Entering the gates of Bayit Bagalil, a boutique hotel and spa in the Biriya Forest in the Galilee, is like being drawn into one of those ancient fairy tales about children being lost in a forest and suddenly coming across a magical palace.
The largest planted forest in the Galilee, the Biriya Forest extends from Safed to Hatzor – and Rosh Pina seems to be as far away from so-called civilization as one can imagine.
Set literally in the midst of the forest, the first impression that Bayit Bagalil it evokes is that of a Spanish hacienda.
The hotel is a work in progress, but not at the expense of the guests. We were a group of five journalists from the concrete jungle who were invited to the hotel by its public relations representative to see the renovations that have been made. Only two of our number had been there before and they were amazed by the positive changes, which according to the genial general manager Akram Abdallah are continuing.
As an example, he took us outside to the pool that is surrounded by a boardwalk deck and showed us work that was being done for a much larger boardwalk extension that had to be ready within a few days to accommodate the guests at the wedding of former tennis ace Shahar Pe’er.
The extension will not go to waste.
The property belongs to the Nakash brothers, who made their initial fortune from Jordache jeans, which are still being manufactured and selling like hot cakes.
It has numerous areas, large and small, inside and outside the hotel for guests to simply sit and relax, or to indulge in refreshments.
The lobby lounge inside has a free 24/7 coffee, cookie and cake bar where guests can help themselves, and the attentive staff is always ready to provide something more substantial.
Nearly everyone on staff, including Abdallah himself, are natives of the Galilee, and they are not only promoting one of the hotels in the Nakash Brothers’ Orchid chain, but the Galilee itself.
Abdallah comes from the town of Kafr Kana, which is northeast of Nazareth, and much of the hotel staff come from neighboring Arab towns and villages.
In our conversations with Abdallah, who frequently came to check if there was anything we needed, the talk was almost invariably about the Galilee, in which he takes great pride. When he wasn’t talking to us, he was busy overseeing additional changes in the hotel.
One thing that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future and which we observed driving up from Tel Aviv, is the panoramic view. Coming from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, we had all witnessed the changing skylines in our respective cities, where once-distant horizons have been blocked out by high-rise buildings. But in the hotel, each of us had breathtaking uninterrupted views of nature’s beauty.
Each of our rooms had a private balcony furnished with table and chairs, which offered views of different aspects of the landscape. Because we were high up, we could see forests on one side, urbanization below us and the well-tended floral gardens of the hotel on the other side.
Although the guest rooms were attractive, there were some complaints.
The extremely comfortable double bed with an ample supply of pillows was on a raised platform below, which involved one step up. Most of us found it disconcerting to keep going up and down, especially when we needed to use the bathroom, which was only accessible from the raised platform. Also, guests had to get onto a step to enter the very deep Jacuzzi bathtub, which all of us found disturbing, but which I, as the shortest amongst our quintet, could sit on the edge of the tub and swing my legs into it, without the jarring effect of stepping in. The bathroom was stocked with a large number of toiletries.
In addition to the double bed, the room itself included two chaise lounges, a large wall-to-wall closet with insufficient coat hangers, a large flat-screen television and a coffee table. Inside the closet was a safe and a hair dryer. There was also a sideboard with a coffee maker and a mini-refrigerator, which was empty. One of our quintet complained about the absence of a desk and chair because she wanted to use her laptop and wasn’t inclined to do so on the balcony.
There are also private suites set in splendid isolation in different parts of the grounds of the complex.
Replete with a large dining room table, sofas, a spacious bathroom designed to be used by more than one person at a time, a private deck and private swimming pool, these suites can accommodate up to eight people.
If the guests in these suites don’t want to come into contact with other guests, all their meals can be served in the suite, said Abdallah.
In the main guest area of the hotel, the corridors outside the guest rooms differ from most other hotels in that they are not blank walls, but contain a lot of glass to allow the sunlight to come in. The area also contains numerous old photographs of the Galilee, the oldest dating back 120 years.
Naturally, we were all offered spa treatments. Personally, I’m allergic to massage, and finally compromised on reflexology, which was actually quite pleasant. My companions had only good things to say about their respective massage treatments.
The chef-cum-barman, like most of the staff, is Arab, but the fact that observant Moslems don’t drink alcohol should not be a reason to presume that they don’t know how to mix a good cocktail. We ordered a variety of different pick-me-ups, and after tasting, pronounced each of them to be perfect.
The cuisine was also first class, with lots of salads flavored with herbs and spices. At lunch time, the chef kept bringing salads to the table. He also brought fluffy rice, kebabs and grilled chicken on a laffa bed smothered in fried onions.
Although there was an extensive menu in the evening, we all ordered fish, which came on a bed of sweet potato ravioli with a piquant sauce – an interesting combination.
But the piece de resistance was the multi-choice buffet breakfast the next morning, which in culinary terms ran the gamut from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. In the latter case, it included the best-ever humus and super fine pita covered in hyssop, known as za’atar in Hebrew and Arabic. In the former case, there was pickled herring and an excellent cheese cake that was nearly as good as my mother’s in texture, quality and taste.
For guests who want to explore the area, the hotel also offers bicycles free of charge. The wi-fi in the rooms is also free.
The only drawback to this charming 35-room getaway is that it’s difficult to get to if you don’t have a car.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.