Encircled by several beaches and with over 30 art galleries, Tel Aviv offers visitors the easy pleasures of a seaside resort city with an artistic soul, say Gustasp and Jeroo Irani
If Jerusalem unfolds like an ancient scroll, Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city, glows with shining optimism and hope for the future. The sea side destination is fondly called the Big Orange, inspired by New York’s Big Apple.
Located on the western coast of Israel at the mouth of the Yarkon river, Tel Aviv never sleeps. The city has a foot-tapping European vibe and a contemporary artistic soul. The locals are ardently secular and cosmopolitan, revelling in their sunny playground. We joined a sea of shoppers flowing through the streets of a farmers’ market. Live music poured in from the neighbouring town square, where a lady strummed a guitar and crooned ballads in Hebrew and English.
In Israel, which has rich ancient archaeological sites, Tel Aviv flaunts its modernity with pride. Sleek towers of glass and steel proclaim that the city has a firm foothold in the 21st century. What’s particularly engaging is that Tel Aviv is lapped by the Mediterranean Sea and encircled by several beaches. All the markers of a good life are here – around 30 art galleries, wellcurated museums, restaurants that serve genre-bending fare, cafés that morph into hot night spots and the Tel Aviv Promenade that hugs the city’s shoreline. During the course of our stay, we discovered the now gentrified Carmel market (Shuk Ha’Carmel), where you get designer apparel, one-off cotton clothes, costume jewellery, chefowned food stalls and restaurants that serve everything from Middle Eastern fare and craft beer to fresh French pastries. We savoured an ash tanur (an un-yeasted, sugarless sourdough local bread) slathered with olive oil and za’atar (a local spice mix) and washed it down with a tall glass of freshly pressed pomegranate juice.
We then headed to the White City in the heart of Tel Aviv, essentially a clutch of some 4,000 buildings designed by Jewish architects who had fled from Germany in the wake of Hitler’s rise in the 1930s. Designed in the Bauhaus style with clean sweeping lines, the White City buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most gorgeous ones are located along the tree-lined Rothschild Avenue.
One afternoon we drove south to Jaffa, the secondoldest port city in the world, with a distinct Arab tang and now a neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. Often called Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the two connected enclaves complement each other and are virtually joined at the hip – Jaffa, old but buzzing with a new energy, and Tel Aviv, youthful and brimming with casual chic. It was drizzling in Jaffa but the ancient archways along the narrow cobblestone streets that snaked through the town kept us dry. Occasionally, we would pass ornate doorways engraved with ancient markings and grilled windows dressed up in flowers. As the drizzle gave way to a shower, we ducked into the Ilana Goor Museum (founded in 1995 by Ilana Goor, an artist, designer and sculptor) housed in what was once a hostel for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Beautifully restored and adorned with modern art (Goor’s as well as those of Israeli and international artists), sculptures, jewellery, furniture… all of it is placed artfully around the museum, which also happens to be the artist’s home. On our last evening, we dined at a restaurant overlooking the Promenade, where the soft lapping of waves on golden sands drowned out other sounds. We feasted on typical Israeli fare – laden with north African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and even European notes – crisp focaccia served with hummus, eggplant salad and roasted pepper tahini; lamb shawarma with pickled vegetables and hot sauce; herring with onions and a soft white cheese; and fish kebabs on black lentils. The last dish of the meal was a delicious knafeh, an Arabic pastry, drizzled with orange blossom syrup! If a mouthful of a country’s cuisine leaves you hankering for more, it’s fine to take multiple helpings. We did, but were distracted by a fiery sunset as it bled into the Mediterranean.
The writers are avid travel authors and the views expressed in the article are their own