When we discovered the Villa Carmel Hotel on a shady, tree lined street off the main drag in the busy Carmel center, we were grateful. As visitors to M’s native Israel each year for more than 30 years, we had stayed in nearly every other hotel in Haifa, and disliked them all. Cavernous lobbies, kids running amok, outdated color schemes and tired furniture prevailed.
We searched for an alternative and found it four years ago, in a historic building that now houses this 15 room boutique hotel. The hotel was built in the 1940’s and changed hands a few times. David Ben Gurion, first Israeli Prime Minister, and his wife, Paula, were regular guests when they visited Haifa in the 1940′s and 50′s. In between, the building was a retirement home until it was purchased by the current owners. They spent a full year carving out and reconfiguring the guest rooms, a small lobby, and an airy dining room and expansive outdoor patio.
We stayed at the Villa Carmel last week. It was our fifth time. We were happy to lapse into our morning routine: We wander down the quiet, wooden stairs of this three story, stone building and are greeted by name and warm smiles by a young and well- trained staff.
We head straight out to the deeply shaded patio with the same cool, pale, stone floor as the rest of the restaurant. Glass doors allow the beautiful gardens to be viewed but keep the heat at bay later in the day.
We order strong coffee, unfailingly rich and aromatic. Stone walls form the courtyard where we dine, protecting this gem from the neighborhood buzz. Two newspapers are handed to us, one for the hubby in Hebrew, and the English language Jerusalem Post, for me.
Breakfast is included for hotel guests but outsiders are welcome and sometimes peer in from the slim, gated entry to the side street where children’s laughter can be heard from the playground nearby.
Fridays are the busiest breakfast day at this small hotel, as they serve a buffet of thoughtfully arranged platters and pretty bowls. They are brimming with brightly colored, raw vegetable and fruit salads and savory dips.
House made mini pastries fill the air with a heavenly combination of chocolate, yeast and fruit preserves.
During the week, an ala carte menu of five or six entrees is offered. For those with jetlag or late sleepers, breakfast is served until 3 PM. Parents of teenagers or exhausted university students, take note.
All dishes are accompanied by neatly chopped Israeli salad of crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, green peppers and mild onions. Each day brings a variety of cheeses, some creamy and tart, cut into neat triangles, some firm and salty.
Tapenades of green or black olives with fresh herbs make for savory toppings on freshly baked whole grain bread, provided by a private bakery in the neighborhood. House made pear, apple and tomato jams are all part of the offerings.
Israeli style omelets are a simple affair, with choices of freshly chopped herbs or cheese mixed in. All are delicious.
Shakshukah, with soft boiled eggs nestled into a tangy, spicy tomato sauce, is served in the pan it was simmered in, as it should be. Spinach or eggplant supplement the tomatoes, making for a savory and vitamin rich start.
Tortilla wraps oozing with herbed goat cheese, quiche, or muesli served with goat milk yogurt, fresh fruit and honey are all options.
Freshly squeezed juice is a must, as the day is bound to heat up quickly and the oranges are too fresh and sweet and to pass up. They were likely picked from a field nearby (or at the airport, where we parked in the pardes or orchard section and laughed as we inhaled the distinctive, floral scent of orange blossoms mixed with jet fuel).
With Passover approaching, I watched the massive quantity of eggs being carted into the kitchen, as the hotel was hosting numerous family Seder dinners and more eggs are used in Passover recipes than any other holiday.
Villa Carmel is the perfect place to host a private party. We did just that last Passover, when our son proposed to his love in the nearby Bahai Gardens. Both sides of the family joined us in joyful celebration for a perfect dinner, there.
Hotel manager, Moran Peleg, (with the hotel since it re-opened and a beautiful blond, deceptively easy going presence) was eager to please and professional, handling all of our details for dinner for 30. She helped me well in advance and with flexibility as I fine tuned the menu via e-mail and phone.
“And, what about flowers? Should I take care of it for you? You trust me by now, no?” Peleg arranged the glass walled garden room to perfection, draping tables and arranging for perfectly coordinated flowers and candles that heightened the festive air of young love and new commitment.
If a sumptuous breakfast with well prepared items, served in a quiet setting is your thing before heading out for a busy day in the North of Israel, check out the Villa Carmel in Haifa.
The peaceful vibe in this gem of a garden setting, supported by caring, omnipresent owners and delightful staff, is a true find. We will be there again next year, for sure.
Use the best quality veggies you can buy, preferably organic.Bring all veggies to room temperature first. The variations here are endless, including the addition of feta cheese, grated carrot, chickpeas or chopped greens. Here is the basic recipe for the traditionalists.
- 6 plum tomatoes, diced
- 2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
- 2/3 small red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1/3 cup red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and red onion.
- Add the lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and mint leaves and mix thoroughly.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve at room temperature.