A touch of Tuscany in the hills of Jerusalem

Named after the ancient Greek words for food, ‘sitos,’ and place, ‘topos,’ Sitopia features a rustic but luxe charm for those looking for something beyond the busy, bustling hotels of Israel’s big cities.

KFAR URIA, Israel — When romance first bloomed between British-born Tessa Laws and her Israeli husband, Itzik Ben Aharon, he asked her in earnest what she wanted to do when she “grew up.”

Already in her 50s, widowed with three children and working as a lawyer in the U.K., Laws, who met Ben Aharon during a vacation to Israel eight years ago, told him that her dream was to own a farm, or perhaps a guest house somewhere in Spain or Italy.

“I had no idea that you could actually own land in Israel,” said Laws, 57, who – together with her now grown daughter, Lotte Beilin, and with help from Ben Aharon – opened the bucolic Sitopia retreat in the tranquil farming community of Kfar Uria last month.

“Itzik helped me find the land and together we built this guest house,” she told Jewish Insider of the exclusive adults-only luxury retreat that sits almost equidistant from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and boasts breathtaking views of the rolling Judean Hills region in between.

Laws and Ben Aharon, who have six children between them, also built their dream home right beside Sitopia and, together with Beilin, now manage the intimate lodgings, including cooking meals and entertaining guests, with top-level service and homegrown warmth.

Josef Breton
Tessa Laws and Itzik Ben Aharon

Named after the ancient Greek words for food, “sitos,” and place, “topos,” Sitopia is a unique experience for those looking for something beyond the busy, bustling tourist hotels of Israel’s big cities. Each of the four suites is named after the dominant color of the stylish decoration – White Room, Black Room, Green Room and Blue Room – and the feeling in each one is quite different. The White Room, for example, has clean lines and a refreshing aesthetic, while the Black Room is more imposing and dramatic.

Each of the tiny lodgings is self-sufficient, with a gallery-style bedroom overlooking a cozy living room, kitchen and a neatly tucked-away bathroom. The fixtures and fittings are well-thought-out and high-end, with details that make a stay almost flawless.

Snaking behind the buildings is a relaxing heated pool and soon-to-be-completed steam room. A lounge deck surrounds the pool and an open table farm-style dining room allows guests – even those that don’t know each other – to dine together during mealtimes. (Guests can also eat in their rooms or on their private terraces.) In addition, an open bar offers a selection of wines from local wineries to taste and harder liquor for those who prefer.

“I am a sociable person, I like food and I like people,” explained Laws, who moved to Israel in 2022 and invested her life savings into building Sitopia. “After I was widowed, I found real joy in cooking and hosting people. I think cooking is an underrated therapy, and I hope that in the future we might be able to open a cookery school here for that.”

In cooking meals for her guests – a stay at Sitopia includes breakfast, as well as an option for dinner or a specially packed picnic basket for the more adventurous – Laws, who continues to work remotely as a lawyer in the U.K., said she tries to keep everything “organic and local.”

She prepares most of the meals herself, with offerings such as antipasti-style marinated vegetables, Asian rice and fish dishes and homemade smoked salmon. And she purchases everything — from fish to eggs to cheeses and breads — from local and organic suppliers. Even the toiletries in the suites and the cleaning fluids, Laws said, are organic.

In addition, when designing the lodgings, the family made sure to use natural or recycled materials found locally from Jaffa to the West Bank. Although construction on the four individual and private suites was completed less than six months ago, the handmade stone used for buildings gives it a rustic and antique feel that blends with the natural surroundings.

Tessa Laws at her Sitopia guest house

“This is not a hotel, it’s a guesthouse,” Laws said proudly. “I call it little Tuscany in Israel.”

Despite its location far from Israel’s major population centers, current events in the country even managed to penetrate this tiny, rural community recently, propelling Kfar Uria, which was originally founded by early Zionists at the start of the last century, into the headlines.

It turns out, even politicians need respite from their own turmoil and when some of the locals discovered that Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir was spending the weekend at another, nearby guesthouse, clashes broke out between some of the residents and some outside agitators.

As the residents now work to heal rifts that were sparked after that incident – some of Kfar Uria’s residents and some of the protestors were arrested for violence and disorderly conduct – Laws says she plans to keep focusing on her guests and on the breathtaking view visible from each of the luxury suites, making sure that Sitopia remains the escape from life that she always dreamed of.

Rates at Sitopia begin at 1,600 NIS ($447) from Sunday-Thursday (including breakfast) and 1,800 ($503) NIS from Thursday-Sunday (inclusive of breakfast). For more information on Sitopia, visit www.sitopia.co.il

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