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. 

King David Hotel Jerusalem, the full taste of history

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Jerusalem is overwhelming due its heavy mixture of history, religion and politics, but there is also a different way to get to know the city, through its special luxury locations. Where, of course, between two sips of high end tea and morsels of gourmet food one can also learn a lot about historical facts, figures and events. Out of many places I’ve visited in Israel, nowhere suits more this description than the King David Hotel. When it was opened in 1931 after almost 10 years of hard work, the construction made of the local limestone, was partially owned by Ezra Mosseri, a director of National Bank of Egypt.DSCN0372The interior design details were slightly changed since then, keeping the old Oriental charm in the carpets or wall glass decorations. The dark corners are an invitation to discretion and peace, outside the always busy outside world. Special visitors enjoy usually the quietness of the reading room, with its cakes, coffee and teas.DSCN0398In a place where high profile political figures, from Margaret Thatcher to Clinton family or Nicolas Sarkozy or the current American president or King Abdullah I of Jordan or many others, were always at home here, every object has its own history. For instance, this massive wooden table, where the peace with Jordan was signed that was especially traveled on to Cairo. If the wood would have the gift of talking, how many news will provide…And over the last century, the hotel assumed its high profile and VIP status. Which had a price to pay sometimes, as it happened in July 1946 when the British headquarters hosted in the Southern wing were the target of an attack.

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After the Six Days War, two additional floors were added, offering a perfect view over the Mt. Zion and the old City of Jerusalem. The hotel went regularly through various design lifting, but the original style was always maintained. Some hotels may change dramatically from an era to another, but King David always remains the same, outline the representatives of the company that guided my visit from the lobby to the top of the building. Nowadays, the hotel is part of the Dan Group Hotels, which decided to keep the spirit of the place, operating minimal changes at various levels, but using almost the same type of materials.

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At the beginning of January, there is the best time to book a room, as there are not too many visitors on the way, except the regular, faithful guests. The hotel has its own portfolio of customers, that keep coming here over and over again over the years. Like the Douglas Family (the Kirk and Michael, of course) who always stop here for a shorter or longer stay. The rate of returning guests is around 50%, and most part of the year, the hotel is fully booked.

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The outdoor pool, the biggest of this kind in Jerusalem, is ready to be used two weeks before the Jewish holidays of Pesach – around April – and is open till the mid-November. The beautiful big garden offers a great relaxation oasis, but also enough space for children to play. Especially during the big Jewish holidays, the hotel is usually booked in advance and various family events are hosted all round the clock.

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When the weather does not allow the outside wanderings – meaning that there are only around 10C -the special gourmet restaurant, with outstanding French touch offers a delight to the senses. At the beginning of the last year, I was invited to have a taste of the high-end afternoon tea, an innovation among the hotels in Jerusalem, which impressed even a very selective person as me.

DSCN0380For children, there are special babysitting services offered, unique gifts and tailored meals. From weddings – of up to 250 persons attendance – to various special events – like bat or bar mitzva – parties, the space can suit every special needs. There is even a special synagogue that can be used for unique occasions. The only condition is to make a reservation many months in advance, as the demand is very high. DSCN0387The wine collection has almost everything an expert and wine lover would expect. Enough to test and taste for a couple of years from now on. The prices are usually affordable, allowing also local people to have their unique moment of glory here.DSCN0388

The Regence meat restaurant is asking for a special extensive tasting experience, and the menu list where I spotted various kosher lamb veals and goose liver meals, regularly changed up to season or the gourmet preferences, makes the imagination wander far far away in the world of delicious foods. For the night owls, the Oriental Bar is open daily from 17 to 00 o’clock.

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Moving from a space to another is like visiting both a museum of history and a classical arts and design location. The current view is the result of the hard work of Adam Tiani, commissioned to do various changes into the structure and outlook of the rooms also.

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Special business oak room is available for hosting private dinners or business presentations, being provided with the latest facilities and technology, including free wifi and space for special projections. The old historical sepia or black and white paintings are here to remember how past, present and future should always stay connected. For the corporate clients, members of the Corporate Club, there are special facilities and discounts offered. The hotel also has a private parking place.

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High-end modern facilities are also provided by the fitness space. Outdoors, the tennis grounds are offering even more options for a fit stay at the hotel. There is also a ping pong space and a hammam for a relaxing ending of the sport practice.

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As in the case of the lobby, the rooms have an Oriental touch, with warm colours and simple combinations. 130 rooms are maintained in the typical old style, with a view over the old city of Jerusalem. If the lobby evokes the reminiscence of the old Egyptian or Syrian influences, the rooms were little by little oriented towards a more residential and business outlook. The silks of the curtains and the velvets of the bed covers are creating powerful impressions and a special mysterious ambiance.DSCN0423The diversity of the rooms and suites offered answers a big  is big and especially the big families with children are given a lot of choices. There is the Jerusalem Suite and the Royal Suite, the President and Deluxe Suite, the Executive and various Duplex suites. The views are different, but there is hardly a view that can be considered ‘bad’ in Jerusalem, as every corner may have its special history and special memories. For those interested to find out more, the hotel can book special tours made by recognized experts.

DSCN0429All the rooms are provided with wifi and at the top floors, the tv set is inserted in the bathroom mirrors. Sliding panels can extend or separate the spaces, in order to . A special concierge service is registering the requests of the customers before arrival trying to offer the best expectations. “Our customers, some of them frequent guests for over 30 years, know what they want. We just want to offer answer their demands”, I am told by the representatives of the hotel.DSCN0430There are at least 6 volumes of signatures of the famous guests of King David Hotel. From private political meetings to VIP family gatherings and film shooting – Exodus was filmed here in 1960 – this hotel has a lot of stories to tell. The secret of its survival despite various hotel trends and fashions and boutique temptations: building a brand and keeping the stories in. Like the city of Jerusalem itself.

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