Where can you find a hotel with a waterslide pool, agricultural kibbutz atmosphere, archaeology from the Judean Kingdom, and history from the War of Independence all together?
Chances are you would not have guessed Jerusalem or anywhere near it.
But literally just seconds outside the capital’s southeast corner is the newly-remodeled Ramat Rachel Hotel and adjacent completely renovated sports facility.
Kibbutz Ramat Rachel invested in the renovations NIS 35 million of the windfall of hundreds of millions it received from selling 10 hectares of orchards to developers of high-rises in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. The kibbutzniks fought against giving up the land to Jerusalem, preferring their apple trees to the cash, but when they lost the fight, they did not turn down the money.
The results include the 165-room hotel looking better, the gym having new equipment, the pool being modernized, and the baby pool being an absolute paradise for toddlers, with six mini-waterslides to keep them happy.
Those staying at the hotel receive free entrance to the pool, which is a significant plus for a family, considering that outsiders pay NIS 85, nearly twice as much as any other pool in the Jerusalem area, and 10-year-olds are considered adults.
There are both indoor and outdoor pools, in addition to the kiddie pool and the pool with waterslide. It is recommended to come to the pool early to avoid the lines at the waterslides.
When the pool was initially built, an underground ancient city was found from the time of Yehoyachin, King of Judea. That city outside Jerusalem was apparently a logistic center of the Judean Kingdom.
Just outside the sports facility there is both an archaeological park dating from the First Temple period, and bunkers and trenches from the War of Independence in 1948.
Too tired to see the trenches? Just go to the gift shop near the lobby and look through a window in the floor to see a weapons slick hidden underneath what is now the hotel.
The kibbutz was founded in 1926. In 1948, it was surrounded by Arab armies, and it repeatedly changed hands between Jewish and Arab forces.
On May 24, 1948, Egyptian and Jordanian armies attacked the kibbutz. After two days and two nights of intense fighting, the Israeli forces reconquered the kibbutz area, and it remained part of Israel from 1948 to 1967, while nearby Gush Etzion was on the Jordanian side.
While Israel won control over the kibbutz land, its buildings were destroyed in the fighting. Though many left, 42 kibbutz members decided to rebuild it.
The hotel offers a unique kibbutz tour, which teaches their education system and values and lets you see an active children’s home, communal dining room and laundry to learn about kibbutz lifestyle.
The kibbutzniks work the fields and orchards that produce world-renowned fruits and vegetables, including the only strawberries grown in Israel in the summertime, a special species that grows not in season. There are two acres of strawberry fields which produce 16 to 20 tons of fruit.
The strawberries are grown on a bed disconnected from the ground and the entire field is covered with protective netting to keep out pests and birds.
Ramat Rachel boasts Israel’s largest cherry orchard, with some 60 acres, 25 of which are organic, with 17 different types of cherries, to extend the season. The orchard produces 200 tons of cherries annually.
There is also hydroponic lettuce, olives and 50 beehives which produce half a ton of honey a year.
In the entrance to the kibbutz, there is a sculpture by sculptor Ron Morin that is a symbol of coexistence. It features three 11-meter high pillars with olive trees at the top which symbolically send down their roots.
There are two sites that memorialize fallen soldiers from the kibbutz. The Eyal Farm, named after soldier Eyal Yoel, who fell in Jenin, is an education center for sustainability, ecology, environment and animal protection.
Mitzpe Yair, named after Yair Engel, is a lookout point, where one can see great views of old and new Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Herodian, and the Dead Sea.
Now far away from war, Ramat Rachel welcomed residents of the Gaza periphery during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Those who stay at the hotel can explore the kibbutz by renting bicycles and can also order picnic basket meals. They can learn more about the kibbutz by taking part in an adventure quiz.
The hotel has 16 halls, a banquet facility and wedding hall. Massages are available and there is a schedule that includes chocolate ball making and a weekly happy hour. For children, there is an indoor playground.
Not everything is perfect at Ramat Rachel. The food in the dining hall could be improved, more parking would be appreciated, the rooms were not 100% clean, and the outdoor pool’s hours are limited.
But the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, and in the end, despite all there is to do at Ramat Rachel, the most important thing to do is to sit back and relax.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.