For many travellers, a "boutique hotel" is an unknown quantity. any of us Brits think "boutique" is just a euphemism for a posh B&B. In fact, in Tel Aviv some of the trendiest and most stylish places to stay are boutique hotels.
The boutique hotel trend took off in Israel in 2000, after Leslie Adler and his colleagues at the Atlas Hotels group, which he directs, decided to import the concept from Europe and America. Their idea was to offer small hotels - 40 to 80 rooms - with a homely feel and a theme. Instead of giving a sense of grandeur as in large hotels, the lobbies have the feel of a smart living room. While in large hotels guests can feel an expectation to order drinks that are charged to the room, guests in Atlas' boutique hotels are encouraged to help themselves to tea for free, take advantage of the complimentary WiFi and enjoy early-evening tipples and nibbles on the house.
"Before boutique, a hotel was a place to spend a night, in a more luxurious or less luxurious setting, but it didn't give people an emotional uplift," says Mr Adler. "What our boutique hotels do is provide that emotional uplift."
In one of his hotels, that "uplift" comes from art. The Artplus Hotel showcases the best of local art. An artist was commissioned to paint a mural for each floor and in the lobby you will find works by sculptor Zadok Ben-David and video and installation artist Sigalit Landau.
In another hotel, the feelgood factor is nostalgia - the Centre Chic Hotel is themed on retro Tel Aviv.
The Cinema Hotel cleverly preserves many of the architectural features of the building's previous use as a cinema and is decorated with film posters and projectors. Classic films are screened in the lobby, with popcorn at no extra charge.
You cannot help smiling when you walk in to the Shalom Hotel. There is jolly music, a sweet-scented air freshener and quirky furnishing. The theme is relaxation and the hotel is often referred to in Atlas marketing as "the Shalom Hotel and Relax". The place is designed in the style of a Massachusetts beach house, and between the inviting lobby and the roof garden with its distressed-effect white decking and telephone service to order down for drinks, one could happily lounge away entire days there.
The Melody Hotel is perfect for business visitors who like to take a break. The theme is "work and play". The rooms are pleasant places to work, with desks facing the sea as opposed to a wall as is common in Tel Aviv and everywhere the hotel gives guests a helping hand to unwind. In the lobby there are small toys everywhere; on each floor of the staircase there are weights, so that the climb exercises your arms and legs; there's a telescope for stargazing and upon check in guests are offered a free iPad for the duration of their stay.
Boutique hotels often shun the "extras" culture and in Atlas' boutique hotels there are fridges for guests to store their own snacks, but no mini bars. There are bicycles for use free of charge and in the Shalom Hotel the company is piloting free computers in each room.
The West Boutique Hotel, run by the Tamares chain, has taken the culture of included perks a step further. As well as offering free bicycles, in a pilot programme that runs until May it is giving free car rental to guests who stay for a week or longer.
Unusually for a boutique hotel in Tel Aviv, the West has a swimming pool. It is large, and surrounded by sun beds, hammocks, gardens, a grassy plaza and a large deck porch. All rooms are suites with balconies. "With the comfortable kitchenettes the West is especially suitable for guests who want a long stay in a boutique hotel," says manageress Anat Azoulay.
Tamares also runs a boutique hotel in Herzliya Pituach. The Shizen Spa Resort has an outdoor and indoor pool pool, wet and dry saunas and a programme of classes and lectures. Rooms are romantic, decorated in warm earthy colours and fragranced by incense and aromatic oils. Guests staying for three nights receive a complimentary spa treatment.