If Sex and the City were not filmed in New York, producers could have done worse than to choose Tel Aviv. Like the Big Apple, it never sleeps; its boulevards are lively and culturally diverse enough to keep four career girls out of mischief and there are enough designer stores to keep them in stilettos and handbags from Purim to Chanucah.
OK, with a population of around 1.1 million, it’s just a little smaller than its US counterpart but it has a vitality that justifies its reputation as Israel’s party capital.
And getting there is getting even easier since bmi began daily non-stop flights from Heathrow recently as part of its policy to expand its mid-haul offering, joining Thomson, BA and, of course, El Al. Heathrow’s second biggest operator now flies daily between London and Ben Gurion airports. Bookings have so far exceeded expectations and the company is confident it can build on the ever growing business links between the two countries.
So what would Carrie and co find if they swapped the Big Apple for the White City, as Tel Aviv is known because of its unmatched stock of Bauhaus architecture?
Well, shops for a start. Lots of them in places such as Dizengoff Street, Kikar Hamedina or Shenkin Street, where Chasidic Jews, black-coated and shtreimeled, mingle with businessmen in smart suits and hip girlies in micro-skirts and edgy shoes.
There are clubs and bars as diverse as anything you’ll find in downtown Manhattan as well as thriving arts and gay communities. It is also the country’s greatest cultural centre, a home for a variety of museums, galleries, theatres and concert halls.
The State’s 60th anniversary celebrations have pulled in some big names of late, many — fittingly — from the 60s. Pop groups such as Herman’s Hermits, Marmalade and The Animals made visits there, with Deep Purple scheduled for September and Sir Paul McCartney rumoured for the same month.
Blondie were due to kick off the European leg of their 30th anniversary tour yesterday, with a concert at Raanana Park, a charming park just a 15-minute taxi-ride from Tel Aviv. Morrissey and Bjork are lined up to follow.
Israeli Ballet has its home in Tel Aviv, as does the opera in the magnificent, decade-old Centre for Performing Arts on Da Vinci Street. Placido Domingo was even house tenor at the old Opera House in the ’60s. And there are a number of established dance companies, among them the renowned Batsheva and the Bat Dor, which have their home in the elegant Suzanne Dellal Centre in the rapidly gentrifying Neve Tzedek quarter of south Tel Aviv.
But it’s not all party, party. The city can be as tranquil as it is bustling. Behind the skyscrapers and luxury hotels that line the 2.4km stretch of beach, lie dozens of parks and gardens. Best known is the Hayarkon Park with its tropical gardens and plethora of wildlife, pedaloes, rowing boats and bikes for hire.
Better still are the squares; cool and white-paved, surrounded by unfussy restaurants or shuttered houses, each managing to mix a certain Mediterranean ambience with that of an oddly modern façade.
Taxis are cheap and they queue patiently at the entrance to the big hotels. But more than once during a recent visit I found a stroll home among the whispered conversations of the locals in the shadows the most pleasant part of an evening.
I stayed at the David InterContinental, a vast high-rise at the southern tip of the beach-front strip, a hop and a skip from Neve Tzedek and a comfortable 30 minutes from Ben Gurion airport. Much favoured by Madonna, it is a brash, marble palace of a place with a vast entrance hall and every possible comfort in the lush guest rooms.
A knock-on effect of the increased volume of flights is that, as a tourist destination, Israel in general (and Tel Aviv in particular) is currently enjoying record numbers of visitors — 700,000 last year, and growing.
By the end of the year its hotel industry will have swelled by 800 rooms, with a further 2,400 in three years time. And thanks to the key players such as the InterContinental, the Hilton and the home-grown Dan chain (which has two hotels in Tel Aviv), around 60 per cent are in the five-star range.
It’s also an ideal, and fairly central, base from which to explore the rest of the country. Jerusalem is only an hour away and Galilee two.
bmi (www.flybmi.com; 0870 6070555) flies to Tel Aviv daily, from £243.60; business class from £881.60. David Inter-Continental hotel (www.ichotelsgroup.com; 00972 3 7951111), has double rooms from $285 (£143.50) per night.