He may be most famous for making Eilat Israel’s premier beach destination, but the late David Lewis, who created the Isrotel empire, always dreamed of having a hotel in Jerusalem. He could never have guessed it would take four years and millions of shekels to bring the Orient, which opened last month, to fruition.
After overcoming significant planning hurdles to convert the landmark Templars’ houses for which the city’s German Colony is known, the hotel has rapidly become a fixture on Jerusalem’s social map.
Its rooftop infinity pool and chill bar is a magnet for the “beautiful people” and the latest must-have backdrop for the wedding photos of local brides and grooms.
The location is also helping shift visitor focus away from the Mamilla Mall and its own cluster of five-star hotels.
As in Berlin, the centre of action in Jerusalem is moving gradually east, and the disused railway station, now a dining and entertainment complex, has put the once strictly residential German Colony on the map.
Bedrooms in the new building are not huge, and the additional 39 in the original 19th century house — still under completion when I visited — are apparently going to be even smaller.
However, the spec is high; supremely comfortable beds, elegant furniture, while the typically claustrophobic feel of windowless hotel bathrooms has been overcome with sliding glass doors which dissolve the boundary to the bedroom and let in natural daylight.
A separate tub and walk-in shower — far from universal in Israel’s luxury hotels — are welcome, as is an in-room Nespresso machine.
Although the hotel sign can be seen from half a mile away, the Orient is not as tall as it appears; in order to placate the planners, architects had to adapt their plans for the new building by sinking public areas several floors into the ground.
But even though this puts the restaurant two floors below the buzzy curved lobby with its soaring atrium, clever design has given the room plenty of natural light and its own spacious outdoor terrace on which to enjoy breakfast.
That breakfast is already a Jerusalem legend, even by the high standards of Israeli hotel breakfasts.
Separate stations named for the city’s neighbourhoods serve different kinds of food reflecting the civic melting pot — so Ashkenazi staples like schmaltz herring and chrein on the Mea She’arim counter, Middle Eastern treats on stations named for the Old City and food market, freshly-prepared shakshuka and other hot egg dishes from an open kitchen not to mention many kinds of bread from a huge wood-fired oven.
Fabulous foccaccia also comes from that oven at night, served in the lobby lounge with some decent supper dishes until chef Eric Attias arrives to initiate the full dinner service in the restaurant.
And playing on a loop, a film tells the history of the neighbourhood, alongside a series of artefacts on display from the area’s past.
It may have taken Isrotel a while to get here, but there’s no doubt the hotel is celebrating Jerusalem now it’s very definitely arrived.