WOW!!!! 2019 has been an INSANELY busy year for us here in Israel.
Tourism figures rose 10% year on year, and the momentum is set continue in 2020.
These are exciting times, and at Pomegranate we are rapidly developing our product to stay ahead of the curve. Below our founder and CEO Hannah Blustin shares some of 2019’s highlights and our outlook for 2020.
Best new tours:
(1) Pioneer Kibbutz Experience: I recently visited the much overlooked and off the beaten track Tel Amal kibbutz heritage site and was blown away by the new experience they have developed. Tel Amal was the first kibbutz to raise a ‘choma and migdal’ (stockade and tower) defense, later adopted by many of Israel’s fledgling kibbutzim especially around border areas. This heritage site relates to a crucial and fascinating period in the history of Israel, too often insufficiently emphasised on Israel tours. While we are excellent at focusing on Biblical, Roman and Crusader times, as well as current day geo-politics, we could be putting a heavier focus on the period leading up to the creation of the State of Israel, and its early years, including the kibbutz movement. For me, these topics are especially relevant and intriguing in today’s increasingly individualistic and consumer orientated world. The kibbutz movement was at its core idealistic, and those who built and defended kibbutzim lived radical lives. They attached to their idealism so strongly that they completely turned their lives upside down, leaving Europe and everything they knew to come to an unknown, malaria ridden and hostile place, in order to build communities founded in socialism and a state founded in Zionism. Tel Amal’s state of the art interactive experience allows those of all ages to appreciate what life was like for these pioneers, including the hardships they chose to take on, and the dogged determination they exhibited to make a reality of their dreams.
Anyone seeking to understand Israel’s history or present – including the Startup Nation – needs to understand this narrative.
(2) Feminism in the Arab Home: For those looking to engage more deeply, there is no substitute for home visits with articulate and knowledgeable hosts willing to engage in non-superficial conversation including around controversial topics. This year we have put considerable effort into developing our network of such hosts particularly within the Arab sector, both Christian and Muslim. Although each host comes with their own perspective – both personal and political – we have chosen strong and charismatic women who we consider to be feminists on some level, though they might exhibit that feminism quite differently from Western women. What these visits share in common is a genuine atmosphere of openness and exchange of ideas, where curious travelers can ask about religion, lifestyle, gender and sex relations, politics, freedom, discrimination, dress, education, hopes and fears.
(3) Art Expansion: The arts present an excellent opportunity to explore complex issues such as Israel’s evolving political and social landscape.
This year we have increased our array of art history tours and we are now offering such tours in Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv. In addition, while nightlife tours of bars and clubs are all the rage for our more outgoing clients, we have developed a gentler evening tour for others. Many leading art galleries are open in the evening (or can be opened), and we are excited to offer our wine and art evening experience where clients, led by an expert art historian, are taken to three different galleries to view the art and also sample local Israel wines.
Best Offbeat Restaurants:
Much has been said and written about the best restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (of which there are many!). We have therefore decided to do a 2019 roundup of more offbeat restaurants which we are also frequently asked about:
(1) Best rural restaurant: I love Majda which lies in the Arab village of Ein Rafa, just next to Abu Ghosh. Easily accessible from both Jerusalem (20 minutes) and Tel Aviv (45 minutes), Majda serves delicious traditional Arabic and Mediterranean dishes. My personal favorites are the traditional siniya (Arabic pie) made with ground meat, semolina, tehini and oven cooked pomegranate seeds, the crispy Bureka with mangold and goat cheese, the incredibly fresh fatoush salad. Don’t forget to end with what might be the best Malabi in the land (Arabic milk and cornflour sweet – a bit like a refreshing yogurt but sweeter). Majda’s also wins points for its setting – although there is indoor seating, the best seats are in the beautifully planted garden and terrace overlooking the village and Jerusalem hills. Last but not least, Majda is owned by a Arab Jewish married couple – there is an enchanting love story behind it, which must be the secret ingredient!
(2) Best gluten free restaurants: Reviva and Celia are well known in Tel Aviv circles as an outstanding local restaurant. They have now opened a 100% gluten free cafe in an emerging area of South Tel Aviv. For our clients who are celiac or gluten intolerant this place is a real treat – everything looks beautiful and is tastefully presented, truly delicious and absolutely permitted! Kids will love the mac and cheese and sweet corn muffins, and everyone will love the fresh pretzels filled with cream cheese and chives.
For treats, the best gluten free cookies we have ever tasted are found here – the sweetness balanced with bitter chocolate and salt and pecans.
Meringues galore, chocolate brownie muffins abound, and individual orange and almond cakes tempt. Note that at present the newly opened cafe is only open Thursdays and Fridays, but with a bit of luck it will soon open regular hours. Further great Tel Aviv GF options include the family friendly and low key Asian restaurant Giraffe (range of delicious noodle dishes and sushi options), and Hudson for meat lovers (excellent steaks and they recently invested in a separate GF fryer so GF chips are now available). Both Giraffe and Hudson offer full and separate GF menus.
(3) Best Herzliya area restaurants: Our corporate guests often have meetings in Herzliya and need good recommendations in the area. Our two top picks are Yam 7 and Googe and Danielle. Yam 7 has an outstanding location as it is literally on the Herzliya beach and serves incredibly fresh, straightforward food, from morning to night. This is a great place to have a business breakfast overlooking the water (the Shakshuka is outstanding!).
Googe and Danielle has got to be one of the best all round restaurants in Israel – everything from the country side setting in its beautiful moshav gardens, to excellent service, to perfectly cooked dishes, make it hard not to love this place. Top picks include the deep fried light and crispy eggplant starter served with yogurt and fresh tomatoes, the crispy caramelised goose leg, and the ‘strawberries’ desert served with light pistachio cream.
(4) Best Israeli restaurant abroad: If you’re looking for Israel inspiration further afield we wholeheartedly recommend the beautifully designed and massively delicious Coal Office restaurant in London. Assaf Granit is the man behind this venture. We absolutely loved the Fennel salad with orange and almond, the Polenta (total classic straight from the Machaneyuda menu), the Jerusalem Sea Bass with creamed eggplant, the not so simple Cheesecake and so much more. We guarantee you that a visit to this restaurant will leave you begging for more, and no doubt for a visit to the culinary mother land!
Most anticipated 2020
We had hoped to see the Six Senses open this year, but our anticipation is only mounting as we have been promised an opening mid to late Spring 2020.
I visited the Six Senses property in Portugal earlier this year to get into the appropriate zone, and to have a relevant marker to judge the Israel property against. We will be visiting the property very soon now, and will be excited to share details as soon as possible.
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