JC Stays: Elma Arts Complex & Luxury Hotel, Zichron Ya’akov, Israel

The perfect place for a high-speed relax? Our writer finds an arty retreat between Herzliya and Haifa


Was I in a contemporary art gallery or a luxury hotel? As I walked down the hall towards my bedroom on the first-floor of the Elma Arts Complex in Zichron Ya’akov, I realised the answer was both.

For while the 95-room hotel features a swimming pool, spa, espresso bar and restaurant run by new executive chef Gil Aviram, it’s also a place entirely dedicated to the arts, with canvases hanging proudly on sunlit walls and a 450-seat auditorium waiting to host live shows from major Israeli performers.

But it wasn't always this way. Designed by award-winning architect Yaakov Rechter in the 1960s, the Brutalist building was initially a convalescent home for those who needed sunshine, sea views and solitude to recover.

In 1974 the Israeli army took over the building and brought in prisoners from the Yom Kippur war to give them medical treatment.

The Moriah chain then turned it into a regular hotel until 2005, when arts patron Lily Elstein bought the building and re-imagined it as a home for arts and culture.

Now aged 87, Lily still visits the hotel every day - she even took part in a sunset yoga class on ‘Lily’s Terrace’ the night I stayed - and she’s worked tirelessly to turn Elma into a place that is as uplifting for the soul as it is for the body.

Its location overlooking the Carmel mountains and the Mediterranean certainly helps. Around 40 miles from Herzliya and 25 miles from Haifa, Elma is spread over 113 acres with stunning views of northern Israel.

Sitting by the pool, gazing at the horizon as the scent of honeysuckle and eucalyptus enveloped me, I felt weeks of urban stress melt away.

A manager told me the hotel is popular with Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs who flock here from Herzliya and Tel Aviv to mull over new ideas and recharge their batteries.

I can see why; by the time we dressed for dinner, I felt like I’d been on holiday for days not hours. It’s almost as if time stops at Elma, making it the perfect place for a high-speed slowdown and total re-set.

When I stayed the hotel was offering a buffet dinner, but a new autumn menu at certified Kosher in-house restaurant Oratorio sounds a distinct improvement, featuring salmon, sea bass, chicken and vegetarian dishes, as well as unusual options such as Espresso and Cocoa Coated Beef Tenderloin.

My mum and I washed our meal down with a glass of chilled white wine from the world-famous Zichron Ya’akov winery, which is just down the road.

After dinner I took her to her first gig in 20 years. Eifo Hayeled is (apparently) a legendary rock band in Israel.

We didn’t understand their lyrics but we still got swept up in the warm atmosphere the band created inside the Elma Hall.

And the next morning, walked into Zichron Ya’akov itself after a tasty Israeli breakfast before check-out.

It would have been easy not to bother but was easily worth it; Israelis regard Zichron as one of the country’s most chic towns, and I can see why.

Pedestrianised HaMayesdim Street is fringed with cafes and boutiques and has a calm, grounded atmosphere that’s missing in many Israeli cities.

Our verdict? If you need a body and mind re-boost, add a night at Elma into your Israel holiday schedule. It’ll give you the relaxation you are looking for, in record time.

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