It sounds like an idea for a daytime television show: transform one of the world’s ugliest buildings into the fanciest luxury hotel.
That was the challenge facing Turkish designer Sinan Kafadar who, back in 2000, turned Istanbul’s infamous Sağmalcılar jail, setting for the chilling 1978 movie Midnight Express, into Turkey’s swankiest Four Seasons.
So when the Hilton Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s oldest and most adored luxury brands, wanted to turn 167 rooms on its top five floors into an exclusive boutique hotel within a hotel, there was only one man to call. Today, three years after Kafadar put the finishing touches to Vista At The Hilton Tel Aviv, guests have the choice of booking into the regular five-star accommodation or the premium Vista experience.
The splendour starts on arrival as you’re whisked past reception to the swanky Vista Lounge on the 17th floor for check-in. This grand glass-walled lounge, with epic Mediterranean views on three sides, is the epicentre of Vista – a exclusive hideaway offering exquisite complimentary all-day kosher meals, snacks and drinks.
“We wanted to turn the top floors into a hotel version of an Aston Martin or Patek Philippe watch,” head of PR for Hilton Hotels Israel Motti Verses tells me over an expresso in the lounge. “Luxury travel has changed in recent years. Those who can afford it are looking for more than a typical five-star experience. That’s where we come in.”
The price difference isn’t vast. I stayed during August peak season in a 15th floor Vista room costing £570 a night, compared to a regular £400 room. The extra cost can be seen in the pristine Bauhaus-style décor, large and luxurious marble bathroom, giant king-sized double bed replete with pillow menu, luxuriously sheets and daily fruit, wine and chocolate gifts.
The Vista package allows the Hilton to compete head-on with Tel Aviv’s ritziest boutique offerings like the Norman and Montefiore, while offering something they simply can’t – a picture postcard beachfront setting. Equally, none of the big-name hotels that also line the promenade (or tayelet as the locals call it) – The Dan, The Carlton, Royal Beach and so on – offer a five-star-plus product. All have executive floors and lounges, but nothing to compare to Vista’s upscale x-factor.
The Hilton is the promenade’s prime property, idyllically framed between Spiegel Park and Independence Park, set apart from all the other back-to-back hotels and literally on the beach – which means not having to dodge the bikes and e-scooters to reach the sand.
It’s a 10-minute stroll (or two-minute e-scoot) from the hotel to the city’s prime locations – hopelessly hip Shenkin Street with its packed bars and cafes, Herzl Street’s galleries and boutiques and traffic-free Ben Yehuda Street with its Judaica shops and barmy buskers.
My favourite spot to idle away an hour is leafy Rothschild Boulevard, where pensioners are always on the lookout for a passer-by to play boules in the sandpits by the side of the road.
The area’s only eyesore, Atarim Square, a rundown concrete block opposite the Hilton, neglected and deserted (aside from a strip club) since its 1980s heyday, is finally set to be torn down and transformed – making the marina even more family friendly.
The Hilton Tel Aviv has welcomed nine million guests over the last 54 years. Indeed, it boasts more returners than any hotel in the country, thanks to its warm welcome, prime location, vast terrace overlooking the Mediterranean (one of Tel Aviv’s most romantic sundown settings), Yakimono fine dining Japanese restaurant, Chloelys French gourmet bistro and famous Olympic-sized saltwater swimming pool.
Now, thanks to its sleek and unique Visa package, this iconic city’s most iconic hotel is primed to win the hearts and holidays plans of millions more for decades to come.
• For The Vista at Hilton Tel Aviv call 00972 3-520-2050 or click HERE