Escape to Tel Aviv
Lynne Coates visits Tel Aviv’s latest urban hot spots
W ho knows when we will be able to travel again – unrestricted and without a care in the world. But what I do know is that when that moment comes you should make Tel Aviv a top priority.
It was my last press trip before we were all grounded, and I was completely blown away by the sheer energy and galloping development of this most exciting multicultural city.
I wanted to rediscover Tel Aviv, having not visited for several years, and from the rooftop bar of my hotel it was clear to see that cranes have become the new ‘birds of the landscape’ with skyscraper buildings shooting up in every direction.
Known as ‘start-up city’ TA has the highest rate of technological start-ups in the world and is a global hub for innovation. We were staying in The Savoy, a bijoux contemporary boutique hotel, perfectly located just a short walk from the beach and within easy walking distance of most urban city areas. After a typically huge Israeli breakfast, we met up with our Tourist Board guide, Karl, who had a comprehensive knowledge of architecture and history, and a limitless repertoire of risqué jokes! He took us on a walking tour of some of the oldest and regenerated urban neighbourhoods.
We started at TA’s famous Carmel Market, where they sell everything from fruit and veg, Middle Eastern pastries and spices, to clothes and electrical stuff. On the way through I had to stop for an irresistible freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and delicious pastry! Leaving the market, we continued to Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighbourhood to be built outside the old city port of Jaffa. Many of the original buildings have been renovated and now house avant-garde boutiques, craft and jewellery shops, restaurants and cafés – a lively and delightful area to explore. From there we headed up to the ‘White City’, famous for its original Bauhaus buildings, and Rothschild Boulevard, one of Tel Aviv’s first and most iconic streets, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists and locals alike love to stroll or cycle along this tree-lined avenue. During the day it’s the place for an alfresco coffee or lunch; by night it’s packed with people heading for trendy bars and cutting-edge nightclubs. It is said the city is more exciting at 2am than at 2pm.
Surrounded by new contemporary apartment blocks and skyscraper office buildings, Sarona is one of TA’s newest hotspots. Originally built as a German Templer Colony in 1871, it became a British army base, then an Israeli government complex. Now the original buildings have been converted into shops and restaurants, surrounding a central park, one of TA’s 52 official urban nature zones. Sarona market is a great attraction, a wonderful food emporium and eatery, with every kind of cuisine on offer.
To the south of the city, HaTachana, the renovated old Jaffa railway station, has become one of Tel Aviv’s most sophisticated public spaces. Retaining part of the original railway track, the station house, freight terminals and railway cars have been converted into cafes, restaurants, and a diverse range of contemporary shops. It is a popular backdrop for fashion shoots, wedding videos and films. We ended our day with dinner in Vicky Christina, one of the most popular restaurants in HaTachana, serving great Israeli-style tapas. Tel Aviv has gained an international culinary reputation, with top chefs coming from many different cultural backgrounds, creating innovative fusion food. Whatever kind of food you like, you can be sure to find it in this city, and, of course, the best falafel and houmous – food heaven!
Florentin and Old Jaffa
The next day I was looking forward to discovering one of the most exciting newly regenerated urban areas, Florentin, in the south of the city. Less expensive than some other parts of TA, it has become popular with students and musicians. Graffiti has transformed the facades of old buildings into alfresco galleries, creating a fascinating urban street art scene. This is a vibrant and authentic area to explore – I loved it. Nearby, the old city of Jaffa has undergone a makeover, whilst maintaining its ancient buildings. Interiors have been converted into contemporary art galleries, craft shops and innovative restaurants. Its original flea markets are still popular with locals and tourists alike. Jaffa port, one of the most ancient working ports in the world, is where you will find great fish restaurants and lively bars.
Tel Aviv is known for its energetic beach life, voted by National Geographic as one of the top ten beach cities. The promenade runs along the sea front from Old Jaffa through to North Port providing an ideal route for exercising, which is something Israelis take very seriously. People use the promenade for walking, jogging, cycling and as an outdoor gym. Down on the beach all manner of activities take place, from Yoga, to paddle tennis, kite surfing and volleyball. Numerous beach bars, with chairs and low tables bedded into the sand, is where people gather to meet, drink and eat, especially at the weekend. If you like quiet beaches then head further up the coast, but if you enjoy people watching, TA’s beaches are simply the best!
On our last evening we ate at Manta Ray, a well-known fish restaurant on the beach. A delicious mezze of starters was followed by a huge fish course, washed down with copious amounts of wine, and yet more of Karl’s jokes, as we watched the magnificent Tel Aviv sunset painting the waves with vivid red hues. Of course this dynamic city has so much more to explore. I have to return. Next time a culinary tour will be on the itinerary!
It was the festival of Purim when I visited in the beginning of March. Everyone gets dressed up in bizarre costumes – it’s a bit like Halloween on steroids! TA is known as the ultimate party city, but this takes it to a whole different level! Street parties and bars are literally jammed with party goers – totally crazy! a fabulous time to visit the city.
There are many walking tours with guides available, though the city is easy to navigate. You can also tour on click & release bikes, available to pick up around the city, using a smartphone app.
We flew Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to Tel Aviv: www.virginatlantic.com
For Savoy Tel Aviv: www.savoyhotels.co.il