RETURNING to my room from breakfast, four visitors barred my way. Eyeing me curiously and expectantly with horns raised, the four ibex, realizing no food was forthcoming, trudged away, heads held high in search of richer pickings. Such is a typical guest experience at Beresheet, Mitzpe Ramon, undoubtedly Israel’s most unusual hotel and one of its very best. It appears to be in the middle of nowhere.
The History Behind the Hotel
I saw Beresheet being built more than 10 years ago. It was just a construction site and there seemed to be nothing for miles around which is probably because I approached it from the Negev desert. That’s the beauty and tranquility of the five star Beresheet Hotel. The reality is that it overlooks the Ramon crater and is surrounded by the desert on three sides. On the fourth is Mitzpe Ramon, a small town of which guests can be quite unaware.
Isrotel founder David Lewis acquired the site a quarter of a century ago and sadly did not live to see his dream realized. Beresheet is in the least likely location for a hotel. It must have taken incredible vision to select the site which is in a conservation area. It says much for Mr Lewis’s understanding of the hotel industry that a hotel now overlooks the Ramon crater (or Makhtesh Ramon, in Hebrew). But environmentalists need have had little concern. The building materials are rocks from the actual site of Beresheet, parts of whose grounds appear as if landscaping has never been completed. That is the very essence of the place. It has blended in so well with its surroundings that it now appears to be part of them.
The opening of Beresheet boosted the local economy by creating 250 jobs and sourcing local produce, bread, greengrocery and wine. Bike rental and jeep tour businesses are also thriving with the tourist business from the hotel. The hotel is another example of the fulfillment of David Ben-Gurion’s vision for the development of the Negev’s population and commerce.
The Beresheet Hotel
On arrival, it is obvious that this is no ordinary hotel. From the exquisitely crafted lobby you gaze out over the 25-mile long crater, which is a third of a mile deep, and formed part of the ancient spice route. The rocks change color according to the hour and the season and at times all that can be seen in the vast and eerily silent nothingness is twinkling stars. As general manager Sigi Levenkopf said: “When you stand and see the view, it’s like the genesis of everything – creation."
Most guests spend only a couple of nights at Beresheet, often en route to Eilat, some making the three-hour journey from Tel Aviv just to enjoy Israel’s newest wonder. It’s back to nature at this resort. The 110 bedrooms are built in blocks, no more than two stories high, and golf buggies ferry guests to and from the main block which houses the restaurant, bar and spa. Some of the ground floor rooms have heated infinity pools. The Presidential Suite, a vast structure standing on its own, commands the best view of the crater. The rooms are spread out over the 50,000 sq meter site. Most guests book half board because there is nowhere to eat within easy striking distance, but Beresheet more than compensates.
Breakfast and dinner are gargantuan affairs, in the best Isrotel tradition. In the evening, starters are served buffet-style with main courses chosen from the menu. There are several cuts of beef available, fish, vegetarian and much more, served with style – and plentiful. Israeli breakfasts are renowned. Here, as at Beresheet’s sister hotel, the Carmel Forest Spa, they have reached new heights.
There are indoor and outdoor pools, a high spec gym, tennis courts and the spa that offers uniquely designed treatments, from the most relaxing to the more intense shiatsu or Thai massage. Yoga classes and others are available for guests. Beresheet is a hotel with a spa, rather than a spa hotel and welcomes families, even with young children. There is a playroom, well equipped with plenty of toys and games, to keep the children entertained.
We chose to spend a week at Beresheet and even had we not ventured from its grounds throughout we would have been perfectly happy to relax amid nature for the duration of our stay.
The Surrounding Area: Mitzpe Ramon
Isolated as the hotel is, there is plenty to do in the immediate vicinity with many activities arranged by Beresheet itself. Bikes and Segways are available and there are hikes, walks, rappelling, jeep tours, horseriding and Tai Chi tours. The Ramon Visitor Center, sits on the northern cliffs of the Ramon Crater and tells the geological story behind the 40-km long crater (Makhtesh Ramon). The Visitor Center offers interactive exhibits explaining the processes leading to the creation of the crater. The Visitor Center also serves as a museum and memorial for Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut who died in 2003 when the Shuttle Columbia disintegrated when re-entering earth's atmosphere.
It’s worth seeing The Albert Promenade, the desert sculpture park next to the hotel, as well as the natural rock features that resemble chiseled wood. Visit the nearby Alpaca Farm which includes llamas, camels, goats, pigs and horses and is as popular with adults as kids. Visit Har Gamal, aka Camel Lookout, the small hill resembling a sitting camel that overlooks the Ramon Crater and provides a beautiful view of the crater and a great place to watch the sun rise or set.
Fifteen minutes from Beresheet is Carmey Avdat Farm, a vineyard and winery which dates its origins to Roman times but has only been used again for 25 years. Close to that is Kibbutz Sde Boker, the home of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
And if you want to evoke the memory of Beresheet when you’re back home, be sure to slip a couple of the hotel’s bath gels or skin creams into your case. The unique aroma, created for Beresheet and evident throughout the resort, is certain to bring back happy memories.