Insider's Guide to Spas
Rob Bye

Spas of Israel

Inspired by biblical beauty, Israel's new spas feature stress relief and much more.

Bernard Burt

A new generation of spas has evolved in Israel. Instead of bodywork, younger patrons seek stress relief plus skincare and beauty treatments. For travelers this means great places to enjoy nature, workouts, and therapeutic treatments. Don’t expect rigid schedules, but lots of yoga, pool, and studio exercise classes.

New developments draw inspiration from the Bible. Leading operator of spas, Isrotel, has an Exclusive Collection which includes top destination Carmel Forest Spa, and wine-themed Cramim Resort. Isrotel recently acquired historic health resort Mispe Hayamim, and completed construction of the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem’s German Colony section.

My visit last spring began at Isrotel’s Cramim Resort and Spa, a modern seven-story hotel with 155 suites and rooms overlooking a pastoral valley on the main road to Jerusalem. (Cramim translates to “vineyard” in Hebrew.) Celebrating wine, you are greeted in front of a mural depicting a vineyard with a quote from the Song of Songs, courtesy of Jeff Burt:

The righteous blossoms are seen in the land, the time of your song has arrived, and the voice of your guide is heard in the land.  The fig tree has formed its first small figs, ready for ascent to the Temple. The vines are in blossom, their fragrance declaring they are ready for libation. Arise, My love, My fair one, and go forth!

The hotel has a wine boutique for tastings, and the restaurant, Shiraz, features Israeli specialties as well as made-to-order dishes, an expansive salad bar, and kosher desserts. Otherwise, it’s simply a great place to rejuvenate.

Cramim is the home of Château de Beautȇˊ vinotherapy cosmetics by Christina, made in Israel. Combining beneficial properties of grapes, wine, and their byproducts for skincare, the Christina boutique offers rejuvenating cosmetics and an exclusive facial—a first in Israel for cell-energizing treatments, revitalizing the skin and restoring its elasticity.

Spread across two floors, the Cramim Spa has extensive offerings in fitness, as well as bodywork. There are 23 treatment rooms (including two suites for couples), a Turkish hammam offering traditional scrub with massage, and a dry sauna. While the treatment menu includes a Dermalogica facial, you can try Polarity, Reflexology, Reiki, salt exfoliation, and aromatherapy in addition to Swedish massage. Book treatments online prior to your arrival.

Hammam Havens

Alongside a vast swimming pool, the Cramim features a new version of ancient cleansing in a marble-walled hammam. Turkish-style baths seem to be enjoying a renaissance in Israel. Built for couples, this large hammam is coed (wear your swimsuit) and has a ring of water basins for cool refreshment. In the center, under a dome, a large heated slab of marble is where the action takes place. The masseur pours hot water over you and begins to scrub using a rough cloth glove, until all dead skin is removed. Sounds painful but leaves you relaxed. Afterward, lathered with soapy suds, a short massage and wash completes the treatment.

Traveling back in time 400 years, I had an authentic hammam experience at the Efendi Hotel in Akko (also known as Acre) a seaside town once protected by Crusaders. A labor of love for Uri Jeremias, owner of the nearby Uri-Buri restaurant, the hotel consists of two Ottoman palaces, with high stone arches and delicate floral traceries. Restoration took eight years, Uri told me. He traveled to Turkey to find the quarry that provided the original floors, and enlisted artists to work from fragments of ceiling decoration. Built on Byzantine remnants from the 6th century, a 12th century Crusader cellar now turned into a wine bar, and vaulted communal dining room, it is an exciting mix of past and present.

Tucked into a narrow lane of stone houses, the Efendi has a one-room spa for skincare, and the original hammam. Spread on a heated marble slab, I was scrubbed clean. There are just 12 rooms and suites, furnished simply and air conditioned. A big bathtub, claw-footed, and enormous Turkish towels, are great for a long, luxurious soak. Then up to the roof-deck to enjoy sunset on the sea as swallows perform a nightly ballet. efendi-hotel

Two Sides of Tel Aviv

The Mediterranean playground in Tel Aviv has an older neighborhood known as the German Colony filled with Bauhaus-style residences from the 1930s. Continental cafes, and the National Theatre, complete the scene. A noted member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, The Norman preserves a former residence with great flair, and has a tiny Wellness Spa with treatments indoors or a terrace cabana. The treatments create solace, says spa manager Shlomit Ettun. Using elements of Swedish, deep tissue, and aromatherapy massage, your customized escape is a welcome break from the outside world. thenorman

Herzliya, a suburb of Tel Aviv, has a world-class hotel and spa from the Ritz-Carlton brand. Located above a vast marina, with sweeping views of ocean beaches and a branch of one of Israel’s finest restaurants, this upscale retreat appeals to a well-heeled clientele.

Shiseido spa journeys made their Israeli debut at the Ritz in Herzliya. Spa manager Adela Mizrahi trained facialists in Shisedo’s oriental technique. The facial collection for ladies and men offers purifying and sun-damage repair.

Set on the hotel’s top floor, with private elevator to the rooftop swimming pool and bar, this glamorous day spa can accommodate non-residents, as well as locals. Their new tailormade guest experience concept, Blends, brings together unique experiences: Culinary & Winery; Fashion, Design & Arts; Hi-Tech & Science; Voluntarism; Education; and Nightlife.

New Heights in Carmel Nature Preserve

Climbing the narrow road from Haifa, you enter a forest preserve where the only signs of civilization are wild pigs. There are no lights, making driving difficult at night. But no one wants to leave Carmel Forest Spa Resort, Israel’s premier destination for wellness and well-being.

Since serving Army veterans and pioneers, this gracious resort has been transformed by Isrotel into a world-class spa. All 126 rooms and suites provide refreshing views of the wooded hilltops. Spread across 18 acres of gardens and woodland trails, this is seclusion without isolation. Absorbing the absolute quiet and fragrant greenery poolside or from your private terrace, the body, soul, and spirit unite.

Looking better than ever, the spa has an extensive treatment menu that reflects international tends. Veteran spa manager Nina Shapiro features Demalogica and Christina products. Classic Swedish massage, reflexology, Reiki and Polarity, as well as hot stones massage, Ayurvedic treatments, and Thai massage. Mud from the Dead Sea is used in mineral-rich wraps to relieve muscle tension and stimulate the metabolism. Even local honey mixed with cinnamon and salt to nourish and cleanse.

Christina brand treatment products add an Israeli touch. Developed by an international cosmetics company with roots in Israel, they combine botanical ingredients with vitamins and minerals formulated in the company’s labs. Facials for men and women are featured. Green Forest, the Carmel spa’s exclusive treatment based on extracts from pine and eucalyptus trees, simultaneously heats and cools your skin, and includes a purifying peel.

With the lights of Haifa glittering below, we toasted an amazing experience.

Construction Continues

The new Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem will have the first modern spa in the Holy City. Still in planning stages, but from what I saw, the hotel is drop-dead gorgeous. Near Tel Aviv, ancient Jaffa will be home to an Away Spa, transforming a 19th-century French hospital as W Tel Aviv, infused with great design, stylish food and dining concepts under Starwood management. Under construction on the Sea of Galilee, The Setai by Royal Orchid Hotel Collection features Israel’s largest spa complex.






Bernard Burt

Bernard Burt

Health challenges led spa historian Bernard Burt to Canyon Ranch in Arizona, inspiring his 1986 book "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" for Random House. The co-author of "100 Best Spas of the World" (Globe Pequot), his byline has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Health, Spa Management Journal, and on Based in Washington, DC, Burt is chairman emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance and founding director of the International Spa Association.