As a couple who like to travel, where we stay is important to us, but never as important as where we are. Therefore this review, while giving a fair picture of the Havat Habaron Hotel, is for traveler/tourists, as opposed to hotel afficionados.
That having been said, the Hotel Habaron is rated four stars, but the stars are shaky. Anybody who's traveled a bit will know of course, that rating systems can be idosyncratic and sometimes favor size and number of conference facilities over general maintenance. Although the Havat Habaron may not be the premiere facility that it aspired to be at one time, the question that has to be answered is, "Would we go there again"? And the answer is, "Absolutely!" Let me explain.
The setting is magnificent. It's built on the side of a hill with stunning views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding wine country from every suite. And there are only suites! You can expect a bright, comfortable, and spacious two or three room suite with a private balcony and a view that takes your breath away.
Using its hillside layout to advantage, it uses a unique elevator system, which is somewhat like having a funicular or cable car to go from floor to floor. Quirky, quaint, and distinctive, a reflection of Israeli character!
Awash in the Mediterranean sun, a large and attractive swimming pool overlooks the spectacular countryside. There is little shade, so while the sunbathing is sensational, (and Israelis love their sunbathing!) you may want to pack some lotion.
As in all Israeli hotels, the room rate (currently about $100-$125 per suite) includes a breakfast buffet of fresh fruits and vegetables, hard boiled eggs and cheeses and yogurts. The restaurant is comfortable, the service good, and the food fresh. We only had breakfast there, preferring to explore the offerings in town for our other meals, so I'm unable to comment on their dinners. In general, we usually have our meals, other than breakfasts, outside of our hotels, as we can sample more of our surroundings that way.
The Habaron is frequented by a variety of nationalities, mostly Israelis with a scattering of others. There are not many Americans here (why do so many Americans insist on clustering only in hotels with Sheraton or Hilton in the names?), but English, the lingua franca of Europe and the Middle East, is commonly spoken, as are several other languages.
The diversity of the guests is continued in the age range. The hotel is popular with young families, adolescents, twenty and thirty somethings, and retirees (or as they say in Israel "pensioners"). Everybody seems to mix and everybody also has their own preferences. The mix gives the place its particular ambiance, an easy going, warm kind of way.
The staff reflects that ambiance, so if you're looking for a place to snap your fingers and say "Boy!" and have three bellmen come running, this is not the place. But if you appreciate warm, caring, although occasionally idiosyncratic, service, you'll find it here.
Reflecting that, let me tell you about our first night (out ot three) in the Habaron, a night that began as a relaxing (we thought) end to a busy day of touring and turned into something resembling the stateroom scene in "A Night at the Opera." With just as many laughs!
The suites are furnished in what might be called "Israeli hotel modern," clean, comfortable, and a bit spare, with separate air conditioners in the front room and the bedroom. We decided to turn on the a/c in the front room, and ...........the suite went black! No lights!
Managing to find a small lamp that still worked, I called the front desk, and shortly had an electrician. He fixed the lights immediately, but was having some difficulty with the front a/c unit (the one in the bedroom was fine), and left to get some more tools, leaving some water on the floor from his work. In a few moments, two maids came up to deal with that, followed shortly by the electrician, who found in the course of his work that one of the phone extensions was malfunctioning and had another maintenance man bring a new telephone.
Now, if you've followed the story so far, there came a point where there were four hotel maintenance people in our room, in addition to us, at 11 PM, and when the fourth one arrived, we all just looked at each other and burst out laughing. When my wife asked, "Who's minding the hotel?", and one of the workers tried to translate for the others, we were all rolling on the floor. Although, they were slightly embarrassed and offered to move us to another room, we chose to remain, and after cleaning up the slight amount of water and ascertaining that the one a/c unit was adequate for the night, they promised to complete the job the next day, when we would be out, which they did. While this, of course, would never, ever, happen at the Paris Intercontinental, nor would we want it to, it was nevertheless one of those special experiences that makes us laugh every time we remember it.
I might take a moment here to say that although the stereotype of the Israeli is brusque and not service oriented, I have found just the opposite. I have traveled throughout Israel and lived for awhile in Tel Aviv and while it may be true that white glove, rigid backbone style service may be hard to find, the waiters, waitresses and other service people I've dealt with have, with rare exceptions, been genuinely concerned with their clients' needs, including a waiter in a coffee shop once, who overheard me complaining to my wife that my son hadn't called to wish me a happy Fathers Day (not a holiday in Israel), and with no warning brought over a special dessert at no charge, telling us, "Have fun! It's Fathers Day."
We chose the Havat Habaron because it was near our destination, Zichron Ya'akov, a charming and historic town about 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv. We had rented a car from one of the many agencies in Israel (no tax if you are a tourist). Since tourism is still down, hotel rooms and rental cars are easily available. One person's loss is always someone else's gain it seems.
If you don't care to drive, Israel has a superb intercity bus system and there are regular busses from the major cities. Taxis can get you from the hotel into town, but parking in town is easy and plentiful. There are also tours of the area offered through any travel agency.
We chose to go to Zichron Ya'akov for a break from the established attractions and monuments. We wanted something with a more relaxed pace, a little bit of history combined with a glimpse of everyday life and we were pleased with our choice.
The town was named in memory of Jacob Rothschild, a 19th Century banker who provided financing and support for the early settlers. The countryside was rocky, barren and malaria ridden, and the hardships were legion for the early settlers at the end of the 19th Century. Many died from disease and many returned to Europe. There were disastrous errors made when managers came from Europe with preconceived ideas about planting unsuitable crops which led to severe deprivation and suffering.
But eventually, with great effort and sacrifices, the pioneers succeeded in establishing a successful wine industry. The Carmel Mizrachi company offers winery tours and an on premise store, where my wife found a huge bottle of grape oil shampoo among the wines and wine implements.
I also highly recommend the First Aliyah Museum, named for the group of Zionists who first arrived in the country. The film shown there is a stirring reconstruction of the key events in the town's history as told in flashback by an elderly couple marvelling at what the town has grown into and remembering their past. I usually don't enjoy this kind of film, but it is made vividly real by both the acting and the period photographs interspersed throughout. It is not to be missed!
The real joy, though, is just wandering the town's few streets. Much of it has been rebuilt or restored. There are good restaurants, a variety of artisan shops, a wonderful ice cream parlor and streets lined with quaint tile roofed houses. It's on a small scale without the frantic feeling you sometimes get in places like New Hope, PA, or Sausalito, which, for all their charm, sometimes seem to smother you with an aggressive in -your- face hipness.
The scale here is small. The pace is slow and relaxing. For us, it was the perfect break.
Havat Habaron Hotel
HOW TO GET THERE:
Public busses from any major city in Israel.
Rental car. Hertz, Avis, National, etc have branches throughout Israel. Eldan, an Israeli company is reliable and competitive. A US driver's license is valid. No VAT is charged to tourists.
Organized tours are offered by travel agencies. If you like to keep a flexible schedule, book through a reputable local agency. There are many in Israel, some with English websites.
The Havat Habaron is an all suite facility with two and three room suites, all with private balconies. The approximate average rate, including Israeli breakfast is $100-$125 per suite. You can book online at the hotel's website at -------- (click on the British flag on the top of the page for English).
English is widely spoken in Israeli hotels and restaurants which cater to tourists. While Zichron Ya'akov is a small town and you may occasionally run into non English speakers, there is always somebody available who can speak English.