Until about 2008, if you wanted to stay in Tel Aviv without slumming it, your options were limited to the hulking, ageing concrete corporate hotels lining the beach. Embarrassing, really, for a city so flush with style in art, design, food, and fashion.
But in the last eight or so years, Israel’s biggest city has been bringing its hotel offering up to speed and it has largely done so using two of its main international trump cards: art and design. But if contemporary creative work is vital to Tel Aviv’s cultural economy, history provides the superstructure. Thus the best of the new breed of luxury art/design hotels fuse old and new, turning buildings preceding the founding of the Jewish state into showcases for the artistic expression of its modern incarnation. Here are our top six.
A big white box on the beach-end of the central boulevard of Ben Yehuda Street, Artplus is part-hotel, part gallery. The lobby showcases well-known contemporary Israeli artists’ work via a partnership with the collector Doron Sebbag, including a giant chimpanzee sculpture parade called Evolution, by London-based, Yemen-born Tadok Ben David, and the mesmerising Desert Windows, Guy Zagorsky’s mirror-box of endless mounds of red sand.
Upstairs, each hallway is painted by a different artist in a different theme, using a mixture of materials, from wood to acrylic and Perspex, while a selection of rooms are also designed and decorated by a different Israeli artist. Book Meydad Eliahu’s room for a mural of Tel Aviv rooftops, painted onto a jagged layer of plaster resembling a crumbling wall and spread in parts throughout the room.
Ran Slavin’s Galaxy room, meanwhile, mimics a planetarium, down to tiny holes drilled into the ceiling which when illuminated make a delicious night sky. A rooftop terrace, with murals from celebrity graffiti artist De-de, has great views; when all the looking tires you out, seek refuge in the compact sauna and gym. Rooms from £150. atlas.co.il/art-hotel-tel-aviv
2. The Alma
The lobby of this rounded, olive-green building is dark; a single receptionist sits at a lonely lectern under two multi-coloured glass-collage sculptures. The door to her right is closed, but would normally lead to the hotel’s destination restaurant, soon to be reopened with a new, young chef from northern Israel in a plushly renovated dining room.
Up the dark stone steps lie the most startling rooms in Tel Aviv hotelry, full of abstract colour blocks and antique market and vintage shop finds. The oblong ‘checker’ room sports a bold black and white diamond motif on the floors, with the bed, desk, red velvet armchairs and Cyprus-shaded balcony at one end, and a copious bath (rare in Israeli bathrooms) and not one but two more balconies at the other, rounded end. The Egyptian room is full of Ottoman-themed motifs (rugs, bedspread, painting) and the ‘library’ room is lined with bespoke bookshelves and crammed with books, set against a violent black-and-white abstract wallpaper. Rooms can be a little noisy, but this is the city centre, ten minutes from the beach and five from Neve Tzedek, the Hampstead of Tel Aviv. Rooms from £200 per night. almahotel.co.il
3. The Norman
Housed in a pastel-blue converted 1920s apartment block on sedate Nachmani Street, The Norman opened in 2014 after eight years of painstaking renovations (the underground car park was particularly fiddly).
Owner Jonathan Lourie, society figure and founder/CEO of London’s Cheyne Capital Management, installed one of the world’s best rooftop infinity pools, the only other outlet of London sushi restaurant Dinings, a glossy French brasserie, a range of lavish penthouse suites and a cache of one-of-a-kind art pieces.
The result is a luxurious homage to an aesthetic that combines pre-War Germanic refinement, reflecting the modernist tastes of some of Tel Aviv’s early Jewish settlers, with a lavish commitment to Israeli contemporary art and food. The visual clout of the clubby, leathery Library Bar, for instance, comes from Josef’s Violin (Sigalit Londo, 2013), a fiddle doused in crystallised Dead Sea salt and put in a glass box on the wall. Meanwhile the soothing, marbled lobby is punctuated by a striking acrylic by Tsipi Givna, who covered Israel’s 2015 Venice biennial stand in used tyres, and a brash, multi-coloured light box by Etan Ben Moshe. Elsewhere plenteous wood, hand-painted tile and leather (Aspinal in the rooms) emphasises the core, ‘nothing-but-the-best’ aura of the place. Rooms £350-£650. thenorman.com
4. The Montefiore
There were no boutique hotels of note in Tel Aviv before the 12-room Montefiore opened in 2008 in yet another gorgeous 1920s residential building in the south-central district of the city. Well-to-do locals use it for power breakfasts, favouring the toasted challah bread with roast tomatoes and gouda, and Tunisian eggs.
Cocktail hour is also busy with the start-up crowd, and the Vietnamese-French restaurant draws in a cosmopolitan audience to partake in voluptuous dishes like thick salmon sashimi with avocado puree and sticky aromatic ribs.
Overnighters will find beautiful beds in rooms that feel like elegant libraries, with metal-striped Jasper Conran teacups, crystal glassware and flower-scented balconies, rather than swimming pool and spa, of which there are none. When it’s boiling outside, the high-finish jazz-age interior with its dark wood and leather is plenty cooling; but the Mediterranean, ten minutes away by foot, is another good option.
The Montefiore houses the work of well-known Israeli photographers in the hallway and in the rooms, including a poignant series called Divided Moment, by Daniel Tchetchik and Oren Izre’el, depicting events from two simultaneous points of view. Rooms from £260. hotelmontefiore.co.il
5. The Brown
Israel’s answer to Banksy is Pilpeled, a graffiti artist producing politically-charged black and white graphics, and his work ripples through the Brown. The hotel, which trades in a luxurious reading of the ‘faded glam’ of the 1970s (the clue’s in the hotel’s name), has taken the local art scene under its wing, hosting pop-up art stores and a weekly art party, Artstar, a collaboration between the hotel, the Tel Aviv arts council and galleries. Rooms include striking black marble showers and 400-thread count linens, and there’s a full-service spa and cute little rooftop. Rooms £120-£350 per night. browntlv.com
6. The Diaghelev Live Art Hotel
Don’t be put off by the corny suffix to this hotel’s name. Housed in the first building of Ha’aretz newspaper, this thoughtful set of 54 boho-luxe rooms is packed with eye-popping local art, a revolving exhibition programme and pieces showcasing internationally-lauded Israeli design.
Rooms are furnished with rugs, lamps, tables and chairs by local designers – all of which are for sale. If you need to get work done, downstairs is a members’ ‘hub’ for entrepreneurs, its comfy chairs, thick oriental carpets and extremely fast wifi designed to stimulate the creativity of ‘early stage start-up companies’. The Diaghelev’s current exhibition centres on the Negev desert, with photos, sculpture, paper and metal etchings conjuring artists’ memories of the expanse that was so central to Ben Gurion’s vision of the Israel in the 1940s. Airport collection, concierge service and bicycles are provided. Rooms £150-£420 per night. diaghilev.co.il