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Israel Travel: 10 Things About Israel You Probably Don’t Know

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Mia Bar Israel - 10 Things You Didn't Know About IsraelA trip to Israel often comes with a plethora of preconceptions. But there’s a side of Israel that even seasoned travelers may not know about.

Jeanine Barone rounds up the first five of 10 things you never knew about Israel.

You may envision a trip to Israel with some or all of the following: traditional religious sights, security issues, Bauhaus architecture, a melancholic Holocaust museum, sickly sweet wines, banal kosher food, car-choked roads and uninspiring hotels.

It couldn’t be further from the truth.

1. Creative Design

Tel Aviv is a hotbed of funky, innovative and edgy jewelry, handbags, lights, furniture and other products. One of my favorite design emporiums is located in Tel Aviv’s Noga neighborhood.

Rose & Bloom Dresses - Israeli Art, Israeli DesignA spare space that’s both an office and boutique shop houses the design firm Rose & Bloom, where owners Gilat Blum and Limor Rosner Muggia craft and sell products that serve double-duty functions. Their creations include: a bedside table with a secret hiding place for valuables; a bathroom stool that becomes a medicine chest; Mylar paper lamps in the shape of sleeveless dresses on hangars.

Design aficionados will also want to download a copy of “Israel through Art“, a guide to the city’s ateliers, studios, boutiques, and private galleries. When I took a self-guided design tour with this booklet in hand, I met some of the city’s best decorative artists.

2. Fine Wines

Israel is home to some very sophisticated viticulture, with some vintages garnering awards, and even winning the respect of über critical wine writer, Robert Parker.

A clutch of wine bars in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem serve vintages from Israel’s boutique and large producers, such as the Golan Heights Winery.

For more shopping experiences in Israel, check out Jerusalem Shopping & Market Experiences

Israeli Wine Tasting FestivalAt the luxe Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, its wine bar, the intimate Winery, stocks more than 90 bottles of Israeli wines, with many available by the glass. (The sommelier can also arrange private tastings.)

In the summer, oenophiles also flock to the annual Israeli Wine Tasting Festivalthat’s held annually—this year it’s scheduled for August 15-18—in the Noguchi-designed sculpture garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Here, I strolled among the sculptural works by Rodin, Henry Moore and other notables while sipping wines from several dozen local wineries, chatting with winemakers, listening to live jazz and sampling appetizers.

3.  Boutique Hotels

Boutique hotels are popping up all over Tel Aviv.

Brown Hotel Israel - Israeli Boutique HotelsThe new Brown Hotel is a retro chic 30-room property that exudes an aura of calm, thanks to its warm, earth-toned palette. Business clientele and other guests often relax in the welcoming first-floor lounge or on the sunroof with its panoramic views of the city as well as outside showers and even a bathtub—anything to help stressed-out visitors unwind at the end of a long day.

The Neve Tzedek Hotel set in Tel Aviv’s eponymous trendy neighborhood that’s bursting with a melange of shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants, offers five different suites that meld the contemporary with the antique.

Don’t expect room service or a concierge, and meals are served at a romantic bistro down the street. But, whatever suite you choose in this restored historic building, you’ll feel like you’re living like a well-heeled local. (The ultimate relaxation can be had in the expansive rooftop suite with its outdoor Jacuzzi.)

Two other favorite boutique properties include the elegant Hotel Montefiore, and Art + Hotel where the oeuvre of prominent Israeli artists are featured throughout the hotel.

Find more unusual adventures in Israel with the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Tel Aviv, Israel

4. Architecture Beyond Bauhaus

Tel Aviv may be synonymous with Bauhaus architecture—after all, the city has the world’s largest concentration of these functional buildings that shun ornamentation—but it’s by no means the only architectural style.

To gain access to the array of creative approaches and innovative materials used in the design of public and private buildings, architecture fans wouldn’t want to miss the annual Houses from Within.

Architecture Tour Israel - Homes From WithinThis year the architecture event will be held on May 20-21, and in the fall, it will take place in Jerusalem where you’ll be able to sign up for various tours (some are in English) where you may visit the Brown Hotel, the seafront-sited Peres Center for Peace where light pours through a multitude of glass panels, and the First International Bank building, a 32-story asymmetric tower with unobstructed views of the surrounding much-more-petite historic buildings.

5. Jerusalem Nightlife

Do you think prowling around Jerusalem at night is a snore? Hardly.

On my recent visit, my excellent night of bar hopping included Mia, a 3-year-old establishment that’s got plenty of sophistication. It offers wine and whiskey tastings and home-brewing classes as well as wine tours.

I didn’t have any problem ordering a classic cocktail here, but you’ll also be treated to the creative, such as a Sweet Tropicana made with rum, white cacao, coconut, cream and grated chocolate. Whiskey lovers can sip a glass of smooth Glenfaris 105 cask strength while those who prefer beer can get Kwak on tap. But this bar also has a whimsical side: They’ve hosted a Lewis Caroll Tea Party where they offered mint whiskey in tiny screw cap bottles like one might find in Alice in Wonderland.

Then I swung over to Sira, one of the city’s top underground bars/clubs where I had to squeeze into its twin spaces that house a bar and a wee dance floor with a nightly DJ. Later, I made my way to Hakatze, a live music and drinking venue that has something different going on every night, from a drag show to bluegrass.

Come back next week for part two of the 10 things you didn’t know about traveling to Israel.

By Jeanine Barone for PeterGreenberg.com. Jeanine Barone is a freelance writer and consultant who has written for publications such as Town & Country, National Geographic Traveler andConde Nast Traveler. Visit her on the Web at www.jthetravelauthority.com.

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