Jerusalem, one of the world’s oldest and most enchanting cities, attracts more than 3.5 million tourists annually. Visitors are richly rewarded with a unique spiritual experience and a mesmerising insight into a colourful kaleidoscope of history and culture. With a turbulent past, which continues to this day, Jerusalem is considered to be a sacred site for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.
Architectural finds unearthed in the area known as the City of David reflect signs of human settlement dating back to the 4th millennium BC. The towering walls, surrounding the Old City, were originally constructed by the Israelites in the 9th century BC and rebuilt in the 16th century during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Caliph. The Old City, which is divided into Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters, was recognised as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Jerusalem offers an extensive choice of places to stay but for those seeking a spot of high end pampering, the luxurious David Citadel Hotel, located on King David Street, is within walking distance to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate entrance and it’s just the ticket. This property offers the largest bedrooms in Jerusalem and I was most fortunate to be allocated an elegant junior suite measuring 47 sq metres and featuring a furnished terrace overlooking the Old City.
Sumptuously furnished with oak parquet flooring, a chic lounge area and an ultra comfortable bed swathed in crisp, white linens, it was the perfect sanctuary. The spacious bathroom, furnished with Carrara marble tiles, includes a large bathtub and separate shower and, for those of us with a penchant for high end brands, a generous selection of BVLGARI bathing products.
Up with the larks the following morning, I headed for Seasons, one of the hotel’s many stylish dining venues, where the extravagant buffet includes a wide variety of delicious breads, cakes, fruits and salads, hot dishes and delicious fresh fruit juices. I must admit that I still managed to indulge in two sweet pastries and, feeling a trifle guilty, I made my way to the fabulous outdoor swimming pool. After a few strenuous laps in the 28°C waters I had every intention of planning my diary for the rest of the day and swiftly succumbed to a mid morning snooze on a comfortable sun lounger.
Guests residing in the hotel’s suites are welcome to take advantage of the lavish executive lounge, which presents hot and cold light dining options throughout the day. I selected a few dainty sandwiches and a scrumptious lemon tart along with a piping hot cup of tea. Then it was time to head outside and I made my way to the Temple Mount in the south eastern section of the Old City.
Known to Muslims as Al Haram A’ Sharif, Temple Mount is the location for two of Islam’s most sacred places of worship, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is also the site of the First and Second Temples, revered by those of the Jewish faith. The view of the exterior of the Dome of the Rock, which features 5,000 shimmering gold plates, donated by the late King Hussein of Jordan, is simply unforgettable. This site is revered by Jews as the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and for Muslims it is the place where the Prophet Mohammed ascended into Heaven.
The nearby Western Wall, which supports the outer section of the Temple Mount, is where the Second Temple once stood. Judaism’s most sacred site for prayer, this is where worshippers recite scriptures and it is believed that prayers written on small pieces of paper, which are inserted into the cracks between the stones, will take precedence.
I then headed back towards the Jaffa Gate entrance to view the spectacular King David open-air sound and light show at the Tower of David.
The inner walls of the ancient citadel present a wonderful display of colourful cinematography and music, which depicts the fascinating story of David; the shepherd, poet, warrior and musician, who emerged as the founder of Jerusalem and King of Israel. The audience was enthralled with the spectacle and the electric atmosphere was enlightened by joyous outbursts of spontaneous applause. The experience was simply unforgettable.
Later in the evening, while exploring the area around my hotel, I came upon a very popular restaurant. Primitivo, located on King George Street, is the ideal spot for casual dining and it was buzzing with locals and visitors alike, while a stream of young and trendy waiters balanced various dishes emanating enticing aromas. I ordered the succulent 300g entrecote steak with roasted potatoes, zucchini and garlic confit, which was served with aplomb, and accompanied by a glass of 2012 Flam Noble, the flavours were enhanced to another level.
The following morning I realised that there was so much more to see and do and decided to extend my stay. I checked into the Eshel Suites located on Even Yisra’el Street, a stone’s throw away from all the action on Jaffa Street. I opted for a spacious two bedroom apartment with a furnished balcony, which was the perfect spot for my morning coffee. The apartment features a large lounge with a dining area and a contemporary kitchen with every appliance including a washing machine and each and every gadget needed to whip up a breakfast. After a comfortable slumber and a revitalising shower I was ready to delve again into Jerusalem’s history.
I hopped on a local bus and entered the Old City through the Lion’s Gate and walked along the Via Dolorosa, also known as the Stations of the Cross. As I made my way through the myriad of narrow cobble-stoned alleyways crammed with market stalls, displaying every kind of colourful trinket and souvenir imaginable, the magnificent façade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre appeared. Christians consider this church to be built on the site of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, and within the church are the last five Stations of the Cross.
A small chapel, which is accessed by a winding, stone staircase, is the site of the 10th Station, which is where Jesus was stripped. The 11th Station, behind the wall, is the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross and the shrine features the most exquisite mosaics. The 12th Station, the Rock of Calvary, features a Greek altar, ornamented in Eastern style, and it stands over the place where Jesus and the two thieves were crucified.
In the bedrock, beneath the altar, is a large crack, caused by an earthquake on the day Jesus died, and visitors are welcome to touch the stone. The 13th station is where the body of Jesus was anointed after his death and the 14th Station is the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection and Christendom’s most sacred place. It is clear that this site offers a true spiritual experience and the atmosphere is all encompassing.
In the late afternoon I embarked on a leisurely stroll along Jaffa Street; a pedestrianised main thoroughfare crammed with little shops, restaurants and bars, and as the trams whizzed past at regular intervals, I spotted a stream of people entering the Machane Yehuda Market.
This is the hub of Jerusalem’s community, a maelstrom of colourful stalls with fruit, vegetables, nuts, dates and spices piled high and the enticing scents of fresh breads, cakes and biscuits waft in the air. I purchased a few plump avocados, bananas and pomegranates and then sat down at a juice bar where I was soon engaged in conversation with a few locals, who recommended lunch at the Sea Dolphin, a family owned restaurant, which was established in 1967.
That afternoon I wandered along Shim’on Ben Shatakh Street and spotted the Sea Dolphin, busy with locals dining alfresco in the sunshine. I ordered a platter of seafood, which included shrimp, calamari, crab, mussels in garlic and white wine and, served with a chilled glass of 2016 Shoresh Blanc, it was an exceptional dish. Striking up a conversation with a group of my fellow diners I proposed a toast; ‘Mazel tov Jerusalem, and thank you for a wonderful experience’.
Top tip: Flights
Fly from Luton, Stanstead and Gatwick direct to Tel Aviv. For more information visit easyjet.com
Top tip: Accommodation
Top tip: Attractions
For a wonderful family day out visit Jerusalem Zoo, one of Israel’s most popular attractions, which is non-profit making and family owned with education, research and conservation at its heart. For more information visit jerusalemzoo.org. And for more information on the King David Light Show at the Tower of David visit tod.org.il
Top tip: Markets and tours
Experience the tastes of Jerusalem’s markets including The Old City and the Machane Yehuda Market with a Yalla Basta Bite Card. For more information visit yallabasta.com. And for tours focusing on religion, the Bible, archaeology, history, adventure, nature, culinary activities and cultural exhibitions take advantage of a reputable and reliable local tour operator. For more information visit genesis-boutique-travel.com or call +972-2-6765868
Top tip: Wine tastings
The Covenant Israel Winery is the Israeli arm of the renowned Napa Valley boutique winery of the same name. Covenant produces premium Israeli wines from select vineyards located in Upper Galilee. The Tel Aviv tasting room is located in the chic Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and provides private wine tasting in an intimate setting with a beautiful view overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. For appointments and more information contact covenantwines.co.il
Top tip: Travel accessory
GoStyler is the world’s first cordless blow-dryer that re charges in only 30 minutes. Features include an LED indicator and dual heat and cool mode for sleek styling. Weighing 1.5lbs it’s much lighter than a traditional hair dryer. Usage time is 78 mins (cool), 35 minutes (low heat) and 16 minutes (high heat). For more information visit buygostyler.com