales season. A couple of minute of wallking away, there is the famous Kikar Hamedina, with the most expensive houses and many fancy boutique shops. If you want more shopping, Azrieli shopping mall is also close. For culture lovers, Tel Aviv Opera House, Habima Theater – where extraodinary dance performances are regularly taking place, an advantage to taste arts without knowing the language – or Tel Aviv Museum are aso within reach. But most importantly for the business visitors, the hotel is in the vicinity of the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center or the Diamond Exchange. And if you love the sea, 5 minute away by car and around 30 by foot, you can relax at the beach, admiring the view while eventually sipping a glass of red wine.

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In the morning, the energizing breakfast, with a lot of good dairy products, including the very delicious cottage cheese which always tastes the best in Israel, and freshly made pastry put you back on the good track. Looking out of the window of the 12th floor, the view of the bold city that never sleeps gives you a lot of motivation and inspiration. The pleasant background music helps you to return to normal life, one step at a time.

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Before leaving, a last email checking and booking printing for the next leg of my trips. Everything works fast and I can do my things within minutes and spend the rest of the time till checkout touring once again the neighbourhood. Although I never heard about this hotel before spending here one night, given the big demand of accommodations in Tel Aviv and Israel in general, I am sure I will hear once again about it soon.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary stay and tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Magdeburg’s come back

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Magdeburg was one of the first cities I visited when I moved to Berlin seven years ago and at the time, I did the usual tourist checking: the Hundertwasser complex, the central old city with the city hall and the famous golden horseman, Technical and Natural Science and History museums. This time, I was back for another one-day trip, but without any travel focus, just for some work assignment. This how I discovered a different face of the city, off the beaten path.

20150819_111324(0)After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg was often quoted as an example of failure to bring the East at the same successful level with the West. The keywords often associated in the local media with this city were: unemployment – two digits till 2006, communist ugly Plattenbauten, neonazis and despair. Thanks to the smart subvention policy and the EU various fuding, the wisely used money was spent for infrastructure and education and from the Cinderella of the East, upgradet its status in 2012 as ‘Germany’s most dynamic city’.

20150819_112422Compared to Dresden and Leipzig, that are considered one of the most attractive destinations for both tourism and investments, where the prices for rents are slightly increasing, Magdeburg remains a good deal among the real estate investors. Especially the area near Neustädter See, close to the highway from Berlin, with many new apartments recently offered to rent. The precarious economic situation pushed many people to leave Magdeburg but in the last years, people from other part of the country and from abroad are moving here. Compared to many countries in the world, people in Germany prefer to rent instead of buying properties, with many people who never owned a real estate. Prices for rents are controlled by the state and in this particular part of Magdeburg, you easily find 2-room apartments for around 400 Euro. As for now.20150819_124204

The communist standard buildings were dramatically repainted and refurbished, and added impressive concierge services with cleaning services and other facilities included. But there are is another advantage that may bring people in this part of the city: the green area in one of the greenest cities from this part of Germany. The water sports facilities created around the lake, the new parks and restaurants as well as the advantages for families with children are also added to the list. Since 1993, the city also has its own university, the youngest in Germany, which brings in this area a lot of international students. Huge former industrial spaces were converted into business hubs for startups and engineering workshops.

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From the top of one of the highest Plattenbauten around, the buildings introduced to the real estate market as samples of the ‘1970s flair’ – I have enough communist memories to remember how flairless they used to be, boring buildings for grey people – are painted in happy colours, every block a buildings assigned a different colour. A young face to a city with history.

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The 1,200-year old city created by Charlemagne is changing his face and is getting back on its path to the future. Nothing stays the same and in a way, I am grateful that I had the chance to see this city besides the usual travel-touristic stereotypes.

Waldorf Astoria, the newest luxury jewel of Jerusalem

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Weddings in Israel are usually extraordinary events, with a high concentration of joy and warm with welcoming families, gorgeous outfits and lavish food. The choice of the location is usually a long process as everyone wants to offer the best one. And what can be hotter than Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, the chosen one even by Conde Nast as the best hotel in the Middle East?

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Long time residents of Jerusalem still cannot believe that this place, on Agron street, is finally more than an empty building about to fall. Initially Palace Hotel – the first ever luxury hotel in the Middle East – in the 1930s, property of the infamous Haj Amir el Husseini, it was purchased by the government in 1948 and turned into a building for offices. After being abandonned, the building was bought in 2003 by Reichmann family who invested $150 millionn in the refurbishing process. In March 2014, it was launched as the luxury hotel Waldorf Astoria, operated by Hilton Hotels and IPC Jerusalem. It is considered the longest restoration project in Israel’s history, but the results seem to be worth the waiting.DSCN0505

The architectural works were coordinated by Yehuda Feigin, who added to the original Waldorf Astoria standards a lot of Moorish, Arab or Roman influences. The fragility of the white marble is fixed with strength by the metal structures of the stairs, wrapped in the natural light entering from the huge windows.

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Etheral fragile glass presence, work of a team of glass artists that brought their materials from Czech factories coordinated by the local glass artist Jeremy Langford are bringing a touch of peace and serenity to the massive interiors.

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As in the case of many hotels of Jerusalem I had the priviledge to visit lately, the rooms are designed according to the highest modern standards – every guest is handled a tablet for checking emails, for instance – while keeping a classical ambiance.  Internet is available through both the public network and the special wifi offered complimentary in the rooms.

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Every one of the 226 rooms is an island of rest and peace. It suits both single and family travellers, with different price and standard categories. A slice of the lavish luxury from outside is brought in every room, either it is the chandellier or the delicate orchid flowers or the huge mirrors. The bathroom toileteries are signed by Salvatore Ferragamo.

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The atrium is the backbone of the hotel, aimed to bring the varied world of Jerusalem within the high walls brought together by the massive arches. Most of the artwork is local, as it is the inspiration. Couples dating for the first time are whispering their introductions near a cup of coffee or fresh juice, their emotions getting lost in the high ceiling. Who know how many of them will come back soon at the tiny reception asking for an appointment for renting a wedding location?

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The small octogonal marble atrium is organised around the special Waldorf Astoria clock. The flowers and the honey and brown colours of the upholstery are matching the reflexes of the watch. There may be many shadows in life, but we just need to see the good side of things…The clock, a Waldorf Astoria trademark, has 4 faces, with numbers written in Arabic, Hebrew, Roman and European style.

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Back visiting some of the rooms, I am notice so many small details, like this delicate glass lamp trunk that brings so much emotions in the corner.

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Following the local tradition, guests are welcomed with full heart and a generous bottlle of local wine. It may help to relax when preparing for a business meeting, for sure.

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Tired after walking the busy city, one can rest in the corner and watch the streets from under the fine and elegant curtain. Everything is set to be special in this hotel, with the smallest of the rooms being of 37 sqm, when the average is of 30 sqm.

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The more parts of the hotel I am discovering the more I feel like in a small city. Every once in a while you can rest and enjoy your time, surrounded by the games of light.

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At the beginning of January, the hotel is not very busy, but I am told to wait and see the time of the Jewish holidays of Pesach or Rosh Hashana when it is hard to find an available room.

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Sometimes, I feel like I am the guest in a huge castle, whose gigantic dimensions are made more human through the warm of art.

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One of the staples of the hotel are the glass chandelier, glittering like little diamonds, put together after days of work. The ballroom can host around 900 people, the right amount of guest to have to a wedding, isn’t it?

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On the way to any of the 12 meeting rooms, the warm colours of art can make you smile. It is also about emotions here, but the positive ones.

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When the natural light is missing, the combination of the chandeliers reflected in the mirrors and enlightened by the reflexes of carpets and walls create an universe where you expect wonders.

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About expectations and wonders is talking also the lobby art installation in the lobby, by Jeremy Langford, a metaphor of peace and hope.

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Either I stay on the old or the new side of the hotel lobby I start to feel at home. This city cannot exist outside history and the architectural solution implemented here brings together all the layers of history and influences that are part of the big story: Roman or Greek arches, Byzantine mosaique, massive marble columns, Oriental carpets, European glass, tailored furniture with exquisite upholstery or Turkish crafts.

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Even the nature from the hills around Jerusalem is brought, wild presences framed by the orderly lines.

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It is past the middle of the day and it is about time to stop the exploration and have a taste of the fine dining.

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The cheese raspberry cake accompanied by icecream not only looks good but it is also delicious, with a balanced mixture of fruity aromas.

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One of the most unforgettable impressions is left by the geometricall chocolate lava cake, also accompanied by icecream, but served warm. While going one more bite ahead, I cannot but think about how many changes these walls had seen and how there is always a hope for good. This, but especially the chocolate cake, qualifies me for a permant returning visitor status in this oasis of luxury.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usulal, my own. 

5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

Winter is really playing hard against my meteorological patience. The German winter one, famous for its negative temperatures – -13C a couple of early  mornings ago – and persistence – once upon a time, I lived to see snow in the happy month of April no less. True is that the summer was very hot this year and the cold season started really only from January. But anyway,  for someone like me, winter is synonimous with bad mood, ugly clothing and limited freedom travel. It also means more than one book finished the day, many coffees and a lot of blogging.

This time of the year I am usually out of Germany till February, in much warmer places, from where I nonchalantly post sunny images on my social media channels. There are many warm places waiting for me and promise to visit soon – anyone said Bahamas? or Cuba? or Zanzibar? -, but as for now, I made a short list of my favourites that I already had the chance to visit in the last years.

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon, and Portugal in general, is one of my pleasant European travel memories. I loved to discover the people, the great food – the wine and the morning pastry are unforgettable – and so many cities that can be visited for one day trips, such as Sintra or Porto. I stayed in the fancy area of Cascais, around 25 minutes by train to the centre of the capital city and I was very happy with my choice, especially after I discovered a very special museum of musical instruments. I went there in one December and I had only one windy and rainy day in almost three weeks of stay.

2. Barcelona, Spain

It is a very touristic and crowded place, especially if you plan to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, but for a change one can try to pay a visit to the South of France for this specific day and night and come back at the beginning of January for the rest of the journey. The Gaudi architecture is interesting enough to keep you busy for long days and there are a lot of food choices for every taste and budget.

3. Israel

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Outside Europe, and only four hours of flight away from Berlin with regular cheap flights every day, Israel offers everything: history, art, religion, beaches, great food, unique shopping, high-end hotels. Bonus: the warm weather. Last December, I enjoyed a couple of days at the beach or sipped my glass of red wine with a great sea view. Once in a while, there is a little snow coming up for a couple of days or minutes, but although everyone is welcoming the event with panic and fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. And if you really miss the snow so much, there may be even some ski options in the Mount Hermon area.

4. New Orleans, USA

How much I love this place! The jazz clubs hopping on Bourbon street, the feeling of getting lost in the middle of the houses with stylish iron balconies and the summer feeling all round the year. The food is special in comparison with the most part of America, with a lot of spices and wise dosis of French influences. What everyone visiting the city should do: book a riverboat tour on the one and only Mississippi.

5. Thailand

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My first winter escape at the end of my first year in Germany was in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok in the last days of December and the first hours I went through a thermic shock. In Berlin there were some minus degrees and in this city I was hardly able to breath because of the heat wave. Outside the busy Bangkok with its street food and night markets there are many things to see in the Northern region, from temples where one can book a bike tour to hiking, to fancy hotels with swimming pools and silk factories. The North has also cuisine based on fruits and vegetables. The prices are almost symbolical and you will hardly be alone during this time of the year, with many English speaking expats and tourists roaming around. The islands are usually high end destinations with gorgeous hotels and villas to rent, but if you are rather the secluded type, you better do an exhaustive research about where to find your peaceful paradise.

I told to myself more than once that I have one day to learn to ski, encouraged but the saying that you are never old enough to start practising this sport. My friends still hope that one day will finally buy the proper clothes for this weather and use this winter time for some unique trips instead of repeatedly complaying for months about the hard life under the Central European cold – you see, even my conversations are limited because of this weather! I also remember one beautiful winter I spent in Oslo, the first time since childhood when I enjoyed the snow and crispy weather. However, if you will ask me to chose between a sunny destination and one covered by snow, my answer will definitely favor the choice no. 1. After all, one can learn to ski at any age, isn’t it?

 

Pregnant on the road, some lessons learned

The last summer and the last year in general was not one of my best in terms of travel. Maybe it was the worst in the last 10 years. However, there was a very serious reason to spend more time at home, reading or writing, for instance, than on the road: the baby D. was on his way and I had to follow a strict travel diet. But the things were not as bad in terms of travel as it may sound. I did spend almost every weekend outside Berlin and I extensively updated my knowledge about the city, despite the high heat and swollen feet. I did went by airplane twice, at the very beginning of the pregnancy, and spent almost 24 hours from London to Berlin by car. I did not bike, because I usually do not do it in ‘normal’ times, but spent at least two hours every day hiking or walking.

Now, with baby D. almost four months old and ready for his first big travel adventure, I am ready to share some tips for any woman traveller about to add a new member to the travel team.

  • Before you decide any travel plan, consult with your physician. Based on your age, type of pregnancy and specific situation, the doctor can recommend what are the best ways to cope with your wanderlust. After all, your health and the wellbeing of the baby matter the most.
  • Especially in the last months of pregnancy, avoid long trips. Try to keep your curiosity satisfied by exploring the local museums and your neighbourhoud.
  • If your situation allows, try to walk at least one slow hour the day. Avoid extreme hiking though and chose instead slow walks on flat terrain.
  • Always wear verz comfortable shoes. I hated my feet in the last two months of pregnancy: swollen and slow. However, I put in the closed any fancy high heells or uncomfortable shoes and intensively used a pair of sport shoes that were ugly but easy to wear.
  • Avoid carrying big bags. During one day and a bit trip to London, I had a small backpack, with some essentials.
  • Make as many stops as possible. No need to hurry up, take your time and look around. For me, the nine months of pregnancy were a blessed time when I savored every single second, slowly and focused on the present moment.
  • Drink a lot of liquids, especially if you travel during the hot summer days.
  • Include as many foodie stops as you need. Usually, I started my trips with a short stop for a little piece of cake and a cappuccino and continued with a generous lunch. And maybe an icecream a couple of hours later.

This was my happy and generally uneventful experience. Any thoughs and tips to share by other young mothers travelers around?

1001 Nights at Mt. Zion Hotel in Jerusalem

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It is winter in Jerusalem and there are alarming news running on TV about the imminent coming of a serious wave of snow – to be read that will last maybe one, two days instead of a couple of hours. As winter is not my friend and the last place on earth I want to be bothered by snow is in Jerusalem, I dream about a warm place where I can forget about cold and other bad snowy news. At least for one night, Mt. Zion Hotel is the perfect choice.

DSCN0264I passed near the hotel many times when on my way back from the city center, but was never too curious to have a look inside. Now, I have enough free time for slowly walking there from the city center – around 30 relaxed minutes. It is situated very close from the lively Tahana Rishona, where regularly events are taking place, but also from the tasty and affordable restaurants in Rehavia. Although close to entertainment areas, it is very quiet and discrete.DSCN0265

As the check-in takes place around 14.00 o’clock, I still have time to admire the stylish metal furniture with comfy blue pillows and the old Oriental carpets. I try to move from a place to another, curious to test many vantage points. The hotel overlooks the Hinnom Valley, the old city walls and the David’s citadel and the historical Yemin Moshe area.

DSCN0279Everything is suited to bring you peace and relaxation. I instantly fell in love with the painted wood of the furniture and the mixture between delicate vegetation and metal works. I fill my time reading various leaflets with information about tours and other attractions in English, Russian, French or Spanish or having a look at the good looking cakes from the bar. The friendly reception personnel, fluently English speakers, can help the guests to make various reservations, including airline and various flight details confirmations.DSCN0282I reach my room through a maze of corridors leading to a small courtyard and a garden surrounding a pool. Once I open the door of my suite, I am exactly in the kind of room I am expecting to have when on the road for a long time. Smooth colours, moderately stylish interior, a lot of space to both work and rest and relax.DSCN0283The metal framed furniture is also present here, but the intensive presence of wood brings the ambiance in the room to a more feminine, easy to cope with presence. I am in love with the colourful glass doorknobs of the close. I instantly find my place to the working table and happily start using the advantages of the very fast Internet – as everywhere in Israel, listen to that, dear Germany…Working in a space without windows is not necessarily my favourite type of office though.DSCN0284However, I can move with my laptop in the living room or on the balcony, but I am afraid will be too distracted to work by the beautiful view. The inviting bottle of red Yarden wine – one of my favourites – or the crafted cakes and fruits as well as the arabesques of the tables will be too disturbing. So I better go back into the windowless room to have some work done fast. DSCN0286

The rooms are fully equipped with everything you need in your modern life: big TV screen in the main living room and another small one in the bedroom, phone, hair dryer, tea and coffee making facilities, personal safe, air condition in every room. The doors lock automatically upon closing and everything makes you feel safe and relaxed. The beautiful smell brings you back to the world of 1001 Nights.

DSCN0288For longer or more family oriented stays, the kitchen offers the chance for preparing healthy meals. Out of the 137 rooms of the hotel, recently refurbished, 38 are Deluxe and family oriented, out of which 11 do have a balcony. The mini fridge can accommodate enough food for a couple of days. By request, a crib can be offered to families traveling with infants. Babysitting service is also offered. DSCN0296The Moroccan sink of the bathroom is another episode of the Oriental nights, with scents of lemon soap and various fine toiletries. DSCN0298A day in Jerusalem, either as a local or as a tourist is never easy, so spending time in the balcony and admiring the view is an inspired choice. Otherwise, those with more time can book a relaxing hammam stay or a spa treatment. The outdoors swimming is open from April till October.DSCN0304After going out to one of the many restaurants of the Tahana Rishona or Rehavia, the sweet treats from the room are the happy ending of the day. Bite after bite, I like to look more and more around in the suite, trying to figure out all the small details of the interior design. It seems that there is a duel between different strength of strong materials: stone, leather, metal, wood. Every single details is well balanced and harmonized by the choice of colours.DSCN0310In the morning, I woke up in the sound of the birds. The ecological and ergonomical pillows took a good care of my dreams and I feel fresh for a fresh start into the day. Just another beautiful day outside is waiting for me. Clearly, there is still a chance that there will not any winter in Jerusalem.DSCN0317Soon, I have to leave my secret retreat for the night, and I want to have one more look around my suite. These big walls were used since the end of the 19th century, at the beginning as an eye hospital. Mount Zion (Har Zion) is used as a hotel only in the last two decades, but it seems that the various redesigns brought the best from all worlds, with a lot of facilities and exquisite furniture and decoration choices for the guests.DSCN0319The breakfast helps me to forget that very soon I have to leave everything behind. The welcoming Israeli breakfast is waiting for me, with a mixture of various fruits and vegetables, fresh juices that can be made on the spot, traditional shakshuka. even cheesecake. For the summer mornings, the buffet can be tasted on the outside terrace. During the day, the restaurant and bar near the reception offers various special easy local meals, such as salmon filets, cheese plates, Greek and haloumi salad, falafel, kubeh or hummus as well as fresh sandwiches.DSCN0321

It is time to say ‘good bye’, but after such a lovely and welcoming stay, I plan to go back to enjoy some more spa and wellness one day. The sooner the better!

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary night at Mt. Zion Hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own