An oasis in Jaffa offers luxury and a history lesson

The Jaffa is a hotel that brings together past and present in a unique and relaxing way

JAFFA, Israel – In the midst of the busy port town of Jaffa, just beyond the bustling crowds of locals and tourists, sits The Jaffa, a peaceful oasis where orange trees grow and even produce fruits.

Located on the edge of the old town, The Jaffa is as much a hotel as it is a valuable piece of history that sheds light onto the storied past of this ancient city. The hotel is divided into two distinct parts with a leafy, shaded courtyard at its center that functions as a place where guests enjoy a sumptuous breakfast, as well as serving in many ways as the gateway between past and present. 

On one side of the courtyard, sits a state-of-the-art modern building containing 80 guest rooms, 32 private residences and a 16,000-square-foot exclusive penthouse. At the building’s base is an airy and eclectic lobby that welcomes guests descending a long mysterious hallway with the hotel’s signature orange-flavored cocktail. 

On the other side of the courtyard, is a horseshoe-shaped building that once served as a hostel for Christian pilgrims en route to Jerusalem. Built by wealthy French businessman François Guinet, the hostel, which was constructed with raw materials importanted from France, formally opened in 1879. 

The original design incorporated the aesthetics of the Roman Renaissance that were popular in the Holy Land during the 19th century. The multiple archways and columns, interspersed with stone statuettes and stained-glass windows, as well as the original floor tiles are still visible throughout this part of the hotel. 

The crowning glory of The Jaffa, however, is a small chapel boasting a high, domed ceiling and stunning mosaic windows that reach to the top of its towering walls. The chapel also features an ornate mosaic of a white dove above the altar and a fresco of the star-studded night skies of Bethlehem decorates the ceiling. 

Guinet’s original hostel was later turned into a hospital for the destitute and by the turn of the 20th century, it was considered the most modern medical facility in the region treating patients from all backgrounds and religions for free.

Purchased 17 years ago by New York-based real estate magnate Aby Rosen, owner and co-founder of RFR Holding, the building, which in recent decades had fallen into disrepair, took nearly 12 years to renovate. 

Rosen hired Jaffa-based architect Ramy Gill, who has overseen multiple regentrification projects in the city, to renovate Guinet’s hospice and he joined forces with renowned British architect John Pawson. Together the two tirelessly worked to restore the chapel and recast the former hospital rooms into high-tech and luxurious hotel rooms.

The two architects also designed the newer building and during the construction discovered elements of Jaffa’s more ancient past: remnants of a wall built sometime in the 13th century. Under the auspices of Israel’s Antiquities Authority, Gill and Pawson were forced to find a way to include the ancient stone feature into their modern design.  

The Jaffa hotel

In a history of the hotel written by Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, she explains that the design is a “subtle dialogue between two centuries, 19th and 21st, expressing each of their glories and strengths.”

“The Renaissance U-shaped building was restored to the glory days of the 19th century, and the new, elongated building erected opposite it took on a contemporary syntax, an adaptation of 21st-century language,” she writes in the short book. “There is mutual respect between history and the present — without any bridges, adornments, or connections between the two buildings — as though the past is simply gazing at the present and vice versa.”

The Jaffa, which opened for business in mid-2018 but was closed for more than a year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic, is part of Marriott International’s “The Luxury Collection” brand. It caters mainly to foreign tourists and boasts some 120 rooms in total, a mix of modern and rustic styles. Guests as well as owners of the luxury residences are able to utilize the hotel’s top notch facilities which include an outdoor pool, fitness center, and spa. They can also sip orange-flavored cocktails in the lobby’s Shesh Besh or backgammon bar as they engage in a match or two of the traditional board game. The chapel, which was formally deconsecrated by a priest, is now used as a bar or venue for private functions.

As for the penthouse, which sits on top of the modern building, it is still looking for an owner. Said to be one of the most exclusive residences ever built within the Jaffa-Tel Aviv city limits, the apartment is fully furnished and finely decorated, with a private rooftop garden that offers 360-degree views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Tel Aviv skyline.

Like the penthouse, the hotel also has a luxurious feel and it is clear that every detail has been carefully considered and thoroughly thought through. Galit Heller Halfon, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, told Jewish Insider that all guests to The Jaffa are considered VIPs and attention to servicing them is paramount.

The chapel at The Jaffa hotel

She estimated that around 95% of the hotel’s guests were foreign tourists and, she added, there is an interesting dichotomy of who wants what type of room.

“According to our statistics, Europeans prefer the modern rooms, Americans love the history side and the Russians prefer the modern rooms that are located on the top of the historical building,” Heller Halfon told JI. She also highlighted that the hotel is purposely not kosher (although kosher food may be ordered) because Rosen wanted to create a luxury respite for all travelers, not only the Jewish ones.

“People ask me who our competitors are and while it’s not nice to say this, I don’t think we have any competitors,” Heller Halfon said, pointing out that while there is no shortage of large, upscale hotels, as well as newer boutique ones in the area, “there’s nothing like The Jaffa.”

“The Jaffa feels very different from any other hotel,” she said. “Not just in Israel but anywhere.” 

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