A new Virgin Atlantic flight makes Tel Aviv – and neighbouring Jerusalem – easier to reach from the UK.
As I laze on the warm sand of Tel Aviv beach, I’m especially grateful to be wearing my sunglasses.
Not just because it’s gloriously sunny at 7am but also as my shades are concealing my peepers, which are in full people-watching mode.
The eight-and-a-half mile stretch of Tel Aviv beach is brimming with wonderful local characters – from the honey-skinned, sinewy locals who pound the promenade on their morning runs, to the yogis meditating along the shore.
With its high-rise hotels, wide sweep of sand and beautiful, sun-loving locals, Tel Aviv beach reminds me of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana, with the same upbeat coastal feel.
It’s a must-visit on a trip to Tel Aviv, a cosmopolitan city whose locals love to work hard and play harder.
The city just got closer thanks to a new daily flight from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic, which launched in September.
A new train linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv via Ben Gurion airport connects the two cities in 45 minutes, meaning clients can now see both more easily on a short break.
On a walking tour, I learn that Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 by some 66 families who came from nearby Jaffa – then a city in its own right and now a Tel Aviv neighbourhood – to start a new life.
At the time, Tel Aviv was just a vast expanse of sand dunes while Jaffa was a thriving ancient port that acted as an entry point into Israel for Jewish pilgrims and immigrants.
Tel Aviv’s dunes were divvied up between the families by the group’s leader, Akiva Aryeh Weiss, in a lottery using seashells, and the group set to work building a “garden city” filled with parks and public spaces.
By the 1930s, Tel Aviv had grown dramatically, with many Jews seeking refuge here from
Nazi Germany. The German-Jewish architects who arrived in the 1930s brought with them their knowledge of the Bauhaus movement, and began designing apartments in its characteristic modernist style.
Today, Tel Aviv is home to more than 4,500 Bauhaus-style buildings, mostly located in “the White City”, an area afforded Unesco World Heritage status.
Many of these handsome, clean-lined apartments can be found scattered across the tree-dotted Rothschild Boulevard, which is abuzz with locals whizzing about on scooters and bikes, or relaxing on benches in the sunshine.
Tel Aviv’s cool aesthetic and modernist vibe sit in sharp contrast with Jaffa, whose higgledy- piggledy cobbled backstreets and golden-hued stone buildings exude a bohemian atmosphere and contain years of Roman, Arab and Jewish history.
Recommend clients wander around Jaffa’s sunny corners dotted with tiny art galleries, craft shops and cool restaurants.
They can also visit the neighbourhood’s flea market, which sells everything from Persian tiles and rugs to pots and pans and bric-a-brac, ending their stroll at the port, where they can dine alfresco at restaurants serving the catch of the day.
Jerusalem has long been a divided city, sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and a contentious, desired land by both Israeli groups and Palestinians.
Yet regardless of religious or ethnic beliefs, there’s an undeniable spiritual beauty to Jerusalem and its ancient streets, and a magnetism that continues to draw in pilgrims from many different faiths.
Clients can take guided tours of the old town, visiting the Western Wall, where Jewish worshippers pray fervently while touching the stone or writing notes that they press into cracks; and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be built over the site where Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead.
Yet this city isn’t just an emblem in a history or theology book – it’s a living, breathing city whose diverse locals represent myriad cultures; a city where clients can wander treasure-trove souks or dine on inventive dishes that fuse Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours.
I discover Jerusalem’s fresh side for myself as I walk through the ancient citadel of the Tower of David, marvelling at a skyline dotted with monuments, apartments and sites of worship, including the golden-domed Al Aqsa Mosque.
While taking in the views, my reflective moment is interrupted by the thump thumping of a David Guetta house track.
Walking over to the citadel’s inner courtyard, I discover a mass of cool young kids and locals raving together to the DJ’s beats.
It’s an optimistic, vibrant side to Jerusalem – one the newspapers don’t often tell you about.
Cyplon Holidays offers two nights at Royal Beach Tel Aviv and one night at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem from £757pp, based on two sharing, departing 11 January 2020, including Virgin Atlantic flights.
Flight time: Five hours.
Time difference: GMT +2 hours.
Currency: The New Israeli shekel.
When to visit: Shoulder season (Sept-Nov and March-June) offers fewer crowds, cheaper hotel rates and mild temperatures.
Numbers have seen a steady increase since 2017, with a 29% year-on-year increase in 2019. We hope to welcome 240,000 UK visitors by the end of 2019 and 270,000 in 2020.
It used to be mainly Jews or people on Christian pilgrimages. Since our “Two Cities One Break” campaign launch in 2015, we are seeing more people travelling for leisure including families, couples and LGBTQ+ travellers.
We’re working hardest with the trade. We’re in talks with Tui to offer Israel breaks and we started working with Kuoni earlier this year. Our goal is for Israel to be seen as an alternative to Mediterranean countries such as Spain or Portugal.