Tatler - What a trip, Jerusalem
May 2011

You pray in Jerusalem, you play in Tel Aviv -- or so the story goes. And yet, in a breakaway moment, suddenly the most controversial city in the world -- normally so covered in angry dust -- has gone slick and cool. There’s more to its beating religious heart than piety since the opening of the style-refuge Mamilla, now certainly the best hotel in the country. Its shiny new spa, Akasha, is an urban retreat where the city’s wealthiest wallow in the watsu pool -- and at the hammam, beg for rough-and-tumble Shlomi, whose digits go deep as he smacks you around with wet kelp. It’s the perfect antidote to a bizarre, baffling, tour-stomping trip about the Old City, one of the greatest patches on the planet. Where else can you hear the echo of a call to prayer in the Armenian Quarter, watch an Ethiopian bar mitzvah at the Western (aka Wailing) Wall and see American tourists struggle with a life-sized crucifix along the route of the Stations of the Cross?

History aside, joining the the new buzz is the Israel Museum, reopened after a three-year shake-up and catapulted to world-class. The early modern and contemporary art (a passion of the director, formerly of New York’s MoMA) is as thrilling as the medieval illuminated manuscripts. Anish Kapoor turns the world upside-down with his inverting mirrors and Damien Hirst’s spots backdrop Ohad Meromi’s hugely poignant sculpture The Boy from South Tel Aviv. The museum shop is irresistible, twinkling with Jerusalem’s finest artisans, some of whose boutiques also line arty-hippie alleyway Solomon Street: a potters’ cooperative, Gerstein’s joyful metalwork, Avital Coorsh’s fabulous leather bracelets -- and Tmol Shilshom cafe, where bright young Jerusalemites come to kiss between the dusty bookshelves.

New York chefs have recently been heading here in their droves, but dazzling local foodie maestro Tali Friedman guides guests around Mahane Yehuda market, bewitching stallholders with her singsong zest for all things delicious: bourekas stuffed with Bulgarian cheese, Yosi’s roasted granola with honey and the best coffee at Mizrahi. But if you still believe Jerusalem is holier-than-thou, try Mamilla’s Mirror Bar late at night, where you will most probably find 60 Brazilians drinking Chateau Golan and partying as if it was Carnival.