THEY say you’re either a Tel Aviv or a Jerusalem person. Jerusalem is everything Tel Aviv isn’t: ancient, hilly, and, above all, deeply religious. No doubt about it: Jerusalem is an utterly different proposition to the rest of Israel, but even if you like to lounge about in the sun in your bikini sipping the country’s Goldstar beer and don’t believe in God, there is an undeniable magnetism and beauty about the Holy City.
There is also, fundamentally, a grandeur to Jerusalem, its hallowed sights, its gorgeous dusky stone and of course, the densely packed, hotly contested history. No landmark is more grand or more associated with the city’s modern identity than the King David Hotel, set upon a hill overlooking the Old City, as integral a part of Jerusalem as the Knesset (parliament). Most famously, the King David was bombed in 1946 by the extreme Zionist group Irgun as a response to a British attack on the Jewish Agency – the British mandate had their offices in the hotel.
Anybody visiting Israel on a state visit goes to the King David and if you’re a famous pop star you go too; likewise a model, film star or oligarch. Its enormous, plush lounge areas, sprawling and elegant terraces (overlooking a capacious swimming pool and tennis courts) have hosted hundreds of world leaders. When we were there, top level conversations between Baltic premiers were taking place and the security detail was impressive – in fact, there are few hotels in the world with such security and their expertise is evident in its discretion. At the entrance there is only a smiling bellboy and concierge, clad in jaunty suits (or so it seems).
Stately credentials and security aside, it’s a gorgeous hotel. The lobby needs a bit of modernising, some of the doorframes, paintwork and wood on the front desk have seen better times. But the rooms are resplendent. Mine opened onto a terrace with the garden underneath and looking out on the Old City, with its battlements and hills, bathed in golden light. At sunrise and
sunset the Jerusalem stone turns the most beautiful dusky pink and you feel a glimmer, even if fleetingly, of why people become so passionately attached to the city. Inside, there is rich brocade on the bed and walls and a dark, elegant sofa and table on which fruit and dates are laid, along with a bottle of wine.
The hotel is a behemoth: if you’ve got the cash (or you’re just very, very important), there are penthouses and suites that boggle the mind. Naturally the food is good (above all, kosher), though you would dine here to enjoy the terrace and to people watch – not, perhaps, for the cuisine, which can be bettered elsewhere in the city.
Passover (6-14 April) is a unique time to visit Israel; Jews from around the world descend and Jerusalem in particular will be intense and vibrant. There are a few new hotels in Jerusalem that offer something more hip and modern, but in a city like this, grandeur and history will never go out of fashion, whether you’re visiting for a Jewish holiday or not.
The Leading Hotels of the World (00800 2888 8882) offers stays at King David Jerusalem from $530 (£335) per room per night based on two people sharing including breakfast www.lhw.com/kingdavid. For Passover, LHOTW offers stays from $700 (£441) per room per night including breakfast.