Taking In Tel Aviv, As An ‘Insider’


Tel Aviv — If anyone needed proof that Tel Aviv is emerging as a world-class luxury destination, the InterContinental chain of hotels has provided it.

The chain recently designated the David InterContinental Tel Aviv as one of just three Intercontinental properties worldwide to begin offering a service called the Insider Experience: tailor-made tours and encounters that allow a small number of guests to explore the local dining scene, nightlife, culture, design, architecture or fashion industry with the go-to people in each field.

The Tel Aviv service, called Senses of Tel Aviv Insider Experience, is part of a new corporate marketing campaign launched by the InterContinental chain in February. Two of the chain’s most well-known properties — the London Park Lane and Paris Le Grand — were also chosen for the promotion.

Only guests who stay in the Tel Aviv Suite — Madonna and Richard Branson have both slept there — can avail themselves of the Insider Experience. The suite, which is more than 1,000 square feet and includes a private sauna, panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and 24-hour butler service, costs an eye-popping $3,500 per night. The Insider Experience, which enables guests to see a side of Tel Aviv usually reserved for locals, costs an additional fee.

The David is located in the vibrant Neve Tzedek neighborhood of southwest Tel Aviv. The first neighborhood built outside the ancient port city of Jaffa, its charming alleyways boast gracious gentrified homes, clothing boutiques, restaurants, bars, art galleries, the Suzanne Dellal Arts Center and a museum devoted to the paintings of the renowned Israeli artist Nachum Guttman.

Jaffa itself, a mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood on the sea with an ancient Old City, galleries, great eateries and boutiques, is a 20-minute seaside walk from Tel Aviv along the promenade.

The Insider Experience the hotel arranged for a handful of journalists included a tasting tour of the nearby Carmel Market, a private tour of the Bauhaus Museum by curator Estee Cohen followed by a seminar in the striking rooftop home of architect Hanan Pomagrin, who described how Israel is encouraging builders to protect buildings against earthquakes.

Later we were treated to a night of restaurant hopping through the neighborhood and beyond.

At the start of the market tour, local guides handed out shopping carts and glasses of wine and shepherded us through the colorful, noisy shuk where South Tel Avivians shop every day. One shop offered 15 flavors of halva, another 20 kinds of spiced olives. We sampled falafel and a wide variety of rare spices.

In the one-room Bauhaus Museum, housed in an original Bauhaus building, we learned that Bauhaus was a German school of design, not a style of architecture. (Tel Aviv has the largest number of Bauhaus buildings in the world.) We were surprised to learn that the modern-looking furniture and housewares on display were actually designed in the first part of the 20th century.

The rest of the evening was spent first at Jajo Bar, then at Hatraklin and Social Club, both trendy South Tel Aviv restaurants. The restaurants weren’t kosher so the hotel provided a full dinner-on-the-go from the InterContinental’s Aubergine Restaurant for those who requested it.

Kosher guests must request meals at kosher eateries ahead of time.

Sample tours for actual guests include a tour to a wide range of specialty food markets as well as the Farmer’s Market at the trendy Tel Aviv Port; a fashion tour in Neve Tzedek; and wine tastings paired with dinner (by a personal chef) at an historic home in Old Jaffa or on the rooftop of the gorgeous Ilan Goor home-museum.

Other options are a Segway or walking architecture tour of Tel Aviv’s White City lead by an architect; a tailor-made tour of design studios; or a private party with one of Israel’s leading modern-dance troupes; bar-hopping and clubbing with a “nightlife expert,” including VIP access to some of the city’s hottest night spots — and in Tel Aviv there are many.

Even those of us who have lived in Israel for years found the Insider Experience an eye-opener. Living in Jerusalem, I had no idea just how vibrant and frenetic Tel Aviv is in the wee hours, and the one-on-one encounter with architect Hanan Pomagrin gave us valuable insight into how the city was built, from the green spaces between residential buildings to where windows were placed.

Over breakfast David E. Cohen, the InterContinental Tel Aviv’s general manager, said his marketing team convinced the chain’s decision makers to include its hotel in the Insider Experience by highlighting Tel Aviv’s unique vibe and character.

“We were debating among ourselves what is it in Tel Aviv that blows people away? We realized it appeals to the senses.”

Cohen said he asks hotel guests to describe the city in a tagline or one-liners and collects the responses in a book.

One called it the “Capital of Cool,” another “The Little Big Apple.” Another “The Smallest Mega-City,” while someone else called it the “Best Kept Secret in the World.” Cohen’s favorite: “Tel Aviv is the Love Child Between New York and Miami.”

Cohen, who has lived in several countries over the years, is excited about the new promotion because he loves Tel Aviv.

“Our goal is to introduce you to the people and places that make Tel Aviv so special. We feel true luxury lies in immersion, not in escape. Israel should be the No. 1 touring country in the world,” he said. “You can’t replace Jerusalem or the Dead Sea. Or Tel Aviv.”